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