Last Saturday, October 15, I had the honour, along with my husband, to participate in the “Run for Laura”, an unofficial half-marathon from the Palace to the Promenade des Anglais, organised by Rommy Gianni, owner of the Monte-Carlo Polo Team, in memory of Laura Borla, 13, and all the victims of the Bastille Day attack.
Rommy and Laura’s father, Jacques, an SBM employee, have known each other for over twenty years through the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. And the group of 20 runners were mostly Monaco friends (who happened to all be in excellent condition) of the 40-year-old polo player.
The “Run for Laura” was by invitation only because any event over 30 people would have required special permission from the mayor. The initiative has already raised £5,600 (€6,250) in donations through JustGiving, and the campaign will continue for three months until the Snow Polo World Championships when Rommy’s team will defend their title in January, at which time he hopes to reach £15,000 (around €17,000).
Proceeds will go to Laura’s family, the association Promenade des Anges: July 14 and FENVAC (Fédéation Nationale des Victimes d’Attentats et d’Accidents Collectifs).
UPDATE March 29: “We have raised just under €10,000 following the Run for Laura,” Rommy Gianni told me. “Berlin Jets, our faithful sponsors, have been solidly backing this project and we owe them a heartfelt thank you. Likewise, we reach out to all the individuals who supported us, as well as Rolls Royce MC, Sass Café, the BeefBar and Cipriani for helping us get together the donation to the Borla family.”
My husband and I almost didn’t make it to the start. We took a morning train from Nice to give us ample time to make our way up the Rock but as the train crawled into Eze station, I knew something was up. Rocks on the tracks, service interrupted indefinitely. It was 11:15 am. We exited the station to wait for the 100 Nice-Menton bus, but after 10 minutes, and being joined by 150 others at the stop, I decided to hitchhike, a first.
Wouldn’t you know, I stopped a couple walking by who said they would gladly give us a lift but … they were driving a Porsche. I watched them climb into their convertible and speed off in my desired direction. I called the number of a taxi listed beside the bus shelter, and €45 euro later (for less than 5 kilometres), we arrived in front of the Palace, panting and sweating, at 11:57 am. It was a good warm-up.
We set off at midday, kitted out in our red “Run for Laura” dry fit Nike shirts, the logos of Monaco sponsors on the sleeves (BerlinJet, Beefbar, Rolls-Royce, John Taylor, Cipriani and Sass), and ran enthusiastically (but awkwardly) down the long cobblestone steps from the Palace before starting the not so pleasant 1.5 km climb to Cap d’Ail. The weather Saturday was ideal, blue skies and a light breeze, a contrast to the heavy storms that pelted the coast the previous day.
I had run this same Monaco-Nice course five days earlier as part of my SwimRun training, and it’s a stunning seaside route. When I hoofed it on Monday, I’d just left Paolo Sari, the Michelin star chef at Monte Carlo Bay, who’d been enlightening me on the Route du Goût, a bio festival in Monaco that had taken place last week. Over organic colas, Paolo described what it was like to be the first chef in the world to earn a Michelin star for 100% organic cuisine. I spent a good deal of that run wondering what it feels like to accomplish something that’s never been done before and what drives people to achieve, to be leaders in their field.
But running the same path on Saturday, in memory of a young person that died, the thought process was completely different. The heavy-heartedness of the Nice attack returned to my mind, the hours and days that followed July 14, seeing dead bodies on the Prom, the pavement seeping blood in the summer sun, the procession of thousands of mourners making their way on the Monday for a minute of silence at Jardin Albert 1er. It all came back.
I count my blessings, I was not even on the scene that night. My friends and their kids were, they were strolling along the Prom after the fireworks near boulevard Gambetta and when they turned around not a soul was standing except one man who lost two of his three children, their small bodies motionless on the ground and their insides not where they should have been. Psychologically how do people move on having seen such atrocities firsthand? I wondered how Laura’s family moves forward from such a tragedy. She has siblings, her twin Audrey, who turned 14 in August, as well as her brother Nicolas, 17, and older sister, Lucie, 20 – their carefree youth has been snapped away from them.
And so as our intimate “Run for Laura” group made its way west, we bonded on this unspoken grief; our feet expressed what our mouths could not.
When we hit Nice, we tucked into the port (the main road is closed to pedestrians due to construction of the new tram line) with only three kilometres remaining but were abruptly stopped by police and military carrying machine guns telling us the Prom was closed until the other side of the Château.
France’s national tribute to the victims of July 14 was also taking place, as Friday’s weather had pushed back the homage a day, and Laura’s parents were up at the Château in Nice with 2498 invitees, along with French president François Hollande and HSH Prince Albert II. Security measures were at their max.
Fair enough, but no one really wants to backtrack the last part of 21-km run. With access to the Prom off limits, we cut up to Place Garibaldi and followed the bike path along avenue Félix Faure, down to the Meridien Hotel and, finally arrived at our beloved Prom.
As Laura’s family were attending the memorial, Annick, Laura’s aunt, represented the family. She handed out bananas to runners at the energy station in Beaulieu and was on the Promenade, next to the floral memorial, facing Jardin Albert 1er (which was dismantled by volunteers on Sunday), when we finished.
Sipping a bottle of water, I sat down with Annick, and realising this is why I could never be a hard news journalist, tried to find a way for her to express being back on the Prom for the first time since the attack without being too invasive or sounding too Daily Mail.
“People back in Canada always ask me if life in Nice has returned to normal,” I offer.
“Normal?” she replied as if the pronunciation was new to her. “Life is a nightmare. The family cannot grieve because every day there’s a call from Nice city hall or another administration about paperwork. My brother can’t sleep, he wakes up calling Laura’s name.”
Unsolicited, Annick takes out a faded wallet-size photo of Laura and her twin Audrey, taken when the smiling girls in the photo-booth snap were nine.
Looking at the ledge where we are resting, Annick opens up about what happened that night in July, how Laura lost the grip of her mother’s hand. This moment will stay with me forever.
We talk a little about grieving and how there seems to be an unspoken time limit. For me, I think that every person that died on the Prom should have an individual heart drawn where they last took a breath, and the victim’s first name or nickname be written within. We can greet these names as we pass by, they can be talked to; we could finish living the lives for those who no longer have a life to live.
Annick talks about the possibility of Laura’s school in Nice, collège l’Archet, being renamed after her. A petition in August started by a teacher (it was not the suggestion of the Borla family) received 18,000 signatures and the official decision could be announced this week.
Laura’s father wrote on Facebook that he’d like the high school to be named after his daughter, who was “well known by all students” and “so that she is not forgotten”.
She will not be, Sir.
Article first published October 18, 2016.