The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a race in downtown Miami late Thursday afternoon — bright blue sky, 79 degrees, gentle breeze blowing in off the bay, and surprisingly little humidity for this time of year.
Blaring through gigantic speakers were lyrics to the Black Eyed Peas’ party anthem I Gotta Feelin’: “Tonight’s gonna be a good night!”
Jampacked onto Biscayne Boulevard, just south of Flagler Street, were 25,000 runners/walkers of every shape, hue and age, giddy at the start line of the Mercedes-Benz Corporate Run. They laughed. They danced. They waved their arms and hollered when their company names were called out.
Ten days and 1,500 miles removed from the bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, there were only subtle reminders of the tragedy. Security was heightened with K-9 units, mounted police and officers on Segways. There was a bigger-than-usual medical command center. Backpacks and duffel bags were prohibited.
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There were tributes to the three Boston victims who died and the 264 who were injured — a giant “Miami Runs for Boston” banner, Morgan Stanley’s bright yellow “Runs With Boston’’ T-shirts, Verizon’s red “Run for Boston” shirts, and CEI Engineers and Contractors’ “CEI Runs for Boston” poster.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez stood on a stage and pronounced: “We won’t be deterred by the cowardly acts of a few. We are shoulder to shoulder with Boston.”
But unlike the London Marathon last Sunday, which began with 30 seconds of silence and runners’ eyes downcast, Miami’s Corporate Run kicked off and ended as it always does, with 832 companies throwing the city’s largest annual Happy Hour. Hundreds of tents dotted Bayfront Park, loaded with catered trays, wine and champagne. Hips wiggled to the music. This is, after all, Miami.
Soaking in the scene about 50 yards from the start line, his eyes brimming with tears, was John Bethel of Miami, who was signing the “Miami Runs for Boston” banner hung by the organizers of the ING Miami Marathon.
“I come watch this race every year, and seeing all these people made me think of Boston,” he said. “I wanted to sign this banner as my own little tribute to the victims of Boston, to let them know that nobody can stop us Americans. We will continue to gather and celebrate our patriotism and freedom. We come together in times of tragedy. I am so proud of Miami because all these people showed up.”
By the end of the night, there wasn’t a blank space left on the banner. Among the other inscriptions:
“Keep on Running, Boston! Miami is with you!”
“We Will Keep Running for Those Who Can’t.’’
“ Dale! Que Tu Puedes, Boston!” (Go, yes you can, Boston)
“With Love from Miami. We Will Keep Running for You, Boston!”
Fitzroy Hylton, an aircraft maintenance worker at American Airlines, wore a blue and yellow ribbon in honor of the Boston victims. Hylton said he made a point to look for backpacks or bags on the ground along the race course. He races regularly, and had never worried. But everything changed with Boston.
“I run in this every year, and the ING Marathon, and my family comes to watch me, so when we were watching what happened in Boston, my wife said, ‘That could have been us here in Miami,’” he said. “It hit close to home.”
Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, leading a group of 35 runners from Temple Judea, said he pushed harder than ever to get staff and congregants to join the race.
“We shouldn’t let terror ever win,” Goldberg said. “This is one thing we can do to show support, show up and make positive images to replace the negative ones from Boston. The Israelis are masters of that, of facing terrorism by going out the very next day and not letting it paralyze them. When I got here and saw all the runners, my mind went right back to Boston, and it’s very sad. But by being here, we are ensuring that we won’t let terror beat us.”
John Thomas, a resident at Miami Veterans Hospital, agreed.
“We can’t live scared,” he said. “Boston is in the back of our minds, but we have to move on. I wasn’t worried at all running in this event. I feel very safe.”
And that, in essence, is how Miami paid a very powerful tribute to the Boston victims Thursday night. We didn’t have 25,000 black ribbons or armbands. No somber speeches. Instead, we had 25,000 smiling South Floridians in brightly-colored shirts, walking, jogging and running side by side on the streets of downtown.
If they were worried, they didn’t show it.
That is, perhaps, the strongest form of solidarity they could have shown those who were terrorized on Boylston Street. It was defiance, Miami-style. Party on.
Keep on Running, Boston! Miami is with you!
We Will Keep Running (and dancing) for Those Who Can’t.