Unimaginable tragedy struck Oklahoma City the morning of April 19, 1995, when the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people and injured more than 500 others.
Eighteen years later, more than 24,000 people from across the globe are rising up in the wake of fear and “running to remember.”
Among the victims was Alan Whicher, a U.S. Secret Service agent who had recently moved to Oklahoma City. A 40-year-old husband and father of three, he was in his office when the bomb ignited.
Every April, “Alan Whicher’s Army” — a team of his family and friends — turns a painful memory into something uplifting, said his widow, Pam Whicher.
“It redirects that sadness,” she said.
“When Alan was first killed, it was like the four of us against the world. It (the marathon) brings the four of us back together — and Alan is there, too — so we are a family again.”
Since 2009, at least one member of the Whicher family travels from their Maryland home to participate in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. This year is no exception, despite the tense aftermath of deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Whicher’s daughter, Melinda Whicher-Micciche, said she felt a combination of empathy and fear when she first heard about the April 15 attack in Boston. Shaken, she briefly considered canceling this year’s trip.
“OKC is a marathon that revolves around a bombing, and now there are bombings at marathons. I got very scared,” she said.
Once the initial shock wore off, however, Whicher-Micciche resolved that she would not surrender to intimidation.
“I don’t feel scared anymore. I almost feel more resilient,” she said.
The woman will be joined in OKC by her 10-year-old daughter, Ashley, who will be running her first 5K for her “coach.” Alan Whicher always said he never wanted to be called “grandpa.” While Ashley never had a chance to meet her coach, her mother said the girl understands the importance of her participation.
“The [Oklahoma City] marathon is already a group of people brought together by grief, who use that grief for something positive,” Whicher-Micciche said. “I think the Boston Marathon is going to get incorporated into that feeling of strength.”
OKC marathon organizers have taken that notion a step further. Because the Boston explosions prevented thousands of runners from completing the course, the Memorial Marathon has invited their participation. Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, has said those runners can begin where they were forced to stop in Boston or run the full marathon. About six marathoners have accepted the offer, in which the memorial will cover their entry fees but not travel costs.
Difficult but beautiful
With a new, more colorful look and design this year, the 13th annual OKC Memorial Marathon is expected to draw more runners than ever before, according to Mollie Bennett, marathon coordinator. From nearly 5,000 participants in its inaugural year of 2001, the event boasted more than 23,000 runners last year.
Runners from every state and various countries will hit the pavement Sunday morning for the full- or half-marathon, 5K, five-man relay or children’s marathon.
In conjunction with the marathon is a health and fitness expo, which begins at noon Friday at the Cox Convention Center and continues through Saturday.
Laura Philbin is a member of the OKC marathon’s unofficial “Ran Them All” club.
“One of the things that keeps me going during this race, even when I haven’t had time to adequately train, is the sheer inspiration of our community,” said Philbin, 39.
She described the course as difficult but also beautiful, creating the best of both worlds.
“It is really challenging. It’s really windy at Lake Hefner for those three or four miles, but I really love it,” Philbin said.
More than the physical fitness that the OKC Memorial Marathon demands and builds, organizers emphasize that its greater mission is “to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.”Hey! Read This:
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