Thursday, April 25, 2013

Guest Post: Matt's story on Boston

This will probably be my last post on the Boston tragedy.  A runner buddy of mine, Matt, was also there and had put together his thoughts on the day.  Like me, he didn't have a perfect race, but that seems to be overshadowed by the events of the day.  But, he doesn't have a blog and stuffing the below 140 chars at a time on twitter might be a bit hard, so here are HIS words.

Monday morning, I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time. This edition, the 117th running of the world's oldest marathon, seemed to be going off without a hitch. The starter's gun went off promptly at 10:00 am under mostly sunny skies and seasonably cool temperatures. Along the way, the crowds cheered and waved and hoisted inappropriate signs about "stamina" and how good my butt looked. (Aww, thanks!) Everything seemed to be going on it always had. Like the 116 before it, the 2013 edition was full of triumphant moments, happiness, and enthusiasm. The worst case was blisters and sunburn, maybe a couple cases of dehydration, but nothing more.

Personally, the race wasn't a great day for me. The "check engine" light had come on in the first 10 minutes, and by then it was flashing incessantly. I knew a meltdown was imminent. I walked more than I'd care to admit in the infamous Newton Hills, and even the downhills in Brookline and Boston didn't revive me much. I did manage to run, even run hard, as the course made the two most famous turns in all of marathoning: Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston. Thousands of cheering, spectators flanked each side of the course, as they have for decades, to cheer on the runners.

About an hour after I finished, I was sitting in the Prudential Center food court, about to dig into a burrito that I was sharing with my 9-month old daughter. My wife sat next to me, along with my two teenage siblings and my dad. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, the "Pru" is located on Boylston Street, set back from the road about 100 yards, and 2 blocks from the finish line.

We noticed a muffled bang. We all looked at each other, but dismissed it as perhaps a heavy metal door being slammed shut. A few seconds later, there was a flood of people, running and screaming through the food court, headed away from the finish line. My immediate thought was that a gunman was approaching, so I fumbled at the straps that were holding my daughter in her stroller, got her out, and told everyone to follow me as we made our way to the exit in the direction people were running. Some people were beginning to talk about hearing or even seeing an explosion near the finish line. When we got outside, in sight of Boylston St, it was clear that organizers had shut down the race.

Instead of joyful runners approaching the finish line, it was a near-continuous line of emergency vehicles. Instead of cheering spectators craning their eyes for a loved one finishing the race, it was horrified spectators hiding their eyes from carnage. Instead of handing out water and Gatorade and medals, brave volunteers like Carlos Arredondo turned to identifying the wounded and improvising tourniquets.

I really couldn't see all of this from our vantage point on the second floor of the Pru. But I didn't head to the finish line to see what had happened, or what I could do. To be honest, I didn't even think about doing that. All I wanted was to get the hell out of there. I lead my family back through the Pru, out the rear entrance on Huntington Ave, and towards the nearest T station.

Outside again, the sirens were ear piercing. Emergency vehicles of every shape and size imaginable rushed toward the scene of the disaster exactly as I was fleeing it. They didn't know if there were more explosions to come, or if any other gruesome type of attack was imminent. News of what had happened slowly trickled in through word of mouth and Twitter.

Dozens injured, they said. Some kind of homemade bomb, maybe. It wasn't an accident. Bloody wounds. Limbs missing. Blood covering the glorious blue-and-gold finish line on Boylston St. Maybe even some deaths. Yes, two confirmed dead. The
injuries might reach 100. Maybe more.

We finally made it to a T station where the train was working, and before long we were safely in the suburb of Winthrop where our rental house was.

For the rest of my life, I think, I'll remember that decision to leave. I don't know if I should have handled things differently. I can rationalize by saying I had a wife and young daughter to take care of. I can say that I'm not trained in emergency medicine and I might not have been able to do anything to help anyway.
But the thing that scares me the most, I think, is that I didn't even consider going down to help. I was concerned with nothing but getting out of the area.

I guess if there's a few lessons to take from this, it might be these. First, life is short. We don't know how much longer we have left, so don't get hung up on the small things in life. We all have it so very good. That guy cut you off in traffic? Your kids won't eat their dinner again? Probably not worth getting too upset about. In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter that much?

Second, live your life for others. I'd like to think that if I'm even in that situation again, I'll run toward the disaster instead of away. I don't know if I could have helped. I don't know if I could have saved a life or comforted someone. Was it better for me to stay with my family and make sure they made it to safety? I don't know. I can't go back and do it again, of course, so I have to live with how things played out.

And one last thing--there's nothing better than the running community. I wore my canary yellow race shirt all over Cambridge on Tuesday and caught eyes with dozens of others in race gear. A bond we all shared over triumph marred by tragedy.

We will not be defeated by the evil people who did this. We will come out stronger and better and more united. The good people in this world far outnumber the evil. I saw that on Monday in a way that I'll never forget.


Crystal said...

Thanks for sharing your story Matt. I don't think anyone knows how they are going to react until they are put in an impossible situation. I think as a husband and father your mind went to protecting your family. There is no harm in that. Plus you really had no idea what the heck was going on at that point. You didn't even know if where you were headed was safe. Ya know? I think we all would love to think we're going to react in a certain way.... but when the time comes, who knows.

Seize the Day! Love fiercely!

runningsurvivor said...

Thank you so much Matt, bless your heart! I have tears in my eyes as I post this comment...We all have those moments we wish we could redo but you did what was best for your family, don't beat yourself up! I too am in love with the running community, all over the world people are running miles for Boston and giving hope etc...Facebook has events etc to Run for Boston, it's just so good to see people coming together in unity! Blessings to you and yours.

Lisa said...

I appreciate you sharing your story. When I watched the events on the news, it struck me as extremely heroic of those who went immediately into the disaster to help others. And I noted that I would probably have run the other direction. We're just not all wired the same way. Those people are super hero's. The rest of us are just human.

Jose said...

Great post. You just about summed it up. Thank you for sharing.

Flaming June said...

Very well written. You should have a blog. No one can tell you what you should have done, but - as a wife - I think I would have been pretty upset if my husband had left my side. Something about having a baby makes one feel doubly vulnerable.
Now if you were a firefighter or doctor etc. by profession, I'd probably be used to the heroics. But in this case, your first instinct was to make sure your family was safe... and that is heroic as well.

Pat said...

Thanks for sharing Matt. You did the right thing. It would have been different if you were at the finish line. If everyone would have headed toward the danger, the crowds would have hindered the first responders.

Glad to hear your family is safe.

Sue's Ramblings said...

Thank you for your story. I had read Adam's and Lesley's earlier this week.

You did what you did. I don't think anyone ever prepares or know what to do in such a situation. Anyway, good to hear you and your family are OK and I do hope you'll return to Boston next year and year after and after.

Becka said...

Great post, thanks for sharing!

Jamoosh said...

Worst Funny Foto Friday EVER!


Thanks for sharing your story. Perhaps the next step is a blog?

Running Through Phoenix said...

Adam, this is by far one of your best posts!! The writing is crisp and engaging, the sentiment real, the turn and wrap thoughtful, the photos, except where you were in them, of Pulitzer quality. Great writing Adam.... keep it up!

HS Matt said...

The reality is that we all simply don't need to be heroes in situations like that.. most of lack training, composure and ability. And that's OK. Sometimes, steering clear of the confusion is plenty helpful

AND you can pretty much find an opportunity to help someone else every single day. Don't wait for another tragedy. Sure, you won't get the press but it will make you feel just as good. Heck, you've adopted a child. You done a lot for that already.

Al's CL Reviews said...

You immediately made sure your family was ok. That's a hero in my book.