Here it is, the third Monday in April -- Patriots’ Day, the unofficial start of spring in New England, the day when some of the world’s swiftest runners usually stand at the starting line in Hopkinton, poised to run the most famous of foot races, the Boston Marathon.
But this year, the runners remain home. And Joann Flaminio remains in Providence -- her blue blazer still in the closet.
Flaminio served as president of the Boston Athletic Association from 2010 to 2017, becoming the first woman to hold that position, and she is still a member of the BAA Board of Governors.
Since 1897, when 15 runners lined up at Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, the Boston Marathon has been run each year without fail. And until now, the event had never been postponed -- not even in 1918, when it was run in the form of a military relay as the United States faced the twin perils of World War I and a global influenza pandemic.
But this year, another global pandemic -- the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed some 165,000 lives, including more than 40,500 Americans -- forced the BAA to postpone the marathon until Sept. 14.
“This year, distance running has been replaced by social distancing,” Flaminio said. “Runners will have to wait until September to go the distance, and make more memories.”
Normally, Flaminio would be running around in her blue blazer -- the entire weekend a blur of meetings, press conferences, receptions, and details as the BAA puts the finishing touches on the race.
At sunrise on marathon Monday, she would usually hear the buses rolling out of Copley Square, filled with amped-up runners ready to compete and complete Boston.
By midday, she would be holding the finish-line tape as winners surged down Boylston Street, pumping their fists, collapsing in joy and exhaustion, standing proud to be crowned with olive wreaths.
“Sadly, things will be different this year,” Flaminio said. “With an empty Hopkinton, I will be at home watching past races in my living room.”
The situation reminds her of the T.S. Eliot quote, “April is the cruelest month … mixing memory and desire.”
But, she said, this year the priority is clear: the public health. With the death toll mounting, with hospitals scrambling for ventilators and face masks, with schools and many businesses closed, there was no way to bring 30,000 runners and millions of spectators together.
“An event as old and historic as the Boston Marathon must bend and adapt to current conditions, whatever they may be, in order to stand the test of time,” Flaminio said.
To be sure, the Boston Marathon has faced adversity before. In 2013, Flaminio was BAA president when a pair of pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people (including an 8-year-old boy) and injuring 264 others.
While the horrors of 2013 brought people together for an outward display of strength and resilience, this crisis calls for us to stay strong while remaining at home and apart, she noted. But whether the threat is a bomb or a virus, the moment is bound to bring out the best in us now, just as it did in 2013, she said.
Flaminio recalled being at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, in Boston’s South End, when President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy for the bombing victims, summoning the nation’s resolve.
And much of that day’s message carries meaning for this moment, as well, she said.
“Our faith in each other, our love for each other, our love for country, our common creed that cuts across whatever superficial differences there may be, that is our power,” Obama said at the time.
“Scripture tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us,” he concluded. “As we do, may God hold close those who’ve been taken from us too soon, may he comfort their families, and may he continue to watch over these United States of America.”