The five marathoners

May 5, 2014

Boston, Massachusetts

By Dominick Reuter

The story about the four marathoners who supported their fellow racer in a moment of pain at the recent running of the Boston Marathon made waves in classic social media fashion.

I was covering the race for Reuters that day, and was near the Forum restaurant in case anything significant happened at the time and place of last year’s second attack.

Spectators watch the race at approximately 2:50pm, around the time of last year's bombings, near the Forum restaurant on Boylston Street during the 118th running of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 21, 2014. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

Shortly after that moment I heard the crowd starting to make noise and noticed a man I would later learn was Team Hoyt’s Adam Hurst struggling but still standing, legs locked after just having passed 26 miles. The cheers from the sidelines were louder than anything I had heard all day, urging him on, but his body wouldn’t cooperate. That’s when a man, I think David Meyer, stopped his run and offered help.

I had been working all day – from the starting gun in Hopkinton to the classic Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston – trying to find a visual moment that would communicate the spirit of this race, this sport and this city. This was my opportunity.

By the time I ran to a position to make a picture of them, Jim Grove had also stopped and was helping:

Adam Hurst is assisted by Jim Grove (L) and David Meyer down Boylston Street during the 118th running of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 21, 2014.   REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

They kept moving forward and I fought the crowd down Boylston Street as it seemed the three of them would lose it. They came slowly to a halt, and another man I wasn’t able to identify joined to help, and then another woman. By this time the crowd had grown even noisier, and the four decided to each take one of Hurst’s limbs and haul him closer to the line. The moment Hurst’s feet came off the ground the spectators erupted in a cheer and they set off faster than I was able to keep up with them on the sidewalk.

Four runners carry Adam Hurst down Boylston Street during the 118th running of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts April 21, 2014. Hurst stood up for the final yards and finished on his own.  REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

I did my best to follow and see how this story would play out, all for a simple preposition: toward, or across? Did the four help him on his way, or did they finish his race. As a runner myself, I imagined myself in Hurst’s shoes, and as much as I would have been grateful for the support, I would have wanted to cross the line on my own, even if it took me until sundown to make those final yards.

As a photojournalist, we only get about 35 words to communicate necessary information about our pictures, and most of them get used up with the basics like who, where, and when. That makes it even more important to be precise about what we say is happening, or even why it’s happening.

I caught up with the group as they reached Exeter Street, the final yards of the course, and watched as they set him on the ground, gave him a pat on the back and slowly made the march past the grandstand in front of the Public Library.

Both as a journalist and a runner it mattered to me whether he finished on his own legs or theirs, but most importantly I knew it mattered to Hurst. The last thing I wanted was for him to see my picture published saying he didn’t carry himself over that line.

Pre-writing my caption in my head, I made my way back to the press filing center where I looked up the bib numbers I could read and moved the picture. I even checked the Team Hoyt roster to make sure I didn’t misidentify Hurst.

I also debated which image to send first – the one of him on his feet or the one of him being carried – knowing that often the first picture to hit the wire is the one that publications around the world end up using. The image of him being carried would imply that he didn’t make it through the race, but I decided that it was ultimately the stronger picture and added a second caption sentence clarifying that he was eventually able to finish on his own. I was happy to see the New York Daily News pick up my picture and write their own version of the story.

Some folks have pointed out that this sort of moment is almost commonplace in marathons, and that’s partly true. But just because what happened that day on Boylston Street isn’t unprecedented doesn’t mean it isn’t special. The moment I was fortunate to witness sums up so much of what I love about this city, this sport, and this event in particular.

It’s not every day that I get the chance to make an image I find so inspiring, but as a journalist I know my job doesn’t end there – my job is to inform. At Boston University, where I have both studied and taught photojournalism, the gospel of the good caption is one of the top lessons we impart to our students. At Reuters it is one of the critically high standards we must deliver with every picture.

Details matter, and things aren’t always what they appear to be. It’s the responsibility of the witnesses to be as accurate as possible in their accounts. Every day, good photojournalists are working hard to deliver concise, accurate information through their captions — they’re worth a read.

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