‘I’ll Be Here': Boston Marathon Finish Line Coordinator Undeterred by Last Year
After the bombs went off, Tom Meagher made a promise that he’d return to his job directing operations at the finish line in 2014. And he will.
Standing between Exeter and Dartmouth Streets on Friday afternoon, as crews worked diligently overhead to secure the awning that marks the end of the Boston Marathon route, cars came to a crawl as they approached. But these vehicles weren’t stopping so that excited visitors could snap a picture of the iconic blue and yellow paint that marks the roadway and alerts runners their 26.2-mile journey is complete. The drivers of these vehicles were slowing down at the finish line so the people inside could stretch their arms out the window, and wave ‘hello’ to Tom Meagher.
“A lot of people know I do this,” said Meagher, who has been the finish line coordinator at the Boston Marathon for the last 18 years, a job that garnered significantly more attention after a photo of Meagher looking down Boylston Street as the second bomb went off went viral.
It’s not just drivers in cars that take notice of Meagher, either. Pedestrians walking past the finish line whistle from the distance to get the Duxbury resident’s attention, before extending an arm, high above the bustling crowds of out-of-towners in Boston for the race, to greet him. “After what happened last year, Facebook, all those Twitter-little columns—they all went crazy. Everybody knows I’m here,” he said.
This block—a small stretch of roadway that runs parallel to the Boston Public Library and the strip of establishments where the explosions occurred during last year’s marathon—is what Meagher calls his “zone.” It’s been his priority during race day—organizing security, media, and medical staff between Exeter and Dartmouth Streets— for nearly two decades, and despite the tragic events that unfurled unexpectedly in 2013, it remains that way.
“This is my focus. This is my zone,” he said, adding that people asked him almost immediately after the bombing if it would keep him from returning to do what he loves this year.
But it didn’t. “I feel great. I’m all about, ‘don’t look back on my life, look ahead.’ Challenges get put on your plate, and your mark as a human being is being able to deal with those challenges on your plate, and move on,” said Meagher.
Like most everyone impacted on April 15, 2013, Meagher remembers everything that happened in vivid detail. He can recount each step he took seconds after the first bomb exploded (Meagher, a former track coach, swiftly stepped into action to help a runner who was toppled over by the force of an explosion) to the precise moments after the plumes of smoke finally settled, shattered glass and spectators’ bodies strewn across the sidewalks nearby.
He even keeps a copy of that viral photo of himself standing at the finish line—it’s the same image that has made his presence known to strangers—gazing out at his “zone” as it was infiltrated by the second bomb’s explosion. Meagher admits that occasionally he wanders into the room in his house where he keeps the photo, pulls it from a drawer where it’s tucked away, and stares at it as a solemn reminder. “The picture that really went around the world is a picture of me, looking at the sidewalk, at the carnage, and in the picture there’s an orange glow from the second bomb. It’s a reminder to me that sometimes circumstance or happenstance dictates your life. You’ve got to be lucky sometimes,” he said, stopping again to wave to a person rolling by in the back of a cab. “Wow, was I lucky. I’m constantly realizing how lucky I am. I’m a lucky man.”
With this year’s race just days away, Meagher continues to mentally prepare himself to take on the duties he’s handled for years. He said his job as a finish line coordinator “will be exactly the same as every year,” but the work to get the city ready for the race in the harrowing aftermath of last year’s attack has taken a significant turn.
Just days ago, not far from where Meagher stood Friday afternoon, an art student named Kayvon Edson was arrested for staging a hoax while dressed in all black and wearing a backpack containing a rice cooker, an event that rattled the community on the one-year anniversary of the bombings. Edson walked toward the finish line—Meagher’s beloved spot—barefoot, a black veil covering his face, screaming the words, “Boston Strong,” before he was taken into police custody, his bag later detonated for safety reasons by a bomb squad.
But even that small scare didn’t throw off Meagher’s focus or optimism about Marathon Monday. “This is a safe spot, this is going to be safe. There are crazy people everywhere, and I know that. But this right here, this is real secure,” he said. “I’m a person that’s not going to get frightened by things like that happening in my life. It’s not happening. It’s not happening. If they want me to be here, I’ll be here. And next year? The same thing. And the year after that? The same thing,” Meagher said.
When asked how many more races he plans to attend, Meagher laughed, put his hands in his pockets, and stared across the street. “Maybe 18 more.”
While there will be more eyes on the ground this year, Meagher said he didn’t sit in on most of the security protocol meetings leading up to the 2014 marathon. “Organizing this year was incredibly different because what happened. Everything got magnified by 100. There’s so many things on the peripheral, outside of here,” he said, creating an imaginary box with his fingers, outlining the roadway he manages. “I can’t be worried about everything out there, though. I have to be focused on what I have to do that day. I have to run this finish line as effectively and completely as I can. And I’m going to do that. This is my focus. This is my zone. Street to street.”
Meagher said the only thing he expects to change in terms of his own job will be the high-level of emotion that will come with celebrating such an historic occasion—especially when victims like Celeste Corcoran, who lost both legs in the blasts, makes her way from Hereford Street to the blue and yellow line at Boylston, where Meagher will greet her. “Woof. That’s going to be—,” he said, raising his index fingers to his eyes and dragging them down his face, signifying tears. “It’s going to be emotional. And I’ll be emotional. But that’s okay. I’ll be here.”