CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Once littered with devastation and debris, in the aftermath of a tragic bombing, local runners plan to line Boston’s Boylston Street with healing and celebration today.
Accomplished and veteran runners from across the region will be among the 59 West Virginia entries and thousands more racing at today’s 118th annual Boston Marathon. A year after the infamous bombing, participants and spectators alike plan to gather in unity, while celebrating one of the sport’s most heralded events.
“Everything that happened last year brings to a forefront the reason that we’re out there, the support that we get from the spectators, our family, our friends,” said Lynn Fish, 57, of Charleston. “All of that just bubbles up and puts it in perspective that it’s not just about running. It’s not just about time; it’s about so many other things, especially this year.”
For Fish, this year’s marathon marks her third time running at Boston, and a return after not running in the race last year. Elkview’s Sarah Fletcher, 42, witnessed the bombing firsthand in her first-ever Boston Marathon, and this year she returns.
Fletcher, a former Nicholas County High School and Marshall University runner, said she experienced first fear, then anger thinking about the tragic events, before ultimately deciding to race again at Boston.
“At first, for a week or so, you’re in a phase where you’re never going to put yourself in that situation again, being fearful of crowds, to I’m angry, to I refuse to live in fear, and yeah, I’m definitely going back,” she said, “because you don’t want to feel like they have that kind of control over what you love to do.”
Luckily, for Fletcher, she escaped harm’s way from the bombing.
“I had been done for 33 minutes, but I was still down there near the area where they have the changing tents where you can change clothes, so I was about 1,000 feet away from the explosions,” she said.
Police officers and first-responders immediately rushed to the scene of the explosions, Fletcher said. As she realized the nature of the blasts, Fletcher ran another five miles to the safety of a Northeastern University campus apartment, where she was staying.
In the wake of the incident, Fletcher said it was difficult to communicate with friends and family.
“I got one text out to my husband that said ‘I think bombs are going off. I’m going to try to get out of here,’” she said.
It was equally difficult for family and friends, not at the scene, who were tracking runners as they traversed along the 26.2-mile course.
“I was following various people that I know from the community online, because you can track runners as they’re running,” Diana Johnson, of Cross Lanes, said.
Johnson, a 41-year old accomplished runner, had previously run at Boston twice, but did not meet the qualifying deadline date to race in last year’s event. Instead, she will run this year.
“People started emailing me to make sure I was here, because people couldn’t remember if I had gone last year,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fish said she followed runner Richard Boehm, of Scott Depot, as he progressed and wondered why his updates stopped posting online before she learned news of the bombing.
“I was tracking him on the web from work and all of a sudden I didn’t see him,” she said. “It was like 20 minutes, 30 minutes. I was thinking ‘Gosh Rich, you could crawl.’ I said ‘Why haven’t you finished?’ Then, I got the call that ‘Hey, have you heard what happened at Boston?’ and then the floodgates, for me, with people calling.”
Boehm’s run was cut short as the bombing took place ahead of him. He and all other runners who did not finish last year were invited to race again this year.
Other runners, like 23-year-old Ricky Campbell, who had previously ran Boston but opted against participating last year, reflected on their good fortune.
“If I would have went, you don’t know if something could have happened to me or my family,” said Campbell, a St. Albans graduate and president of the Huntington Road Runners. “In 2012, when we went, I have photos of us in that same location that the bombs went off in 2013.”
Now, with the violence behind, local runners going to Boston this year want to be part of the healing.
“It’s different than any other marathon because it’s just so exciting to be there,” Johnson said. “Runners are very compassionate people, caring people and it’s a tight-knit community. People are very friendly. I think the camaraderie will be even more intense than it normally is amongst the people running.”
South Charleston resident Glenn Baldwin, 55, who has run the Boston Marathon a dozen times said this year’s race is a can’t-miss opportunity.
“I think basically this year, at least among us, anybody who qualified felt we had to go this year to support it,” he said. “It’s basically a way to show people who do these kind of things you don’t win. My view is you can’t let that stop you from doing things. You can’t just stop living your life.”
Rather than panic and worry, runners will race with courage and hope, Fish said.
“I think it’s a healing and I’m kind of approaching it like we’re supporting the city of Boston, too,” she said. “We’re coming all together in support of Boston and all spectators, all runners throughout the world to say ‘Hey, we’re not going to back down.’”