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In Ethiopia, the Boston Marathon Gave me Hope

04/16/2013 12:13 EDT | Updated 06/16/2013 05:12 EDT
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BOSTON - APRIL 15: Lelisa Desisa, 23, of Ethiopia, crosses the finish line to win the men's race at the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

While growing up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I knew very little about Boston. Yet I knew everything to know about the Boston Marathon.

I understood the Boston Marathon to be where the world came to compete and meet a personal milestone. I understood that even a country that is as poor and powerless as Ethiopia can compete, win and offer a slew of best athletes as it did yesterday in Lelisa Desisa when the Ethiopian athlete became the latest champion. He earned $150,000 and the traditional olive wreath bringing delight to a country that places high regards on its athletes.

I also learned via the spirit of the Boston Marathon that winning is not a "sprint but a marathon" -- in sports as well as in life. In Ethiopia, countless people would celebrate the return of the athletes with handwritten signs that read: "Welcome back from Boston Marathon."

This year, the marathon celebrated its 117th anniversary and according to the organizers, it still is one of the six World Marathon Majors attracting half a million spectators and 25,000 runners annually from around the world and many from Canada.

Then, the spirit of the Boston Marathon was forever changed when multiple explosions killed three, according to multiple media outlets, including an eight-year-old, and injured many. According to CNN, "at least 110 people being treated, at least eight of them in critical condition and 14 in serious condition. At least eight of the patients are children."

In what Gov. Deval Patrick calls "a horrific day in Boston," it was reported that the explosions happened seconds apart. Severed limbs were witnessed as runners and spectators were running to find refuge. An eye witness described how he "saw people's legs blown off." Many described the scenery as mirroring a "war zone."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressed how "I was shocked to learn of the explosions that occurred today during the running of the Boston Marathon. It is truly a sad day when an event as inspiring as the Boston Marathon is clouded by such senseless violence." It seems we all know a Canadian or at least someone who is participating at the marathon.

One person I knew from afar who is a regular at the Boston Marathon is Ottawa's Jennifer Heartley whom I knew from my political activism days. She had been in Boston a few days and looking forward to participating with her children. She met one-time Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff yesterday and he wished her good luck via his Facebook.

Ignatieff updated her friends via social media earlier today: "I confirmed with her husband a few minutes ago that she was clear of the area and is OK. So are the kids. The bombs seem to have injured a number of people at the finish line." The victims of today's madness could have been anybody.

To those who follow the Olympics closely, this resembles the 1972 Summer Olympics experience long before I was born. In Munich, (West) Germany, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team was brutally murdered for a political reason destroying the innocence of the sports for generations to come.

I hope the Boston Marathon will be different. I hope the spirit that gave me and my friends hope in communist Ethiopia as a youngster is big enough to not be limited by the power of the person or persons who is directly responsible for this tragedy.

President Barack Obama addressed Americans, "Make no mistake we will get to the bottom who did this. We will find out who did this and we will find out why they did this."

Indeed, the world needs to know so that the Boston Marathon movement can continue to give hope and optimism to the world. In the mean time, I can not help but wonder why anybody would do such a horrible thing.

WARNING: Some of the photos and videos from the scene may be graphic and disturbing.

GRAPHIC WARNING: Boston Marathon explosion