For over 30 years I have attended the Boston Marathon as a spectator, a volunteer and a runner.
Five years ago, I was so proud to be able to combine my passion for running, my love of the Boston Marathon and support of our Chapter by helping the American Red Cross become an official charity team. In 2012 our team of 21 runners raised $89,000. With a team of 40 runners in 2013 we raised $172,000. The following two years we raised over $500,000. This year will be our fifth year, and with a team of 61 runners we will exceed $1 million in fundraising.
April 15, 2013 was a perfect weather day in Boston with thousands of people celebrating Patriots Day. A day our town of Concord celebrates the history of the first shot heard around the world, the Red Sox were playing and the 117th Boston Marathon was up and running. A perfect day…….
The Boston Marathon is actually two races in one. There is the elite part of this marathon which means competitive runners have to quality. Some runners spend their entire running career hoping to be a qualified runner (of course every year as I get older I keep thinking I can get there as the qualifying time go up. Problem is I keep getting slower).
The other race is the heart and soul of the marathon, the charity runners. For over 30 years, $234 million has been raised to support community based organizations. This is the part of the race that draws large crowds of spectators. This is the part of the race that the two bad guys decided to attack.
I was in the VIP stands with a friend, a few Red Cross staff members and families of our runners. We were tracking our runners’ times on our cellphones and could gauge when they would be at the finish line. Team Red Cross had four Red Cross board members running, two Tiffany Circle women and our CEO.
My friend Abbey was the last Red Cross runner to finish this race less than three minutes before the first bomb exploded. She told me later that she was having foot issues about a mile from the finish. She stopped and walked a little. Then she heard a young boy scream “go Red Cross, you can do it, you look strong.” That made her start running again. She said that if she walked longer she would have been coming in right at the time of the explosions. Her husband and two young children were just about to exit the stands when the second bomb exploded.
Three minutes after Abbey ran by, I heard a very loud explosion right in front of me. Then I saw a flame that went up from the sidewalk very high and bright, then saw glass from the windows break with large chunks of glass first going up high in the sky, then crashing down. Knowing there were a ton of people in that area, a spot I have stood many years watching the runners come by, I was certain there were going to be serious injuries. Then a big cloud of smoke moved over the crowd heading towards us. You have all seen these photos on TV. It happened very quickly.
Then I heard another explosion. I actually thought it was right in front of us again. But we later learned that it was in a second location not far down the street. I looked at my friend Mary and she said “we need to get out of here.” We actually ran, ran for our lives. We ran a few blocks up the street, through security and then when I stopped I could not stop shaking. I hope I never feel this terrified again. We then heard there might be another bomb under the stands where we were seated and I become even more afraid of the chance of more explosions.
I first called my husband at his office and he didn’t pick up his work line. I then called his cell phone and he said “Can I call you back?”
I said through tears, “I am not sure if you will be able to call me back. I just want you to know I am okay. There was an explosion at the marathon, but I am okay."
He then went back to his conference call only to be interrupted by many emails, texts and calls by friends and co-workers inquiring after my well being. He was then very happy I thought to give him the heads up.
Then began the long process of locating all our team members. Cellphone coverage was not working by then due to the large volume of calls. It took us 17 stressful hours before we had final confirmation all our runners and their families were safe.
It only took 20 minutes for the entire area to be cleared of all the victims. Any other city would have seen more fatalities, but Boston has some of the best trauma centers in the world. The race organizers and all the organizations that are affiliated with the marathon (including the Red Cross) prepare in case there is a disaster. They just never thought of a bomb explosion.
The entire world knew what happened in Boston within minutes of the bombing. There was a peculiar sadness for a week around our city. It actually looked like a war zone with the National Guard camping out in our public spaces, police officers at every corner on every street, the FBI and ATF in full gear.
Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers were helping out on April 15 before the Boston marathon bombings and hundreds have helped out since.
For the next four days, the city was in the grip of a huge manhunt for the suspects with every TV station reporting the news and rumors, fueling the heightened sense of anxiety. Finally, late Thursday, some photos were released by the FBI and the pressure intensified. By Friday, we woke to the news of identification of the two potential bombers, the death of an MIT security policeman, and a shoot-out that killed one suspect. The other was still at large. From the peace and calm of the healing service on Thursday, the entire city went into lockdown on Friday. We were told to stay inside. Try explaining that to your dog…no you can’t go out today! Finally, late on Friday evening our Mayor tweeted “we got him.”
During this time, the American Red Cross was in full disaster recovery operation. Team Red Cross runners, our coach and I received calls from mental health workers. The American Red Cross provided food services for first responders, the FBI and the ATF served over 44,000 meals and snacks. American Red Cross mental health workers helped hundreds of people and worked with the city of Boston assisting with victims and their families and some volunteers were requested to attend funerals with the victim’s families.
At the height of the response, over 400 American Red Cross volunteers served the community.
Dic Donahue, an MBTA police officer, was injured on Thursday night. Since the hospitals had used so many blood products attending to the wounded earlier in the week the hospital Dic was taken to was low on blood supplies. Several state troopers drove down a half hour at midnight to our major blood center in Dedham and hand delivered the 49 blood products required to save this young officer’s life that night.
I volunteered on the Monday after the bombing and got to ride in my first ERV (emergency response vehicle). We were sent to one of the memorial sites and we watched the city being officially handed back from the FBI to the mayor of Boston.
After this horrific event in Boston I have never been more convinced that the work we do as Tiffany Circle women in our communities is valued, appreciated and necessary.
Yes, I am running again this year. I said last year I was retiring from Boston and I even put it in writing on the Red Cross website, but life changes…suddenly sometimes. In June, the most important person in my life, my husband Richard, went out for a run and did not return. It’s been a really awful couple of months.
But, with the support of family, close friends and this is where the Tiffany Circle comes in as well. The many new friendships I have been blessed with helps me on my toughest days. Also, my Tiffany Circle involvement and support of the mission of the Red Cross, which helps people in need, especially after a tragedy, such as a fire or a bombing, this helps me carry on every day.