Shane Magness, a student at Oklahoma Christian University, bows his head… (Sue Ogrocki / Associated…)
On April 28, more than 20,000 participants in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon will race past the site where 18 years ago this week 168 people were killed and hundreds injured in the bombing of a federal building.
For those runners and for the city, Monday's deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon struck a poignant chord. The blasts in Boston, which killed three people and injured 176, came as Oklahoma City was preparing for its own race, which is run every year as a tribute to victims and survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Race officials say the marathon will go on as planned.
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“We’re going to move forward as a symbol of defiance and resilience and what Oklahoma City stands for: that terrorism doesn’t win, that it can’t take away any of our freedoms,” Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, told The Times on Tuesday.
On April 19, 1995, a bomb in a Ryder truck parked outside the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City exploded in an attack by Timothy McVeigh, a Persian Gulf War veteran who was later convicted and executed. Among the dead were 19 children.
The city hosts the marathon, a half-marathon and shorter races every spring, with runners winding through the streets, beginning near the site of the attack.
In the wake of the Boston bombings, Oklahoma race officials have been communicating with local, state and federal authorities to review safety measures for the event, Watkins said.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said “circumstances could change over the next few days” if safety was threatened, according to museum statement.
Oklahoma City police have assigned bomb technicians to the race since its inception, according to the statement.
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“We would not run this race in a heartbeat if safety is a concern,” Watkins said. “All those human feelings you feel as a runner, this community has felt that.”
Watkins and other race coordinators, knowing how hard runners train for the Boston Marathon, are considering inviting those who were not wounded in the bombings to run the Oklahoma City race with no entry fee, she said. She sees it as a way to send a message of triumph.
Watkins also said she was struck by the Boston volunteers who started out the day working a race and ended the day working with scores of wounded.
Landi Thompson, 30, of Houston will be running the Oklahoma City half-marathon. She grew up in Oklahoma and remembers the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. She was in a seventh-grade classroom about 15 miles away and remembers the way the bomb rattled her school building.
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Thompson said that despite the Boston bombings, she didn’t think twice about staying in the Oklahoma City race.
“It means a lot to me to be able to run because of the people who can’t,” she said. “It reminds me why I do this in the first place.
“I just knew what those people were feeling,” she added. “It’s already difficult to meet with your family at the end of the marathon, and I just can’t imagine that fear.”
Every year, she said, the Oklahoma City race features 168 seconds of silence to recognize the lives of those lost in the bombing. This year, Boston will be on racers’ minds as well, Thompson said.
Many of the runners typically write the name of an Oklahoma City bombing victim on their race bibs, she said. This year, she will be writing a message of support for Boston on hers.
She said she hopes the Oklahoma City race will offer a message of hope and said she and other racers “want to support the people who are hurting right now.”
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