Runners powering through the last stretch of the Boston Marathon later this month will be greeted by a familiar message as they approach the Back Bay, one that served as a rallying cry and symbol of resilience for the city in the wake of the 2013 bombings.
That message, which resonated around the world, is “Boston Strong.”
The words, painted in bold yellow letters over a blue background, were unveiled by city, state, and Marathon officials Saturday on two sections of the Philip G. Bowker Overpass, which runs parallel to Charlesgate West and connects Boylston Street in the Fenway to Storrow Drive.
The prominent lettering, sandwiched between painted yellow ribbons and standing in stark contrast to the gray columns supporting the span, floats above Commonwealth Avenue where it meets the overpass.
It’s an area where runners competing in the Marathon often have to drum up energy to push themselves to the finish line amid cheers from the crowds.
The 120th Boston Marathon takes place Monday, April 18. It will mark the third anniversary of the attack that killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. A fourth victim, MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, was shot and killed by the Marathon bombers later.
“Today we turn the tragedy into triumph, the fear into hope, hate into love, the feeling of wanting to give up into a feeling of wanting to finish strong,” said Thomas Tinlin, highway administrator for the state Department of Transportation, the agency overseeing the rehabilitation of the Bowker Overpass.
The department helped lead the charge to paint the words on the bridge. Tinlin said it is hoped that it will “put a smile on a face, pick someone up when they are down, and give a runner that little extra something to finish the race.”
Jennifer Lemmerman, Collier’s sister, led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the event. Marathon survivors and others who helped victims on the day of the attack were also on hand.
Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin J. Walsh both spoke during Saturday’s rain-soaked celebration, offering words of encouragement to the 30,000 runners registered for this year’s Marathon.
“If they need any inspiration at this point, and sometimes they do,” Walsh said, referring to the slogan on the bridge, “they certainly are going to see inspiration here.”
Tom Grilk, executive director of the Boston Athletic Association, which hosts the annual race, said the message for some will be a somber reminder of the bombings, while for others it will offer a moment of exhilaration as they finish the race.
But overall, Grilk said, it “will help remind them that they are and always will be part of something bigger than any of us.’’
After remarks from officials, attendees counted down from 10. Then workers standing atop the overpass, wearing white construction helmets and bright orange vests, dropped two tarpaulins to reveal the inspirational message.
Applause quickly rippled through the crowd.
Runners and pedestrians weathering Saturday’s cold April rain took note of the boxy letters on the bridge.
Without breaking his stride, Clement Cazalot, who ran the Marathon in 2015, said the symbol unites the people of Boston.
“Seeing the city aggregating and everybody being together under the Boston Strong symbol is phenomenal,” Cazalot said, wiping rain droplets from his watch to check his pace. He then sprinted off beneath the yellow words.Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.