Sara Hunt, a 25-year-old with a big smile and an enormous sense of cheery determination, never seems to do anything halfway.
She loves softball, so she plays on four teams.
She felt out of shape last year, so she decided to run the Boston Marathon.
When that race was hit with two explosions that killed three people and injured scores more, Hunt didn't want to wait until next year to complete her first marathon. She traveled to Oklahoma City over the weekend to run in one that memorializes the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people there.
She wanted to finish what she started.
I was struck by Hunt's courage: to want to run a marathon again after only 13 days of rest; to do so knowing that the closer she got to the finish line the more she would have to confront her memories of the bombing in Boston; to immerse herself in another city that knows tragedy all too well.
I was so impressed by her story -- by her desire to learn from the survivors in Oklahoma City -- that I traveled there to watch her run.
It was a homecoming of sorts for me. I grew up in the Oklahoma City area and heard the explosion that changed so many lives in my hometown.
Perhaps that is the reason I felt a personal connection to the people who were injured and killed at the marathon in Boston. And it's probably why I was so interested in a group of people online who were pledging to "Run for Boston" in the wake of that tragedy. Instead of being afraid, they laced up their shoes and hit the pavement. There's something powerful and symbolic in that action, and I decided to join them, pledging to run a marathon by the 1-year anniversary of the Boston bombing and creating an iReport page on CNN where you can sign up to do the same. So far, more than 300 people have.
I also used this trip as a way to explore in more detail how my home city has been able to move past the tragedy. OKC is known for all sorts of things now -- an NBA team with a humble superstar; a river that hosts world-class regattas; a weight-loss-crazy mayor; a new (and way-too-enormous) skyscraper that went up amid a recession, thanks to a boon in the natural gas industry. But when I lived here, when that bomb went off, tragedy defined the place.
For years, when I told people I was from OKC, the next question usually was, "Were you there during the bombing?" I rarely get asked that these days.
Hunt seemed to be on a similar journey of discovery, but for different reasons. In Boston, she had completed nearly 26 miles of the 26.2-mile route when the blasts ended the race.
Of course, there were much greater tragedies that occurred that day. Spectators lost limbs. An 8-year-old boy was among the dead. But the attack shook Hunt. Now, sudden noises, like balloons popping, make her jump, sometimes to the point that she covers her head for protection. The sounds take her back to the moment she heard the blast and saw the smoke rising above Boston, when runners turned around in panic and rushed the other way. She was terrified, unsure what had happened.
"It was like being in a movie," she told me. "Seeing the trucks and bomb squads ... I'm from a small town. We don't even have police where I live."
For an hour and a half after the bombing, the young woman from Putnam, Connecticut, was unable to reach her mom, who had been standing at the finish line, near the explosions. Her mother was unharmed, but that was a frantic hour, spent begging strangers to let her use their cell phones.
So, Hunt came to Oklahoma City with a dual mission: She wanted to finish the race she had started, but she also wanted to look for clues about how to move through a tragedy, how to process it so it will cease to haunt her.
"It's another community that's gone through something like (the Boston bombing)," she said. "It's nice to talk to people who know what you've seen and gone through."
As it turned out, many of the clues she received came from strangers -- those she met on the course, and those who influenced its very existence.
'Runners are like the wind'
The thought that Oklahoma City could be bombed again had occurred to her.
But Hunt didn't want to let that interfere.
When she arrived downtown, before 5 a.m., a three-quarter moon hanging in the sky, the only change she made to her routine was to bring a cell phone.
She hadn't done that on a run before. But she wanted one in Oklahoma.
Just in case.
It was a chilly 50 degrees that morning. Runners gathered early for a sunrise service beneath an American Elm that locals call the "survivor tree." It nearly shriveled up and died after the bombing. Eighteen years later, it still has some scars and gnarly branches, but it's also tall and green and full of life.