‘This Is What I Am, This Is Me: Exeter to Dartmouth Street.’

Tom Meagher has been the man in charge of the Boston Marathon finish line for 17 years.

Meagher at the 2009 Boston Marathon. Photo by Victor Sailer

Meagher at the 2009 Boston Marathon. Photo by Victor Sailer

For the last 17 years, Tom Meagher has been the Boston Marathon’s finish line coordinator. He’s in charge of organizing security, media, medical staff, drug testers, and basically anything that happens on the course between Exeter and Dartmouth streets. Above all, his job is to keep the finish line area clear for runners.

“This is what I am, this is me, Exeter to Dartmouth Street,” he said last night. “Anything that goes on in that turf, you better tell me what’s going on.”

This year, just like every Marathon Monday, the former track coach from Duxbury—spry and compact at age 67—was out walking Boylston Street by 7 a.m. Later in the day, he watched as bomb sniffing dogs came by to clear the area. “They go through the bleachers, they go through the announcing platform,” Meagher said, adding that they check out the area with the clockers and photographers, too. “But they don’t do the private companies. On the bleacher side, you have the Boston Public Library. On the other side, you have commercial establishments. They don’t go in there.”

A perk of his job is that Meagher is always the first person to greet the race’s winners. He corrals them, prepares them for the oncoming media onslaught, and helps calm them down by making small talk. It’s a cool experience, he says, though he prefers watching the slower, average joe runners come in. From his station just beyond the finish line, he said he always see at least one marriage proposal. “My favorite part is the emotion that I see from the proposals, the emotion I see from the Dana Farber runners or the Children’s Hospital runners that are trying to help a loved one with cancer or a loved one with some disease. The emotion at the finish line is incredible.”

This year’s race was just reaching that stage—Meagher had not seen anybody propose, at least not yet—when the two bombs exploded, right in the middle of his turf.

“Oh my god, it was the most incredible explosion I have heard in my entire life. If I say boom, it was boom magnified by 1,000. It was big bodies flying everywhere. It was metal objects flying everywhere,” he said. “There was blood everywhere, there were gaping wounds. I saw a guy who lost both of his legs, I saw a guy who had lost his arm. He was holding his arm but I don’t think it was connected. He was in shock, I’m sure. I saw a lady on the stretcher whose picture I saw tonight who died. Two EMTs were pushing quickly the gurney and an EMT was straddling her gurney trying to resuscitate her by doing CPR.”

As the bombs exploded, Meagher rushed to the aid of the now iconic fallen runner in the orange jacket, helping him up. He works as a race official now, but Meagher was previously a track coach and administrator at West Roxbury’s Catholic Memorial High School and then a coach at Boston College. “I’m an educator. I’m a teacher all my life, and when something happens, you react to help people,” he said. “I’m in charge of that turf. I gotta make sure that whatever happens in that turf, good things, bad things, I gotta take care of it.”

The Today show took notice—Matt Lauer briefly interviewed Meagher yesterday morning, and the former coach’s race toward the explosion is highlighted in NBC’s video.

Of course, nobody knows the Boston Marathon finish line as well as Meagher, and nobody else can have as acute a sense of how things will be different next year. For starters, he said, police will have to start checking both sides of the street for bombs.

“Probably all up and down Boylston Street, they’re going to have police standing at every corner searching every single bag,” he added. Whereas, late in the day, he used to let people down on the course to hug a loved one or drop on a knee to propose, he supposes those days are over now.

He said he’ll miss the emotion, and that he’s taken the attacks especially personally—as he put it, the finish line “is ingrained in me.”

“Am I bullshit? Yes. Would I like to shoot somebody? Yes. To harm innocent people is beyond my comprehension, beyond the parameters of how I think. Yeah, I’m not happy. I’ve had a difficult time a little bit today because certain things just come into my mind. It touches a nerve and I get upset and I get a little emotional, so it is what it is. I understand that. I can’t control that shit,” he said. “It rehashes in my mind, what happened.” At least, though, he added, “the overwhelming incredible texting, emailing and telephone calls I’ve received has been just beyond belief.”

If nothing else, Meagher is looking forward to next year.

“Someone said to me after what happened, ‘Will this be your last year?’ And I said, absolutely not. Terrorists are not going to frighten the hell out of me.”

  • http://twitter.com/ryanmatthewb Ryan M.J. Burke

    Tom scared the crap out of me in my first ever 4×800 relay race in high school at the Reggie Lewis track. I was almost as afraid of crossing him as dropping the baton. Anyone who ran track or XC in MA is familiar with that right of passage. He had such a presence in on the track. He took the sport seriously for competitors of all levels and both commanded and instilled a sense of respect for what we were all doing. I am grateful for the opportunity to have competed in races he officiated in both HS and college. Hearing him say “READY… set…” followed by the familiar starter gun bang (sometimes multiple times for false starts) so many times… I can recall it now as if it were yesterday. Tom is a big part of the small world of MA track and XC.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brandy.baker.9619 Brandy Baker

    There are a lot of folks that are proud of you in Virginia Beach Pop-Pop. Prayers are coming your way for healing and your beloved Boston community.

  • Caitlin Bailey

    I have nothing but the fondest memories of meeting Tom at many of my track meets while an athlete at BC. Just the most wonderful man and I am nothing but honored to have raced under his watch many times. My deepest sympathies are with everyone who was touched by Monday’s events. But as Tom said, we can not let them frighten us. I look forward to next April when I plan on cheering on the runners for my 8th year in a row. Thank you Tom for everything that you do!

  • Jody Gaquin McNamara

    Tommy Meagher has always been The Man. The finish line has been, and will be, in the best of hands.

  • Nancy Graham

    Great story! See you at the Line Tom on April 21, 2014~

  • Sean McColgan

    Mr. Meagher was my teacher at Catholic Memorial, and I’ve never forgotten him. He was always a tough guy, one you didn’t want to anger. But he was also known as an incredible stand up guy, and the older I get the more I remember how amazing of a person he truly is. Thanks for everything Mr. Meagher. All of your students, myself especially, are better off for having known you. God Bless.

  • Matt Shea

    Mr Meagher was my teacher my senior year (1987) at Catholic Memorial High School. He was a straight laced, no-nonsense kind of guy. He was a man who you did not mess with but he could also make you laugh your ass off! I remember him as a great teacher and even a better man. I’m happy you were unharmed Mr Meagher, and I hope you’ll be greeting the winners from the Boston Marathon for many years to come!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=669953760 Baron Giles Norton IV
  • Sarah

    Tommy is a much-loved figure in track. I was so scared for him Monday, and so proud of how he handled the situation and represented our sport. You’re a treasure and I’m proud to know you.