April 17, 2013 at 1:54 pm

John Niyo

Athletes, fans press on after Boston tragedy

Keith Hanson was getting out of the shower when the walls shook in his third-floor hotel room Monday, two blocks from the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

A couple hours earlier, Hanson, one of the architects of the Hansons-Brooks elite training group in Rochester Hills, had cheered on one of his runners, Ariana Hilborn, crossing the line as the sixth-fastest American finisher in the women's race.

But now, suddenly shaken, Hanson looked out the window and saw the smoke rising. And all too quickly, as the sirens began to wail, Hanson, like so many others near the scene of Monday's terrorist attack in Boston, began to understand the horror scattered beneath it.

At least three dead, including an 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, who'd been standing near the finish in Copley Square with his family. More than 175 casualties, including Richard's 6-year-old sister, Jane, who lost a leg in the first of two explosions that, according to reports, was caused by a homemade pressure-cooker bomb loaded with nails and ball bearings.

As federal, state and local authorities searched for answers Tuesday in Boston, where the crime scene stretched a dozen city blocks and from which the images of the carnage traveled around the world, the rest of us were left to do the same.

As spectators, that is our job, I suppose, to wait and wonder what will happen next, hoping for the best.

But I think we all have a strong sense by now — after Oklahoma City and 9/11 and Aurora and Newtown and all the other mindless massacres — of how we need to react. As President Obama reiterated from the White House on Tuesday, "The American people refuse to be terrorized." And specifically as fans — since this was an attack not on a government building or a military target, but rather an iconic sporting event — I think we've learned that is indeed the case.

You could see it in the crowds packing parks and arenas all across the country in the wake of this latest tragedy, pausing for a moment of silence to honor Monday's victims and then cheering as if nothing had happened. You could see it in the symbolism, too, whether it was Philadelphia outfielder Ben Revere — yes, Revere — making an over-the-shoulder catch at the wall in Cincinnati with "PRAY For Boston" scrawled on athletic tape on his glove, or the New York Yankees paying tribute to their Beantown rivals by playing Fenway Park sing-along "Sweet Caroline" during their game in the Bronx on Tuesday night.

Going back

And I'm sure I heard it in Hanson's voice over the phone. He was back home in Michigan, trying to process it all, unable to make sense of the senseless — "Obviously, our thoughts are with all those victims," he said sadly, and more than once — but already talking about plans for next year's Patriots' Day trip to Boston.

"We want to have a presence there now more than ever," said Hanson, who has made that annual pilgrimage with his brother, Kevin, since the two hatched their grassroots training idea out of a shoebox here in the late-1990s. "Marathoners, just by nature, are a resilient group. And this isn't likely to deter many people that have the marathon mind-set from being a part of things next year. Honestly, I think that's the only sort of answer anybody can have to this thing, is to not change what we do in our lives.

"Obviously, you have to be aware. But I don't think it'll change us. Runners are going to want to be a part of (Boston in 2014.) They're going to want to do it in memory of those who've been harmed by this. They're going to want to do it almost as an act of defiance."

That's the only way to act now, isn't it? Defiantly? No matter how many have been harmed and how tired we've grown of the changes terrorism has required in our daily lives, be it security lines at the airport or evacuation drills at schools and offices, that has to be the answer. And truth is, we've known that for some time now.

I have covered five Olympic Games, but as I'm often reminded by some of my more senior colleagues, I really haven't covered any. Because my first — in Salt Lake City in 2002 — also happened to be the first major international sporting event held in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. And by then, the Olympics already had been ushered through a metal detector, wanded and stuffed in a cage at great expense, a changing of the guard ushered in that snowy night in Utah when eight U.S. athletes — three from Michigan — joined New York policemen and firefighters in a processional carrying the tattered American flag recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Major sporting events have been targets before, including the Olympics — Munich in 1972, Atlanta in 1996. But everything changed after 9/11, and some of it needlessly, perhaps. This attack will prompt still more change, I'd imagine, but I'm not sure any of us will so much as blink. Hopefully, we won't.

Elevated security was the norm at games all over the U.S. after the Boston bombings. Police in London announced Tuesday they're reassessing their plans for this weekend's marathon there that's expected to draw nearly 35,000 runners. Russian officials promised the same in advance of next winter's Olympics in Sochi. They have no choice but to say that, and we all have no choice but to be vigilant.

Staying free

But there's no way to fully guarantee anyone's safety in a crowd, and no way to completely corral a marathon, lest we, as Boston police commissioner Ed Davis put it Tuesday, "turn these events into a police state." We won't, he promised. Because as Red Wings coach Mike Babcock reminded us, before his team headed through customs on a two-game trip to Canada, "Part of living in the free world is that it's free."

With that freedom comes a price, even at the stadium box office or in the finish-line grandstand. It's one everyone has to weigh in their own mind, but one I think most of us already have balanced, no matter how shaken we are by what we saw in Boston on Monday.

"I mean, the whole thing is enough to make you sick," Babcock said. "It's hard to believe this could be caused by human beings, because no human would be involved in something like this. ... But you can't let people — I don't believe, anyway — get in the way of what you love to do."

He's right about that, and about this as well: "You'd like to think it will never happen again, but you and I both know it will. And that's sad."

Sadder still would be giving into that fear, though. So defiantly, we'll keep running. The games must go on, and so will the cheering.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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A man brings flowers to the memorial site at the Boston Marathon finish line. Three were killed and more than 170 wounded in Monday’s attack. / Don Emmert/Getty Images
Security was heightened at Tuesday’s NHL game between the Islanders and ... (Kathy Kmonicek/Associated Press)
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