April 23, 2014 - Don't live in fear and finish what you start.
Stephanie Bland (second from right) had loads of support to run this year's Boston Marathon from family members like (from left) mom Debbie Schreiber, cousin Emma Costeiu, 15-month-old son Brady and husband Brandon Bland. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
For Stephanie Schreiber Bland those aren't just pithy motivational sayings.
They represent what she accomplished April 21 by completing the 118th Boston Marathon in 3 hours, 45 minutes.
"I feel amazing," said the 27-year-old Oxford resident. "I feel so wonderful. It was the most phenomenal race ever."
For Bland, it wasn't just another race.
It was returning to the scene of an extremely traumatic and tragic event in her life.
She was there on April 15, 2013 when two bombs planted by terrorists exploded during the marathon, killing three people and wounding 264 others.
Bland was actually right in the middle of all the chaos and carnage. She was at the 26.1-mile mark, when the bombs went off in front of her at the finish line and behind her.
"The streets were covered with blood and there were people without their limbs," said Bland during an interview with the Leader just days after the attack. "There were screams. Everyone grabbing everyone. It was absolutely horrifying . . . It was an awful nightmare that you never want to think of and never want to see."
Despite the horrors she witnessed that day and despite the fear she felt – and continues to feel – Bland chose to go back and complete the race that she's "waited (her) whole life to run."
She was one of 5,700 runners who didn't finish last year because of the attack.
"It just feels good to have closure and be able to move on and know that I completed something I've worked so hard for," Bland said.
She wore a t-shirt during the race that basically said it all. It read, "Back to Boston to Finish."
It was definitely a very emotional and powerful experience for her. She actually got down on the ground and kissed the finish line.
"As soon as they put the medal around my neck, I balled my eyes out because I was just so happy that I did it," Bland said.
Returning to Boston and finishing the race was a way for her to deal with the fear she's lived with for the past year.
Following the 2013 marathon, Bland was scheduled to run in a couple Michigan races, but she backed out of them.
"I couldn't do it," she said. "I was too scared that something would happen again."
She conquered that fear last May by participating in the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City. "That actually helped me so much," Bland said.
Unfortunately, her fears went beyond racing events.
"I get scared all the time," Bland said. "I always lock my doors and set my alarm because I always have a fear that (the terrorists are) still there."
Loud noises, like fireworks, are a major trigger for her.
"I couldn't do Fourth of July (last year) because that was just too close (to the bombings)," Bland said. "I just couldn't do it."
Running the marathon again was a way for her to face the fear she's been forced to live with and deal with it head-on.
Prior to the race, she told this reporter, "A lot of people don't have the strength to go back and finish. They're still scared. They're still living in fear. I want to do the run and prove that you don't have to be scared anymore. You can't let (the terrorists) ruin your life. Having the courage to (run and finish the race) is my goal."
On the one-year anniversary of the attack, she got a tattoo on her back that reads, "Be not afraid." It includes the date of last year's marathon and the number 26.1 to denote where she was when the bombs went off.
Bland not only faced her fear by running this year's marathon, she flat-out conquered it.
"I was really, really nervous and worked up about (the race)," she said. "But as soon as I started, I was like, 'Okay, I think I can do this. I think I can do this.' And I had the most amazing race (in terms of pace) up until about the 20-mile mark."
That's when the fear tried its best to keep her in its clutches.
"I freaked out when I hit Mile 20," she said. "I got really nervous. I got really scared. There was a point where I didn't know if I could do this. I slowed my pace. I had to work on my breathing and remember why I was there."
Then she started noticing how the crowd of spectators was growing larger and larger the closer she got to the finish line.
It was a great source of encouragement and strength.
"The crowd was cheering, 'Back to Boston to Finish,'" she said. "I was so happy and so proud. It was wonderful. There was no way you could stop or turn back or slow down."
But it wasn't just the crowd that helped Bland ultimately cross the finish line.
She received plenty of "love and support" from family members who came to Boston to cheer her on and from friends who called her and sent numerous positive text messages.
"That's like the only reason I had the strength to even go back – my family and friends, and the support of the community," she said. "So many people have told me I've inspired them and how amazing of a person I am (for doing this). That just makes me feel so wonderful."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.