It’s April 15, 2013 at 2:50 p.m., Boylston Street in Boston. An earth shattering explosion goes off in one of the most densely crowded areas of the Boston Marathon.
“Runners were going by and one girl came… she just dropped to her knees screaming this awful, blood-curdling scream. And that’s when I thought, ‘what is going on? That reaction is bad. We’ve got to get out of here.’” Gina Spinale was a block and a half away from the explosion.
Her husband, Craig Spinale, ran the Boston Marathon for his first time last year. He was a half-mile from the finish line when the bombs exploded. Spinale was born in Boston in 1965 and moved to Greensboro in 1992. In 1999, Craig suffered a heart attack from heavy stress. Of course he survived, but was told he would never be able to run a marathon after the heart attack.
To get healthy, Craig started playing basketball and lifting weights, but he did anything he could to stay away from running. In 2010, he was diagnosed with sleep apnea and decided he needed to lose weight. He started training with Team and Training, a fundraising arm for a Lymphoma and Leukemia society.
“They train you to do endurance events, and you agree to raise money for them at races if they train you. So I started running a minute, walking a minute.” After six months of running and training, he was able to run a 10K after swimming and running in a triathlon. Within one year of walking a minute and running a minute, he ran his first full marathon. Since then he has run three marathons and a handful of half marathons.
Craig’s relationship with the Red Cross started when he was attending college in Boston. “My roommate called me one day while I was at work telling me our apartment was on fire. As I drove home I could see a huge black billowing smoke cloud coming from the sky. That was our apartment. We lost mostly everything due to smoke and water damage. That’s when the Red Cross stepped in with monetary assistance, clothing, and really itchy wool blankets,” he laughed. “Those blankets were a godsend though.”
Since then he has become a regular blood donor for the Red Cross. When he started running full marathons he decided he wanted to run for the Red Cross in the Boston Marathon in 2013. His application was accepted and last year he raised $5000. He told me that of the 50 runners for the Red Cross this year they “were looking to raise $150,000 and they already have surpassed that number.” They have raised over $250,000 now.
Craig was a half mile from the finish line on Commonwealth Ave (Comm. Ave for Bostonians) on April 15 when the bombs went off. “I thought a transformer had blown. There was debris flying out of an alleyway off in the distance. Sirens started to fill the air all over the city and that’s when I started to think something bad must have happened.” Shortly after that race officials came out and stopped the race where he was. His premonitions of disaster were correct. Craig said, “You don’t stop the Boston Marathon for anything.” The runners were told there was a safety concern and that was all anyone knew at that point. “Then rumors started to fly around: a bomb went off by the finish line.”
“Oh my God my family is down by the finish line,” he said. “I need to get in touch with them.” But he couldn’t; his wife was holding his phone for him while he was running the marathon. He started asking people around if anyone had a phone. He found one. Called. No luck.
“In the first few minutes after the bomb, all of the phone lines were jammed up.” He had no clue if his dad, brother, sister, daughters, and wife were okay. He had no idea where they were. He sent out a text hoping it would go through. Craig woke up early in the morning for the race and the last time he had seen his wife was when he kissed her goodbye. The only way Craig and Gina knew to meet each other was by judging Craig’s estimated pace of when he would finish the race. The man whose phone he borrowed told him his wife had messaged him back. “We’re OK.”
Gina was a block and a half away from the first explosion. She and their family were near the finish line, crowded, smushed, into the metal barriers lining the street. The crowd was already at a roaring volume but then the decibels of the bombs trumped every noise in the area.
Gina’s first thought was, “’Wow, they take this seriously!’ I thought a cannon had gone off. 12-15 seconds went by and then first responders started running in the direction of the boom. It got really quiet.” People were confused, scrambling to figure out what was going on. Gina told Anna, their youngest daughter who was six at the time, to go underneath the barrier to keep from getting smashed on the promise that she would not go anywhere. They started seeing runners from where the blast was, “One girl came, right in front of Anna, and just dropped to her knees screaming, this awful blood curdling scream. And that’s when I thought, ‘What is going on? That reaction is bad. We’ve got to get out of here.’”
Craig’s brother, Jay, lived in the city. As soon as Craig heard from his wife he left the area where the runners were detained and moved towards his brother’s house. They wanted him to stay, but “staying there wouldn’t take him to his family.” Large areas of the city were cornered off because they did not know if there were more bombs. He kept getting redirected on almost every corner. “I just kept going around and around and around.”
Craig had just run 25.5 miles. Needless to say, he broke a sweat which was now a magnet for the 40 degree air and was only in his running shirt and shorts. He was incredibly exhausted and freezing. The metropolis was frantic, but Craig’s resolve was steadfast. He passed dozens of ambulances backed up waiting to get in hospital emergency rooms. The unknown still loomed over him. “This building I’m next to could blow up right now. That still didn’t take me away from my mission of getting back to my family.”
Finally Craig reached his brother’s apartment and doormen were posted. He tried explaining who he was, but was so fatigued that he couldn’t make any sense. All of the emotions from the day started pouring out and he broke down crying. “I didn’t have time to think about any of that because I was determined to get home. As I was explaining, I realized it was the first time that any of that crossed my mind. I realized I was part of a terrorist attack.” Fortunately, they already knew who he was because his brother told them that he would be there. They helped him into the elevator. After an hour and a half, he finally made it to his family and this time, shed tears of joy.
The Red Cross was there at the start. They were there before the start. The Red Cross trains just like the runners do for these events, except they hope they never have to use their skills. Over 400 volunteers were stationed throughout the race that day to help anyone, be it a runner or spectator, who needs assistance. They set up a DOC (Disaster Operations Center) tent as well. When the call about the blasts went out, the DOC sprinted into action. From that point on, the Red Cross started its own marathon of relief efforts to victims and volunteers of the bombings. The organization continued to play a role in helping victims long after by making mental health contacts, opening a family assistance center, giving financial grants, setting up emergency operations and call centers, and many other services.
The Red Cross councilors constantly called Craig and his family to check up on them. Craig told me, “The director of the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) was so grateful for everything that the Red Cross had done that he wanted to come do something for them in return. So the director awarded the medals to those who were not able to get their medals before the bombs went off.”
Craig has decided to run for the Red Cross again this year. “In light of everything they did for the bombing last year, I wanted to be around those people and that team and raise money for them again.”
Craig and his family will be just a few of the thousands in attendance this year who were there last year. Even more who were not there last year will be there to show support. Many more now know the freedom of giving themselves to others with no other incentive than to help. They feel and know the universal bond that we all share through catastrophe. They know the exhilaration of transcending every obstacle to give compassion to those that hurt. It is its own ‘runner’s high.’ The Spinales’ story is one small story in a tragedy filled with many. But today, we learn from their experience of how to love as we should and to give of ourselves so that we too can cross the finish line together and be Boston Strong.
You can support Craig or the Red Cross Team by donating here at http://www.crowdrise.com/arc2014bostonmarathon/fundraiser/craigspinale