The Boston Marathon story the bombs couldn’t destroy

I'd actually planned this blog out ahead of time. It was supposed to be about Bill Iffrig, 78, one of the oldest runners in this year’s Boston Marathon. It was supposed to celebrate the new generation of older adults—fit, eager and active well beyond the so-called “retirement age.” Iffrig, from Lake Stevens, Wash., already had 45 marathons to his credit, and wouldn’t miss the most famous of American marathons.

The first explosion’s shockwave knocked Iffrig to the ground just 15 feet shy of the finish line, according to witnesses. A nearby Boston Globe photographer, John Tlumacki, snapped his picture as he fell onto the pavement in front of anxious police. Seconds later, another explosion struck the crowd.

Photo by John Tlumacki, Boston Globe

"I got down to within 15 feet of the finishing apron and just tremendous explosion, sounded like a bomb went off right next to me," Iffrig told CNN’s Piers Morgan in an interview. "The shock waves just hit my whole body and my legs just started jittering around. I knew I was going down and so I ended up down on the blacktop."

The number of silver athletes in the Boston Marathon has steadily increased over the past decade. In 2011, 464 runners age 65+ ran the race, and more than 83 percent of them finished the gruelling 26.2-mile course. 2012 saw a significant surge in senior registrants—596 total—and almost twice the runners in the 75-79 age group as in previous years. Again, most of the entrants completed the course.

The trend is a testament to the vitality and perseverance of “the new old generation,” leaving the stereotypes of ageism in their dust on the infamous Heartbreak Hill.

This year’s stats on senior runners will have to wait; the official 2013 Boston Marathon website seems to have been temporarily deactivated.

But most of the world knows about Bill Iffrig now—the picture Tlumacki took of him sprawled on the pavement has been seen by millions online and is apparently destined for the cover of Sports Illustrated. But the more important story is the picture that would have come a few seconds  later: Bill Iffrig got up and finished the race, expecting nothing less of himself.

Graphic originally published online Boston Globe, 4/16,/2012

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