Sunday, April 21, 2013
Boston Marathon: Ordeal At The Finish Line
It should have been a story about a red-eye coast to coast trip, a marathon expo, marathon gear as a badge of honor, settling at a pretty brownstone building, carboloading, bus loading, bus bonding, pre-race jitters, athlete village, meeting friends, happy pictures, porta-potties, start line.
It should have been about the physical, mental, and emotional experience of every single mile throughout a 26.2-mile course; about the connection with the crowd, and about every mile split.
It should have been the story about crossing the finish line and kissing the ground of another conquered state on my 50-state quest.
But it is not that story.
It is the story of horror and ordeal that started when I turned into Hereford and heard a huge blast. I immediately thought it was a bomb but looked at the fans to find some cues in their faces but they kept cheering on. Then I heard the second explosion, I couldn’t focus on the race anymore, I was trying to understand what was going on. I saw confused faces and the crowd looking and walking in all directions. I turned into Boylston and saw the smoke by the finish line. I slowed down and when I by mile 26 I stopped, the police was coming running toward us to stop us and protect us. Complete chaos. I couldn’t react. I felt on my knees and started crying. The only image that came to me was my daughter being blown up while waiting for me at the finish line. She bought her airplane ticket back in October to be with me for the race. She cancelled her trip at the last minute to stay in Venezuela to vote in April 14th presidential elections. She would have been there on that side of the street because I always run on the left side. She would have been there. She would have been there. Then I thought of my mom who should be in Copley Place, the building right behind the Public Library where the finish line was. Then thought of me running by the areas where the explosions happened, I was 3:20 minutes away from the first blast, and 2:30 minutes from the second, but the recurring thought was my daughter standing at the side of the street by the finish line waiting for me. And at this very minute, that is still the picture that comes to my mind. I can’t let go.
A lady that saw my distress offered me her vest. I was wet, it was 51F, very windy, and overcast. She also helped me to contact my husband and son. She dialed for me, I was shaking. She could communicate right away as only minutes have passed since the explosions. The police cars haven't even arrived yet to the scene. They did when my husband’s call went through, he said “congratulations sweetie”. I told him “No, No…. There were two bombs. Two bombs exploded by the finish line. I am OK. Please, call Diego (my son) and tell him to call my mom to stay where she is. I will go and get her.”
Police directed me and other runners to the medical tent that was right there. I was shivering, they ran out of blankets but gave me a cotton sheet that did the job. Two men were lying down on cots, two other were being helped, two girls were sharing a wool blanket. I shared the cot with one of them who asked me if I spoke Spanish. She happened to be from Caracas, Venezuela, city where I was born and raised. She was crying thinking of her family, boyfriend, and friends who would not know if she was OK. She mentioned where she was staying and I told her not to worry that I would help her to get back to her apartment in Beacon St. when things were clearer. I learned that she was member of the VO2Max team in Caracas, where one of my very good friends runs. I told her that as soon as we found a phone I would communicate with my son for him to send a message to our common running friend. About 5 minutes later the police evacuated us from the medical tent in Boylston and told us to move toward Dalton. We moved to the corner of Dalton and Boylston and we sat on the sidewalk by The Capital Grill. The medical personnel gave me a very thick wool blanket that one of the runners let on a cot. I was very wet and I needed to avoid getting Raynaud, a disorder that when getting cold, narrows the blood vessels in my fingers hindering blood of getting to the surface of the skin and turning the skin white and blue.
A couple of girls, Kathryn and Macie, were passing by and I asked them if they could help us to make some phone calls. I was very concern about my mom and the evacuations. She is 84, doesn’t speak English, and I knew she would not be able to go back home by herself. From that moment on the girls stayed with us and told me they would not leave me until I reunite with my mom. Not too long after, the police evacuated us from Dalton, mentioning that there was possibility of more devices. We entered in the Sheraton Hotel and sat on the floor at the lobby. The lobby was packed with runners and bystanders. Sheraton’s personnel were amazing, providing us with water and warm towels to cover ourselves. We still had no information on what was the magnitude of the tragedy. I presumed that people had been killed. Cell lines collapsed; it was impossible to communicate with anybody. I lost track of time. Kathryn and Macie where constantly dialing my son’s and mom’s cell numbers saying “everything is OK. Your mom is OK.” The comfort that they provided during those hours was priceless and I will forever thank them for their kindness. The Venezuelan girl saw somebody known at the lobby and she went with him. Then we learned that 2 people had been killed and there were dozens of injured. I was in shock, I couldn’t react and I felt like a zombie. I broke again. I let the girls resolve and make the decisions on what to do and when and where to go. I wasn’t capable of even thinking. They finally got a hold of my mom, and she told us the exact location where she was at Copley Place. I told her not to move that we were on our way. The plan was to cross to Prudential Center and Copley via the Sheraton sky bridge, but when we got to Prudential they had just closed the bridge to Copley and we couldn’t go through. We needed to go through the street, but at our attempt to leave Prudential, all buildings were on locked down and nobody could get in or out. As soon as they lifted the lock down we walked to Copley through alternate streets as the main streets were closed. When we got to Copley Place this was being evacuated, and my mom was not where she had been. I started looking on the street and finally saw her at the sidewalk almost 2.5 hours after the attacks. The girls and I had tears in our eyes. Kathryn and Macie, immense thanks for all your help and kindness. God bless you.
From there my mom and I went to try to recover my bag. I needed my phone. We walked about 0.3 miles to get to where the bags were placed. The area looked like a war zone. No smiles but tears, no happiness but sadness. We runners looked like refugees walking wrapped on blankets, with our heads down on isolated streets. The Boston Athletic Association, BAA, off loaded the buses and placed the bags on a nearby street. With all the chaos and street closures, BAA kept the organization to the highest levels. Once I recovered my bag we walked home, 0.4 miles away.
What came in the aftermath of the explosions were dead and destruction. Three young and beautiful souls were killed: Martin Richard, 8; Lingzi Lu, 23; and Krystle Marie Campbell, 29. 180 injured, amputations, people in critical and serious conditions, sadness, anxiety, vigils, prayers, and memorials for the victims and their families, 24/7 sirens, police, bomb squads all over the city, bonding with the runners and the city of Boston, healing, unity, strength, and determination.The marathon jacket , that "badge of honor" became a special symbol in the somber city. We runners looked at each other, nodded our heads, and shared a sad smile.
On Thursday, the interfaith service at the Holy Cross Cathedral, 4 blocks behind the apartment where I was staying, provided me some closure. Thousands of people gathered to comfort each other. We were one. Boston was one. I felt that, even with the suspects still on the run, the commotion was about to be over and the people were ready to start the healing process. Until midnight.
I woke up at midnight due to endless sirens; one after another, after another, for more than half hour. Instead of turning the TV on I texted my husband and son: “Tons of sirens.” My Hubby encouraged me to go back to sleep, but my son texted back: “Because a cop was killed in Cambridge. A gunman killed him at the MIT campus... Multiple shots and explosions in Watertown.” My mom and I had been in Watertown on Wednesday night having dinner at the home of a very close friend from my teen years. TV was on for the next 20 hours. The city of Boston and its suburbs were on locked down. Metro and taxi services were suspended. All businesses were closed. The manhunt in Watertown became the center of our world. The rest is history.
My dear running partner Michelle texted me on the day of the events: “Who would’ve thought that your daughter would have been safer today in Venezuela than in Boston.” True. That may have been providential, and although I am extremely sad I have no fears.
Thanks to all that were concerned for my well-being and my mom’s. All my love.