It’s been one year since two bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon killed three people and wounded more than 260 others. Members of our community who completed the race last year will return to Boston this Monday to run again.
Allen Baddour, Resident Superior Court Judge for Orange and Chatham Counties, Dr. Peter Leon, Professor of Medicine at UNC, and Luke Rowe, vice president of Fleet Feet Sports in Carrboro, were a matter of miles away or less when the explosions happened.
Both Baddour and Leon were able to finish the marathon before the bombs went off.
“I think it is important for all of us who can to show the strength and resilience of runners in particular and Americans in general. I think a way to do that is to show up and run,” Baddour said.
They were joined by dozens of Triangle residents who avoided the blasts, including UNC alum and three-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan, who was the fastest American woman in last year’s Boston Marathon, finishing in fourth place.
“[I’ll race] because I refuse to let anybody, any terrorist, take away what is fundamentally an American event celebrating Boston,” Leon said.
As they gear up for the 2014 Boston Marathon this Monday, all those who were there last year said the memories are still vivid.
“The Boston mentality—sort of this idea that, ‘Hey, we are going to make it no matter what.’ [There’s a] toughness and grittiness, and I can only imagine what it is going to be like when the survivors are at the finish line,” Rowe said.
Baddour, a seasoned marathon runner, said he had never before questioned the issue of public safety during a race.
“It was a real shock. It is not something that ever occurred to me that would happen at a race. It made me feel defiant, in fact, and angry that someone would do this,” he said.
Rowe, a Massachusetts native, recalled sitting in the bleachers near the finish line watching the runners finish in waves, waiting for his niece to complete the race.
His seat was across the street from where the first bomb detonated.
“We came out of the stands and walked up toward the Marriot where we were staying, and that is when the explosion happened. Honestly, it was muffled, and we never really heard it. We just saw the immediate aftermath,” Rowe said.
Rowe’s niece finished the race just a few minutes before the blast and left the area in time to avoid getting hurt. Separated from Rowe’s group of spectators, there was a period of time when he wasn’t able to reach his niece or her husband.
“She’s a pretty tough nut, but it really bothered her and especially not knowing what [or why]. That was the initial reaction. Nobody knew what happened,” Rowe said.
Leon recalled that April 15, 2013, was a gorgeous day, and he said it was perfect weather for running. After completing his third Boston Marathon, he stayed to celebrate with the other runners. Leon then walked back to his hotel which was a about half a mile away from the finish line.
He said he heard the first explosion while crossing the street to his hotel, initially thinking it was celebratory firing of a cannon.
About 15 or 20 minutes later, friends and family began reaching out to see if he was okay. At that point, he realized what had happened.
His hotel was placed under lockdown as emergency personnel searched the city for other explosives.
“It went from this celebration, which it really is, to this very sad and tragic event, with helicopters going round and police cars and sirens,” Leon said.
After completing the race, Baddour said he took the subway back to a family friend’s house in Newton, a city about 7 miles west of downtown Boston. As with Leon, he found out about the bombings as loved ones in North Carolina reached out to see if he was okay.
Baddour said he was thankful that he and his family were away from the race area when the attacks happened.
Finishing the marathon on Monday, he said, will be his way to find closure and to honor the Boston community, which showed its strength in the wake of tragedy.
“After last year, I really feel a connection to the city, and I think anyone who was there [during the marathon] would,” Baddour said.
After processing what had happened in his hotel room last year, Leon said he immediately made up his mind that he would return. He said he wanted to show his children that they shouldn’t be afraid.
“It sort of bound us to the community and the ‘Boston Strong’ part of it is that you realize that we are a community of people,” Leon said. “We stand together against terrorism and against anybody or anything that would take away our freedom.”
Leon said that when he crosses the finish line this year, he will likely be overcome with emotion.
“It is not about running fast. It is about being there and crossing the line. I know coming down that last .2 of a mile, there are grandstands there and crowds cheering you on, and you can see the finish line. All of the events from last year will be in my head. It will be hard not to shake that. It’ll be bittersweet,” Leon said. “I can’t forget the lives that were forever changed because of what happened last year.”
WCHL’s own Jan Bolick and Art Chansky were in Boston for the race and were in the area when the explosions occurred .
Bolick, who ran in the marathon but was unable to complete it due to the bombings, will travel again to Boston to race this Monday.