Be Strong Stay Strong


Be Strong Stay Strong (large)

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

Why do we love sports? Why do we partake in these excruciating activities to push our bodies to the limits, to drive our arms and legs forward in propulsion, to expend as much energy towards some sort of arbitrary time, goal, shot, touchdown, hit, or spike? Why do we do it?

A few days ago in Boston, terror occurred. At the culmination of one of sport’s ultimate moments – the finish line of a marathon – an explosion wrecked disaster, then another explosion, and dreams and hopes were dashed. Chaos ensued. A beautiful moment ruined. Bodies were shred like tissue paper. According to the NY Times, doctors had to make quick on-scene decisions: Keep this leg, amputate this other. There is no greater, horrific paradox between the two images: A group of individuals proudly and emotionally crossing a finish line – and subsequently completing a journey that probably was about much more than 26.2 miles – and the split-second-later gruesome brutality of a bomb exploding during a sporting event and in a public area.

When the images of the scene unfolded, many people – including in my own work place – stopped what they were doing and huddled around computers or newspapers. Our hearts broke. Our daily lives were suddenly interrupted. Our tears came. As more pictures became apparent, there was one individual on the cover of the NY Daily News: Nicole Gross, former swimmer for Tennessee and wife of Michael Gross.

Gross was waiting for her mother to cross the finish line, according to the Charlotte Observer and Swimming World. The scene and image is something straight out of a horror movie, and does not need to be reprinted here. (The family has explicitly asked for publications to not reprint that picture, as you can only imagine the emotional horror attached to it.) Nevertheless, it was a powerful image, one that evoked heartbreak. According to the Charlotte Observer, Gross broke her leg and her sister Erika Brannock had to have one of her legs partially amputated.

Swimming community, they need you.

There is a fundraising website called The site will be fully functional to accept donations on Friday morning. You can only imagine the amount of medical bills and future physical therapy bills associated with the injuries sustained. They will need financial help. They deserve financial help. After tabloids and newspapers slapped Nicole’s shocked face in the wake of tragedy onto their own publications, they deserve something back from the rest of us.

There will be hope that comes from this. Already, support has been pouring in. People have donated funds. There are images of people not averting the explosion, but running towards it in order to help. According to the NY Times, doctors and nurses used Iraq war techniques in order to facilitate on-site and emergency room treatment. They were prepared – though not for those types of injuries – they were ready and organized. The support continues. People have been running in their own communities with GPS tracking devices that spell out BOSTON. There are talks of fundraising runs organized to help bring money towards those hurt. Ultimately, many of these victims will need financial support.

What’s most horrific about all of this is that someone specifically targeted this moment – a moment of beauty, of support, of humans coming together to will themselves to a physical goal – and destroyed it. The finish line of any marathon is one of the most profound feelings of humanity one can experience. It is so incredibly supportive. It is so incredibly emotional. Because pushing one’s self to the limit – the entire philosophy of sport – matters. Accomplishing goals matter. Running and jumping and swooping and swimming and churning and sweating matters.

Now, some of those marathon runners and spectators will no longer be able to do those activities.

Not in the same way.

Why do we participate in sports? Because it matters. If you can run 26.2 miles, you can do anything. If you can wake up one morning and swim an 8 mile practice, you can do anything. If you can beat your own personal best time in the 400 IM when you’re tired and sick and have homework to do or work stress looming, you can do anything.

The runners struck down in Boston will not be struck down forever. The ones who lost a leg or a foot will not be lost forever. The community will come together to give them whatever they need – money, flowers, cards, prayers, thoughts, or perhaps the will to keep going. We will come together and remind them to be strong and to stay strong.

And they will, God willing, run again.

Please take time out of your day to contribute something. All the Gross and Brannock family were doing was celebrating a moment, a special moment, to prove that there are few limits in life. They were there at the finish of the Boston Marathon to live the motto to Be Strong, Stay Strong.

Let’s help them continue to prove that. 


Everyone at USA Swimming expresses deep sympathies towards all hurt and injured in the tragedies in Boston. Please visit to support the Gross and Brannock families.

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