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Friday, July 5, 2013

A Runner’s View Of The Boston Marathon Bombings

Last week when I went to Copley Square in downtown Boston to watch volunteers taking down the temporary memorial to the victims of the marathon bombings I spoke to several runners who had tears in their eyes. One of them was a woman named Sarah Norcott, who wasn’t running the race on April 15, but she was sitting in a bar near the finish line and felt the explosions. Sarah told me she had the July issue of Runner’s World magazine on her bedside but couldn’t read it. She said she just couldn’t. That’s understandable, because seeing the photos and reading the words of the people who were on Boylston Street that day brings all of the horror back.

The magazine features a sort of oral history of the day, starting at around 6 a.m., with runners getting ready to head out to Hopkinton, Massachusetts, some excited to be running their first Boston Marathon on a lovely April day. Of course everything changed around 2:50 p.m. when the bombs went off. Then the magazine’s oral history features the first responders, police, and medical personnel but also people like Carlos Arredondo, who went to help a young man named Jeff Bauman, who had had his left leg blown off at the knee. And Natalie Stavas, a pediatric doctor who was about to finish her fourth Boston Marathon when the race was stopped. She ignored the police officers who were trying to keep people away from Boylston Street and sprinted to help treat the bombing victims. And Robert Wheeler, a Marshfield, Massachusetts man who had already crossed the finish line, who ran back to the site of the first explosion to help a badly injured man named Ron Brassard, tying a tourniquet to his leg.

“Maybe like a lot of runners, I found myself wondering, what would I have done in that situation?,” Runner’s World editor- in-chief David Willey said of Robert Wheeler’s situation. Willey met me near the site of the bombings a few days ago.

“That’s the kind of thing I don’t think any of us really knows until the moment is there. But Robert reacted in a way I certainly hope I would react. And I think a lot of people feel that way. I want to thank Robert for representing runners the way that he did,” Willey said.

None of these people – Robert, Carlos or Dr. Stavas – think they are heroes, which is why they are.



It's HERE AND NOW. Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is scheduled to make his first court appearance next week. He's charged with 30 counts, including the use of a weapon of mass destruction in the bombings that killed three and injured more than 260 on April 15th. This month's issue of Runner's World magazine devotes dozens of pages to what happened that day. Editor David Willey recently spoke with HERE AND NOW's Alex Ashlock near the marathon finish line. David was on his way out of town on April 15th when he started to get word of the bombings.

DAVID WILLEY: I was actually in North Station. I've got one of those stories that seemingly everybody I talk to has. My original plan was to be in the grandstands right across from where the first blast went off and to take a, I think it was a 4 o'clock commuter train up to see my in-laws on the North Shore. I had ridden the press truck following the elite women. I took some photos on the finish stretch on Boylston. I was in the media center for a couple of hours' work. And for one reason or another, I just decided to hop on an earlier train.

I miss my kids. I hadn't seen them in a few days. A quick decision, I'll take an earlier train. So I was standing at North Station, you know, looking up at the big board, waiting to see what track my train would be on. And I checked my phone, and my email queue was full of these email chains that had been started by me earlier in the weekend with - to the staff. So it was like a reply to an email chain that was completely out of context, and they were, you know, like we're OK. You know, are you OK? Where are you guys? You know, things like that.

And I just thought, what is that? And I found out for sure what was going on as I was getting on the train and decided to stay on the train as opposed to coming back in and spent the rest of the day, really, accounting for the staff. We had more than a dozen people who were right here at the finish in the media center, four people running, people along the course. So, surreal day, you know?

ALEX ASHLOCK, BYLINE: Your June issue was already in print on April 15th. So did having more time to put this July issue together make it any easier, or did it make it more difficult?

WILLEY: I don't know if it made it any easier, but what it did do is give us time to make this issue be the sort of issue of record about what happened that day, especially from a runner's standpoint. So, it was a really, really intense five weeks. The staff, many of whom were here and were pretty rattled, you know, either from running or being spectators or being on lockdown in the media center for several hours, just stepped up. You know, we really came together and felt like we wanted to honor what had happened here and try to help people understand and move on from it.

So, it was very intense but we felt like we were doing something that nobody else was going to do, at least not in the way that we were going to do it. So we felt like it was very important to us to do it right.

ASHLOCK: One of the most compelling things, I think, about this particular issue of Runner's World is this sort of minute-by-minute account from runners, from people in the medical tent, from spectators, people that really haven't - some of these people really haven't talked about what happened on that day, like Kara Goucher who ran in the race. I'm wondering if there's one of those that jumps out at you from that.

WILLEY: I guess to really - to call out one, I think I would pick Robert Wheeler, who was a guy who ran the race and was right near the first explosion and ran over to help. And the reason I choose Robert is that maybe like a lot of runners, I found myself wondering if I were running, what would I do? What would I have done in that situation? And that's the kind of thing I don't think any of us really know until the moment is there. But Robert reacted in a way that I certainly hope I would react, and I think a lot of people feel that way.

He went over. He helped someone who was gravely injured. He tied a tourniquet on someone's leg, undoubtedly helped saved that man's leg. And I know from our interviews, you know, he's having a hard time dealing with the trauma that he experienced. So, you know, I want to thank Robert for representing runners the way that he did.

ASHLOCK: Do you think what happened on April 15th is going to change the sport in any way?

WILLEY: Sure. Yeah. I think it's - it already has in sort of administrative ways, like security. There was a race in New York City, I think, just a few days after Boston. And the processes and protocols were already different. Runners had to use clear plastic bags, for example. I think that's something that may be permanent in a lot of races. I think a lot of races are going to, at least, change and maybe do away with things like bag checks. And, you know, I think runners are going to adapt and understand that we've got a little bit of a new reality here, and runners are very adaptable people. But I think it's going to change in other ways, too, for spectators in particular.

You know, one of the really tough things about what happened in Boston is that it was the spectators, the people who come out to cheer for runners, who really bore the brunt of the trauma and misery. And, you know, I think some people probably are going to feel a little differently about maybe standing in those huge crowds. I don't think they're going to go away. I think the sense of resilience and community will go on, but it's going to change in big ways and small ways for sure.

ASHLOCK: What about you? Personally you're a runner. Has it changed you?

WILLEY: Sure. Yeah. I always try to remember how lucky I am to be able to be a runner, to be healthy, and I do find myself feeling that way. I certainly felt that way when I got here yesterday in Boston and went for a run. So as a runner, it definitely is on my mind a lot.

But also as a spectator, when I heard about Martin Richard, the eight-year-old boy who was killed, that really hit home. I have an eight-year-old son, and he stood on street corners watching me finish races more times than I can remember. So, you know, in the way that we're all Bostonians now, that sort of sentiment, in a lot of ways, I think people felt like, you know, Martin Richard was all of our son. And I'll be thinking about my family next time I'm at a big city race. I'm not saying we're going to stay away. But something that I never really gave much thought to - I will think about now.

HOBSON: Runner's World editor David Willey speaking with HERE AND NOW's Alex Ashlock. And you can see photos of some of the runners featured in the magazine's coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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