For Julie Oh, running in this year’s Boston Marathon is not about having a great run or achieving a personal best. It’s about paying her respects to the victims of last year’s bombings and their families.
It could have been her.
Julie Oh and friends before last year’s Boston Marathon. Credit: Julie Oh
Oh was just a few hundred feet from the finish line last April 15, pouring it on and looking for a good finish, when the two bombs went off, one after the other.
“I heard screams. Three guys in front of me flew off the ground. Out of nowhere, there were police everywhere,” she recounted afterward.
She realizes now she was in shock for a while after the bombings.
“I was holding on to things, clutching things. I get a little jumpy” even now, she said. “The fire alarm went off at work, and I just sort of jumped.”
Oh suffered some hearing loss initially – “my left ear felt like cotton” – but it was the smoke from the bombs that really affected her. She has asthma.
“I was really sick from that. It took me a couple months,” she said.
Still, there was never a question that she would run this year. “I’ve got a little hole in my heart, sadness for the families and the victims.” Running is a way to show her support.
“It will be a good day, whether it’s raining or whatever,” she said.
Mark Schwager, former EG town councilor and fire commissioner, was less than a half mile from the finish when the bombs went off.
“You’re in the kick, you can smell the bar,” he said. Even though you’re exhausted, “adrenaline takes over.”
Then, up ahead, Schwager saw a “big knot” of people. “I thought, ‘I’ll just run around it.’ There was no running around it. We all stopped.”
At that point in the race, there were baracades set up on either side of the street, so the runners just collected there. Those with cell phones heard the news – bombs.
“Clearly the race had stopped and it wasn’t going to restart. So what are we going to do?” he recalled. “People are dazed, people are crying…. One of my biggest recollections was for the next hour or two, lending my cell phone to other runners. When they contacted family members, they were laughing and crying and hugging each other. The sense of relief that they felt was so memorable.”
Amazingly, he reunited with his wife, Pat Flanagan, when while sitting on a curb he looked up and there she was, in front of him, with her back to him. “It was uncanny.”
Schwager will be back again on Monday. It’s going to be a zoo – there are thousands of extra runners this year because everyone who was at least halfway last year was allowed to enter this year without re-qualifying. But, that’s ok, he said.
“Running is part of my identity, part of my story, and Boston is the Super Bowl of running.”
Hanaford teacher Jenn Foisy is going to run the Boston Marathon some day. She volunteered last year just to be part of it and ended up being stationed two blocks down from the finish on Boylston Street.
Jenn Foisy’s picture taken just after the bombs went off. Credit: Jenn Foisy
When the bombs went off, “I saw it, I felt it, I heard it,” she said afterward. “You looked at everybody – you were kind of in a daze and you say, ‘OK, did that really happen?'”
For the next three hours, she said, they were just trying to make way for emergency vehicles. “It was pretty surreal. We just did our best to clear the streets for the police, Secret Service, fire trucks, rescue – they just kept coming and coming.”
Foisy is assigned to the same spot this year. She said she’ll volunteer “until I qualify.”
EG resident Tracy Barron was near the finish last year too, to cheer on friends who were running, some of her Sweat Sisters (the name of their running group). She was eating in a restaurant on Boylston with friends when the bombs went off. After a few minutes, everyone was led to the back of the restaurant and let out onto Newbury Street.
“There was a party at an apartment on the corner of Newbury and Gloucester streets,” said Barron. “They were so kind and gracious. They invited us into their home, so we went inside and waited for the OK to leave the city.”
Eventually, she and her friends got a ride on a bus heading to Rhode Island.
This year, Barron will be running the race – her first Boston – as part of the Dana Farber team.
“Just watching the news and hearing the inspirational stories,” Barron said, “I just decided, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this. I’m not going to let what those two people did ruin it.'”
She added, “I think i’m ready. I’m psyched for the big day.”