12 Days: Bill Rodgers sees race as healer

In the 26 days leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 21, ESPNBoston.com will share inspiring stories, detail important logistics and go inside the planning for what promises to be an event like no other in the wake of last year's bombings. There are 12 days until the race.

The fact that a deadly act of terrorism occurred at the Boston Marathon was offensive in so many ways, most notably to those who cherish the event. People like four-time champion Bill Rodgers.

However, the fact that it occurred at the marathon means, to Rodgers, that the city will bounce back stronger than ever.

“To me, [the terrorist act] was really just weird, in capital letters and exclamation point, and sad,” Rodgers said. “Because to me, running has always been -- the banner for this year says, ‘We Run Together’ -- but for me that’s what running has always been, and it was always kind of a place where you can go, a refuge in a certain way.

“So yes it’s a race, a competition. For me, that’s how I always use it, but I also like the camaraderie side and I always have that in my life, too.”

That camaraderie is what a veteran like Rodgers has seen at courses and events worldwide. And it is what he knows will pull the masses through.

“Runners are very hard-headed but they also want to live life to the fullest,” he said. “That was what was so sad about what happened, in every instance from the people who died to the people who were very severely injured. So I think people do want to do something. They want to take part.”

Rodgers has visited other events that are seen as healers, such as the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, which honors those lost in the 1995 bombing there. The message there is to remember the impact of violence, but to utilize the emotion in a positive way.

He understands that the urge for many is to get angry, perhaps get even. But that flies in the face of the runners’ spirit, a non-violent vibe of which he is so proud.

“I do think we all can do something and try and understand terrorism and what happened at the Boston Marathon, and the more we can do that, the more we can deal with it in any way that each of us can try to do,” Rodgers said. “Whether you support people who are running the race, or volunteer, or run the race, or maybe you try to find out what is happening behind the scenes, with the B.A.A.

“For example, it sounds kind of superficial but I don’t think it is superficial, like planting daffodils along the route. That sign of life.”

Rodgers, 66, was hoping to run this year, but a hamstring issue will keep him out of the field. It will not, however, keep him from the race. Rodgers will serve as the marathon’s grand marshal, riding in a pace car ahead of the lead runners.

In his prime, Rodgers kicked his way to a record-setting win in the 1975 Boston Marathon and then won three straight crowns from 1978 to 80. He has been a fixture in the running community ever since, eying the sport as not only a great way to condition oneself physically but to be a part of something so primal, so pure.

“Running is a celebration of life at its most basic, that’s all it is. It’s a simple, simple sport,” he said.

A simple sport will accomplish a significant feat, turning the ultimate negative into a resounding positive. It is a transformation Rodgers has seen many times before.