Boston Marathon Bombing | A Personal Account of Being at the Finish Line
Note: JD Hale, Yankee Publishing Vice-President, is the great nephew of Yankee Magazine’s founder, Robb Sagendorph.
Until last Monday I had not been to the finish of the Boston Marathon since I ran it in 1986.
I was a rookie BAA volunteer in my yellow Adidas jacket along with my friend Bill Goodwin and wife, Cindy Hale. I would not wish our day on anyone but I am glad we were there – and I feel blessed it was with my wife, Cindy and friend, Bill. Being together helped us to do what we did.
The Marathon has always been part of my life – watching it on television with my mom in the 70s, cheering my Bates College roommate for his barely-trained crazy run in 1979, and seeing the Bowdoin College singlet (arch rival school!) on Joan Benoit as she won the women’s division, and Billy Rodgers taking it to Seko for the win for the men.
By the 80s, I was a working man in Boston – and I would rally my colleagues to leave the office down by Faneuil Hall at our “lunch hour” and go up to Mass Ave. (near a T station) and cheer on the runners. I realize now – I was still a New Hampshire guy drawn to the history, the competition, the simplicity and excitement of the event.
Then Yankee Magazine ran a cover story in 1993 entitled, “New England’s Perfect Day”. The writer, Todd Balf, did it all that day from the reenactments to the parades to the Red Sox game to the Marathon. I realized it truly is New England’s “perfect day”. From that day forward, I have always taken the day as vacation with one goal – make the very most of this day. I had become a true Bostonian.
My three kids were young and for fun we would often ride our bikes in the 5 AM darkness (flash lights duct taped to their handle bars) up the Minuteman Bike Path in Lexington, get near the green, ditch the bikes and run to the edge of the reenactment which starts at 6 AM. I always shed a tear at the battle’s conclusion. Every darn year we got wiped out! But we always bounced back quickly with the pancake feast in a different church vestry each year. And, also, found solace in hearing we did better up in Concord.
Every year, by noon we were in the hills of Newton at the Marathon, just up a bit from the fire station where the runners turn on Commonwealth Avenue and need a lot of support. We would set up our mini-water station with the kids. They loved handing out the water or getting “fives”. As the years passed our runner friends and runners we hosted from around the country knew right where to find us. It was a party.
Then the last few years leading up to this year – we have had Patriot’s Day Red Sox tickets. The kids are older now – and so it was the perfect way to see a game and see the Marathon in Kenmore Square – have a fun day in the city as a family. In February of this year I was excited to learn I had been accepted as a volunteer (98% of the volunteers are veterans). The three of us all got in and we were assigned to the finish in front of the VIP Tent where the wheel chair division, elite runners, BAA running club and sponsored runners (Adidas, John Hancock and others) are funneled through to after crossing the finish line. We would be working for Bill’s friend and BAA volunteer captain, Paul Clark.
We were positioned in Copley Square between the Trinity Church and the Public Library. The finish line medical tent was right next to us.
Shortly before 2:50 pm on Monday — we had been hugging runners with a “congratulations!” and warming BAA Boston Marathon blanket for about two hours. We had been working on other tasks since 9 am. I asked a volunteer to take my place for a break and I walked up to the actual finish line to get a closer look at runners at that amazing moment of victory, relief, celebration, and extreme exhaustion. My own memories of that moment in 1986 are very fuzzy – but seeing the runners, crossing the line, victorious, no matter the time — brought me right back. I was refreshed and ready for a lot more runners as we figured there were still over 10,000 still to come.
I saw Bill and Cindy as I returned and grabbed a handful of blankets and turned towards the oncoming runners. I think everyone knows what happened next. It happened right in front of us. We were aghast.
The blast was so loud. It sent smoke and debris skyward. (We learned later that bomb debris had flown right over our heads).
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