When Sarah Bush was a high school sophomore, she was taking a math test when she heard an explosion. At first, she thought it was a senior prank or a science experiment gone wrong until the Columbine High School baseball coach rushed in, shouting that there were shooters in the school and telling the students to evacuate. Bush escaped with some classmates and as they fled across the street they heard gunshots.
When students finally returned to school after the Columbine massacre on April 20, 1999 — what was the deadliest high school shooting at the time — Bush like so many others struggled. But she found some comfort when she laced up her sneakers and started running.
“Track was the highlight of my life. It gave me joy after having to go back to that school and having to endure and be in the places that gave us panic attacks,” Bush, 36, of Eagle Mountain, Utah, told TODAY. “When I look back and reflect on high school, those are the memories I cherish the most, the track experiences and running.”
Running helped distract her when she needed it — or have time alone to process her feelings.
“When I went to the field to do track and run drills, it was kind of mindless and coaches are telling you what to do. You are kind of pushing through the pain,” she said. Throughout college and her adult life, Bush ran.
Bush's sister, Laura Hall, was a freshman at the time of the shooting. During the tragedy, Hall was barricaded in a choir room for almost five hours as the shootings occurred. Her family waited to learn if she survived.
In 2006, she finally felt ready to address her mental health, and she included running with conventional treatments.
“I was 22 and it had been so many years after the shooting I just knew I couldn’t live in sadness and holding onto that experience so tightly,” the 34-year-old from Eagle Mountain, Utah, told TODAY. “I was a freshman during Columbine and I just feel like I was a little bit too young to realize how much help I really needed.”
When Bush signed up for the St. George Marathon in Utah, her sister started training, too. The two of them ran shorter races and marathons, together and alone. Like her sister, going for a run gave Hall a space to deal with her feelings.
“It was exactly what I needed and I haven’t stopped since,” she said. “Healing and grieving is such an individual experience.”
As the two have run as an adults they both thought about qualifying for the Boston Marathon. While Bush qualified and ran it last year, Hall qualified for this year’s race and the two will be running it together. While they did not plan to run it on the 20-year anniversary of the Columbine shooting, the sisters feel lucky that they’ll be there for each other during the race.
“It is this huge monumental thing we have accomplished together not only in running but also in our mental health and our happiness and our success as individuals. It is huge,” Bush said.
The sisters want to share their experience to provide hope to others.
“It is hard and scary. We are scared of normal things. You can’t be a hermit. You can’t hide away. You have to choose to be part of the world and be part of the good,” Bush said.
Her sister agrees. “We believe so strongly you can find hope in your life and you can live a happy and fulfilled life,” she said. “We feel extremely blessed to share our experience because we feel like we survived and we can spread a message of encouragement.”