I dropped him off at the corner of Ring Road and Huntington Avenue, wished him the best of luck and told him just how proud I was of him, and with one last big hug, he was off to join the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team to catch the bus to the start of the race in Hopkington. I drove away reflecting on the days and months behind us, filled with fundraising activities, Jeff's long training runs in the snow, the injuries, the anticipation. To the previous days - the crowds of people in the Hynes Convention Center, excitedly collecting race bags and much coveted race bibs, the rows of fitness apparel and Boston Marathon branded gear, the line that seemed to be hundreds of people deep, waiting for the arrival of Shalaine Flanagan and Kara Goucher.
To the emotional and moving Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge pasta party the evening before, where an audience to the tune of 1400+ gathered to honor the runners, the friends, family, and supporters who raise much needed funds to benefit the Claudia Adams Barr Program at Dana-Farber. It was also a time to think of and honor the researchers and doctors who do critical work at Dana-Farber, and the cancer patients, along with their loved ones, in need of care. The hallways were lined with "stars" of remembrance and honor, and large photographs of Patient Partner participants - children with cancer diagnoses, who are paired up with DFMC runners. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house, as the excellent speakers talked about everything from training, to the astounding fundraising efforts of the runners, to the heart-wrenching stories of loved ones that succumbed to cancer. It was so apparent why the DFMC team is so incredibly important. Jeff was running the marathon with the team, in honor of his grandfather, who passed away several years ago from prostate cancer. He was honored at the dinner as a fundraising "Pacesetter", one of a small percentage of runners on the team who had raised over $8000. The generosity of our friends and family continues to amaze me.
Back to Marathon Day: Jeff's parents (Howard and Alison) and I had a big day planned. We were hoping to see Jeff run by twice - once near the 17 mile marker, and again at the corner of Hereford and Boylston, the last turn on the course, less than a mile from the finish. We started the day by baking up perfect croissants that Howard and I had started a few days earlier - seriously, they were perfect. Fueled up, we set out for the Green Line, that would take us near the 17 mile marker in Newton. As expected, the train station and the train were packed. But, unlike some other days, people didn't really seem to mind. The mood was light, and people were buzzing with excitement about the race. People were laughing and smiling, sharing stories with strangers, and were carrying elaborate signs to catch the attention of their runners, pom-poms (we were carrying three!), and more. We heard a story from a really nice man, while waiting for the train - he recalled going to watch the race with his wife and two small children, years ago, before the age of cell phones. His wife squeezed onto a crowded train, and before he and his children could follow, the door snapped shut. He signaled to her to get off the train at Park Street - that they'd meet her there, and caught the next train. Well, that train didn't stop at Park Street! With no way to get in touch, the family remained separated all day, until they met back at the car at around 4pm (and oh, by the way, his wife had drained the car battery by using the car phone without the car turned on). He recalled this story with a smile - this series of events was absolutely distressing at the time, but is now looked back on as pretty darn comical.
After a long trek, we arrived in Newton, with time to spare. I got a picture of Jeff from my mom, who was able to see him and give him a quick hug around mile 13 in Wellesley. Based on his pace, we'd see him in just about 30 minutes, give or take a few! The roaring, cheering crowd was infectious. Music playing, cow bells ringing, people cheering for ALL of the amazing runners. We were able to find a spot to stand right near the barrier, and waited. And finally - there he was! Smiling, and looking pretty fresh for someone who had 17 miles behind him, he gave me a quick kiss, and we tried to be fast taking pictures. Back on his way, we hurried to get back on the T. On the walk to the train, there were many booths set up - some offering snacks and cheering devices, another with people asking for signatures to support Newtown, CT. And despite their presence, and all of the sadness and shock that we all felt about the shooting tragedy, I didn't notice anyone stopping, including us. Newtown seems to be on my mind a lot, and has been since that fateful December day, but we were on the move, and to be honest, we had other things on our minds.
The line to get on the train was very long, but moved faster than any of us expected. At that point, we weren't expecting to make it into town in time to see Jeff make that final turn, but, we were still hoping. And again, luck was on our side - we made it to the Hynes Convention Center stop, made our way through the crowds, and found a spot right on the corner with about 15 minutes to spare. Somehow, we were able to pick out Jeff as he turned the corner, and he saw us! Waving, and still smiling, Jeff looked great. Those months of training and hardship obviously had paid off, and he was less than a mile from finishing the iconic, celebrated Boston Marathon. Howard, Alison, and I all had tears of joy and pride streaming down our faces. Jeff was about to cross the finish line!
We started up Boylston Street, toward the finish line. I had a brief thought that maybe it might be nice to get closer to the finish to watch, or perhaps we should wait on the corner of Boylston and Ring to wait for Jeff. But, it was highly unlikely that we'd actually see him cross the finish line, and we had no idea where he'd be exiting the race, so we decided to stick to our original plan, to meet him at the Copley Marriott. We made our way there, smiling, talking happily about the day, and at 2:23pm, I got a text message telling me that Jeff had finished the race, in an amazing 3:37. Wooohooo!
The three of us, along with many others, waited in the hotel lobby. Our nerves had calmed enough to allow us to eat lunch. We looked at the photos that we'd taken, and wondered when Jeff would arrive. At one point, we decided to move closer to the entrance, where we had a better view of the door - we couldn't imagine it'd be much longer until Jeff walked in. My phone was abuzz with text messages, as it had been all day - word of friends finishing the race, my mom telling me how proud she was of Jeff, asking if we'd seen him yet. But, for some reason, cell service seemed to be spotty. I tried calling Jeff, hoping that he'd picked up his race bag with his phone in it, and could tell me where he was, and the call wouldn't go through. My texts weren't going through. A young man ran into the lobby, saw that I was on my phone, and frantically asked if I had service. He showed me his iPhone screen stuck on the initial "Calling" message that appears before calls connect. Mine looked like that too, when I was trying to call Jeff. I was a bit confused by his worry, and told him that well, my phone wasn't working reliably either. He ran to the concierge desk, and I looked down at my phone again. It was about 2:52pm, and had just received a text from my mom stating, "They are saying that there are explosions at the finish line are you ok". What?? I thought briefly about not saying anything to Howard and Alison - it had been a long, emotionally and physically draining day, and I didn't want to raise alarm unnecessarily. But as the ambulances started to roar by, sirens wailing, we all knew that something was very, very wrong.
Texts and phone calls begin pouring in from friends and family, near and far, who had heard the news, and wanted to be sure we were ok. Some of my responses went through, others didn't. Ambulances continued to scream by. People were buzzing around, crying, trying to make phone calls, asking around to see if anyone knew what happened. We heard "explosions", "bombs", "finish line". Another text made it to my phone from my mom, "Explosions were near the viewing stands and some people are really hurt". What the hell?! That's right near the finish line! I went up to the third floor, where DFMC had set up a recovery zone for the team, to see if by chance Jeff was up there, and we just didn't see him come in. I was directed up to the fourth floor, where signs were posted with all of the runners names. The names of runners who had checked into the recovery zone were highlighted. Jeff's name was not. I raced back downstairs, trying not to panic.
I felt absolutely sick. I had never experienced anything like this in my entire life. As the minutes rolled by, with no word from Jeff, I was having a hard time containing my fear. In my heart, I couldn't imagine that Jeff was anywhere near the area when the bombs went off - he had finished before 2:30pm, and we'd heard the explosions happened sometime around 2:50pm. He should have been out of there, right? He couldn't, wouldn't have gone back to cheer for a teammate, or to look for us, right? What about our other friends who were running - Kristin? Carey? John? Jordan? Jennifer? Emily? Members of the DFMC team? I tried calling Jeff again - right to voicemail. Ambulances lined the street right outside. People were running around, hugging, crying, sharing words of support. My mind began to go crazy. I thought of Jeff smiling and waving to us at the corner of Hereford and Boylston - would that be the last time I saw my husband alive, or in one piece? The thought was unfathomable, sickening, heartbreaking...I have no words.
Finally, over an hour after he'd finished, I got a text from Jeff, "You ok?" In that moment, I knew he was alright. Thank god. He was upstairs in the hotel changing into clean clothes, and he'd be downstairs soon. Finally, finally, he came down the escalator. The three of us rushed to greet him, crying. We all embraced, so thankful that we were reunited and unharmed - not to mention incredibly proud of Jeff's accomplishment. But, we still had little idea about what was going on outside. Were there more bombs? How would we get home? It seemed like there was no where to go, and we decided to hang tight for a while at the hotel. We went up to the fourth floor, found some seats, and we all sat down for the first time all day.
Jeff and I traveled down a floor to get some water, and all of a sudden we hear shouts - "Clear the mall!" "There are bombs in the mall!" Naturally, everyone started to panic. Pushing, racing, shouting. We tried to stay as collected as we could, went back upstairs to collect Howard and Alison, and tried to figure out what to do. There were police and security personnel everywhere, and finally we got the word that clearing the mall was just a precaution. Ugh. At that point, after being herded like terrified cattle here and there, we decided that we needed to get out of there. All non-hotel guests were being asked to leave, anyways, and we soon found ourselves on the street. We figured our best bet was to get on the Orange Line (other lines had been shut down), and see if we could hitch a ride from the train stop near our house. Poor Jeff, trying to move as fast as he could on sore, tired legs - we made it to the Orange Line, and made it home with the help of our amazing upstairs neighbors. We were finally home, at almost 7pm, intact, but exhausted, shaken, worried, upset.
A few days have past now, and Jeff and I (along with many, many others), are still reeling. This is the kind of thing that happens in other places, not here. And to be there? Incomprehensible. Why did this happen? Who is responsible? I feel sad, angry, worried, heartbroken - angry at the few people who turned this joyful day into a tragic, horrific one, sad and worried for the injured, heartbroken over the people who lost their lives in this senseless act of violence, sad and angry for the almost 5000 prepared runners who weren't able to finish the race that day. I know that I will never understand the motives behind this. And I know that it's going to take some time for all of us to heal, and I feel sad that things will never be quite the same. One small decision, or a slower race time, could have changed everything in our lives. Terrifying.
The Boston Marathon has been part of my life since I can remember - I grew up just miles from the 13.1 mile marker, and can only recall a few years that I wasn't able to go watch and cheer. I've always thought of this iconic race with joy and happiness - how amazing and strong the runners are, how fantastic it is to see spectators happy and banding together to support the runners and each other. And I know that this race will continue to be amazing. But, again, I'm sad that things will never be quite the same.
A few personal take-aways that I have at the moment...
- Life is short, and you can't take anything for granted. Get out there, and make the absolute most of it. Have no regrets.
- At the end of the day, friends and family are all that we have. Make time, today, to make that phone call that you've been putting off. Don't forget to tell those special to you that you love them. Take the time out of your busy schedule to really connect.
- Bad things happen to good people, all the time. And while terrifying and life-changing, we can't allow these things to define our lives. We all need to go on living - we can't be afraid.
- Though the actions of few can be awful, the response of the many to disaster is unbelievably amazing. From the people who put themselves in harms way to assist others that day, to the outpouring of love and support from people near and far - the vast majority of us are very, very good, and are very powerful when we band together. In a selfish, busy world, we all need to remember that we're a big team.
My blog will remain quiet for the rest of this week, as I focus my energy on my loved ones. And I know that this blog is usually filled with sugar, so thank you for allowing me to share such personal thoughts. I don't really have words to close out this long post, other than to say, with tears rolling down my face - we'll all be ok, eventually.