Photo: Ryan-Bethke / Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas
On September 28, I booked my flights to Las Vegas for the city's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. Three days later, a gunman opened fire on the Route 91 Harvest country music festival taking place on the Vegas Strip, killing 58 people and injuring 546 in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Almost immediately, texts started coming in from family and friends who knew I was planning to run that race, asking if I was still going to go. The half marathon would take place just six weeks after the shooting; the starting line was almost directly across from the Mandalay Bay resort, where the gunman stationed himself on October 1, and the majority of the race takes place on the Vegas Strip, where the tragedy occurred. I was surprised to get those texts, though, because I hadn't thought twice about it—of course I was still going.
I had originally signed up because running the Vegas Strip sounded fun and different, and it was a good excuse to go party in Vegas. But after the shooting, I was determined to run to prove that I won't let one person's actions keep me from living and celebrating life. If anything, the way people came together made me want to run this half marathon even more than when I thought it would just be a party weekend.
I have the philosophy that if we live in fear, then they win. Should we not go to concerts after the bombing at Ariana Grande's Manchester concert? Should we avoid clubs after the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Florida? Should we only watch movies at home since the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO? Should we stop running in organized races after the Boston Marathon bombing?
I'll tell you this: Terror did not win in Vegas.
As I stood in my crowded corral, I watched people from all over the world encourage each other, share course tips, and compliment each other's costumes. Security was tight, and the starting line had been moved one mile down from its original location by the Mandalay Bay, the site of the shooting. But that didn't put a damper on anyone's mood; the energy from the nearly 20,000 half marathon runners was electric. By the time the starting gun went off, I couldn't wait to run.
Rock 'n' Roll races typically have music and entertainment lining the course, but this time, the race observed an extended moment of silence for the first two and a half miles to pay tribute to the victims and families of the shooting. I took my headphones off and got a little choked up listening to the cheers of all the spectators that still came out despite what happened. I couldn't go 50 feet without seeing a #VegasStrong poster.
But the race wasn't just about reminding people of what happened on October 1. Runners were dressed in silly costumes (of course there were brides and grooms, but there were also bananas and sharks, Wonder Women and Spidermen, tons of tutus—a hell of a lot of tutus); spectators handing out beers and mimosas to thirsty runners; Elvis impersonators playing the piano on the side of the road and KISS impersonators serenading runners in the street; and signs like "You paid to do this!" and "This course is long and hard, but when has long and hard ever been a bad thing?" And the dazzling lights of Las Vegas' famous neon signs escorted runners from the start line all the way through the finish. This race—despite the events that preceded it—was exactly what you'd expect from a race through Las Vegas, and proof that what happened in Vegas doesn't define Vegas.
I crossed the finish line just over a personal best time, but I didn't run this race to break records. I ran it because I wanted to show that no one should scare people away from doing what they love. You can't let fear—fear of not finishing, fear that someone or something might keep you from finishing—hold you back.