As told to the staff of Boston magazine.
33, South Boston
I crossed the finish line with my girlfriend, Erin. And then, 25 seconds later, the first explosion went off. Everybody was in a panic, not knowing what happened. I knew exactly what it was, because I’d heard it on more than one occasion. I was an Army Ranger. I was a team leader on a forward infantry unit. That kind of stuff happens when you go out looking for bad guys. And that happened to us a lot. And it happened in Boston. I ran back to the first bombing scene to aid the wounded. It looked like a war zone. People had shrapnel in their legs and in their faces. There was blood everywhere. I grabbed a tourniquet and put it on one person’s leg. Checked him out. Nothing. No other bleeding. I put another tourniquet on another person. I was there for under 10 minutes, and that’s how long it took to get all those people out of there—under 10 minutes. That’s how good the EMS and the first responders were. How do you wind down from something like that? You don’t want to sit there watching the news with the same information over and over. When I was overseas, I’d go to the weight room with a buddy and then watch The Three Stooges.
This was my 11th Boston Marathon and the eighth time I’ve run it for charity. I saw up ahead everyone stopping, bunching up, right at the Mass. Ave. bridge. Within minutes, an official got on a bullhorn and said there was an incident at the finish. It was very sad and frightening and emotional. And how ironic, that a lot of these people who were raising money for outstanding nonprofit organizations, trying to help people—a lot of us aren’t the strongest runners or fastest, so we’re out there longer—and we were stopped before we got to our goal. How about setting aside a day when the course is opened again? And anyone who was still out there could go to where they stopped, and they could finish it. It would be a statement against terror, and for our city.
This was my 32nd Boston. This is a resilient city. Next year, there will be thousands more runners to stand strong for Boston. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, I said there’s no way I’m not running next year. My doctor said I was crazy. I said, “I have 30 Boston Marathons behind me, doctor, so let’s get on with it.” They operated on me in 2011, and I ran in 2011 between my fifth and sixth rounds of chemo. People say that’s an inspirational story. No! It saved me. The marathon saved me! Running it, you see college kids cheering you on. You see senior citizens cheering you on. You see kids without hair who are getting chemo—they sit in their wheelchairs all day waiting to cheer for their hospital’s running team. It’s not about running a race, it’s about the entire city of Boston and the entire state of Massachusetts.
Everybody keeps asking me how I am. I don’t know how I am. I was about 60 yards from the second explosion. I was looking for my kids—all I knew was that they were on the left side. It was the definition of terror. I didn’t find my husband and my kids until 5:45. I didn’t know where they were. I didn’t know if they were okay. Everybody who knows me knows I’m afraid of terrorists and earthquakes—I won’t take my kids to New York because I’m afraid of terrorists. I know it’s wacko, but it’s true. I don’t feel mad. I don’t feel angry. I feel broken.
After 22 miles and four hours we heard that a “manhole cover” had exploded, just as we went up Heartbreak Hill. Our team continued on. There was an eerie feeling as the crowds who had been cheering us fell silent and began to focus on their phones. When the police and race officials stopped us, I was emotionally spent and I began to cry. Picking up my race bag the next day, I spoke with a few fellow runners, but most of us just exchanged looks and pats on the back. I was handed a medal that I have yet to allow myself to put on, and likely never will.
There was no celebrating. I crossed the finish line and heard the bang. It’s taken a while to sink in. I’ll never understand how someone could do something like this. [He starts to cry softly.] I think about my children—there were so many other families that are hurting far more than I am, beyond anything I’ve experienced. What’s special about my story? I think of all the people, and the history of this race. Boston is a unique city. We open our backyards and our streets to the world. The race happens mostly through neighborhoods. It’s a proud day for our city. We have to keep running because we can.
37, Neptune Beach, Florida
This was my first Boston Marathon. We made it a girls’ trip. I was with two of my best friends. I finished in three hours and 41 minutes and was about halfway through the finish chute when my lower body started cramping up. They brought me to the medical tent and as I was lying there, I said, “I feel like the tent’s moving. I feel like I’m on a boat, like the ground is moving.” And they said, “You’re just disoriented.” As I left the tent, a man told me that two bombs had just gone off. Then I saw a girl walking toward the tent. “I saw everything,” she said. She was covered in blood, but it wasn’t hers. It was about 8:30 in the evening when I got back to my room and into fresh clothes. Getting off the plane in Jacksonville, in our Boston jackets and gear, was the hardest part. Partly, it was being scared of questions and having to relive it, and also just being sad. There were news cameras and reporters waiting, so that was a little overwhelming. Everybody keeps asking, Will you go back? I would do it again tomorrow.
32, North End
I crossed the finish line, then got the Mylar blanket and my medal. It was right when I got to the area where they give you PowerBars and snacks when the bombs went off. The first thing that came into my mind was that it sounded like the cannons going off in Charlestown. We turned around and saw the cloud of smoke in the air. And then it happened again. Everyone started running. All of a sudden, people were stampeding, saying, “Run, duck for cover, there’s a shooter.” I ran and ducked behind the school buses lined up on Berkeley Street. Everyone was running and ducking behind buses. And then we were stuck between the buses and the barricades. Your legs are so weak you can’t even climb over the barricades. A cop let us through. I will absolutely, 100 percent run next year. Emotionally, mentally, how I will handle it, I have no idea.
What makes everything so heartbreaking is that it’s such a happy day. It’s like 26.2 miles of the best people-watching ever. There are hilarious signs, people cheering for you like you’re a rock star, music. There’s such a sense of community. I made it all the way to Kenmore Square and my friend Louie came to run the last mile with me. I could see it—I knew it was so close. Louie told me he’d just heard that two bombs went off. “Your sense of humor sucks,” I said. But he wasn’t joking. Louie and I walked together out of the Back Bay, and through the Fenway. Our friend Jamie always gives Louie crap for wearing long-sleeve shirts under short-sleeve shirts. I was freezing in a tank top and Louie was wearing, obviously, a short-sleeve shirt over a long-sleeve shirt. He literally gave me the shirt off his back—it saved my life a little bit.
For me, it was just a big blur of confusion. It was my first marathon. I heard ambulances and I’d just passed my dad—he was also running, but he wasn’t doing well, and I was worried they might have been for him. Then someone said, “Explosions.” After, I found my father. We were wandering like homeless people. No other hotels would take us in, but the Park Plaza was beyond accommodating. They let us right in. A woman who was staying there from North Carolina asked if I was okay. I just started to cry. She let me into her room, she let me take a shower and even wear one of her shirts. I hadn’t seen my mother yet, so just having someone motherly like that to talk to was amazing.
27, North End
I looked up and I saw smoke, and I kept on running—I was full-on sprinting at this point. And the second blast goes off, and I’m right past the Hynes Convention Center and right near the Mandarin hotel and Whiskey’s and that area. The police started running toward us, stopping us. It went from a full-on sprint to a dead stop, not really knowing what had happened but knowing that we couldn’t see the finish line anymore. And we had just seen it—it was just there. Then it disappeared in smoke.
People who had been in the direct blast area were running toward us. A police officer picked me up and helped me get over the barrier. And then two really nice spectators who were evacuating the scene helped me text my emergency contacts. You began to realize that the people that were down at the finish line were the people that you ran the whole race with. In a race, you pass people, and then they pass you, and then you pass them.
It was my first marathon. It was just like everyone said, how awesome the crowds were. To hear that spectators were killed and injured, it just strikes at the heart of the marathon. I think for me it’s just trying to come to grips with that. It was such an abrupt end. I ended up walking away from Kenmore Square. My phone was dead, I had no water, keys, nothing. These college kids on the side of the street saw me and I was hysterical, and they took me in and charged my phone and got me a beer. It was a range of emotions. I know I’m lucky, but I didn’t get to make that turn onto Hereford. When you’re training for four months, it’s the only thing that keeps you going on those long 20-mile runs. And to have that taken away, it’s just awful.
42, South Boston
I ran the Boston Marathon last year because I wanted to prove I could. I ran this year because I felt I could do better. I was miles away from the finish line when I heard about the tragic events. My boyfriend came to retrieve me and bring me home. I cried in the shower. I cried myself to sleep. I woke up crying. I cried at work yesterday. And now I’m just angry. But I will run next year, no matter how slowly, because I am not afraid.
This was my sixth Boston, and I was running to the finish and [she begins to cry] I was thinking about the Newtown kids, because that’s the mile marker. That’s what I had on my mind, running down Boylston. I crossed the finish right as the first bomb went off. It was 2:49:49. At the end of the marathon, it’s really loud and exciting and they’re calling your name when you cross the finish line. But I didn’t hear anything like that. The glass, that’s what I noticed most, glass flying everywhere. And the fire. The policemen were running toward us and just kept saying, “Run, run, run.”
30, South Boston
I told all my friends and my family to go to the finish line, that’s the best place to go. There is just a roar of emotion. It’s the best feeling, it’s a charge. After the explosions, I was so upset not being able to reach anyone because I led all these people to—maybe—their death. It was the worst feeling. It was heartbreaking for everyone. In the days after, I have never felt so proud to be from Boston. Sometimes I freak out about street cleaning and car towing. And don’t get me started on the MBTA. But hearing that people ran to Mass General and to area hospitals to give blood after finishing the marathon—I think it’s amazing. I wish I had the presence of mind to do the same.
This was my first race ever—in my life. I was running in honor of my son, Zachary, who has liver disease, and to raise money for the American Liver Foundation. Zachary’s 11, and he’s going to need a liver transplant at some point before he’s an adult. For the last decade, a man named Tom Nealon, who lives in Miami, has been running and teaming with Zachary to raise money. But Tom is getting up there in age, so he decided that this year he’d hand things over to me. We ran together, and he was with me the whole race. I didn’t get that far because it was my first race, but I was still proud to run. To end Tom’s run, and begin mine, with this horrific act? It’s just terrible. I’m having nightmares.
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Skye Bobbitt Johnson
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