Marathon runners will return to Vancouver Island safe and sound, if shaken, by the bomb blasts in Boston.
Four athletes from Nanaimo and two from Nanoose Bay finished the Boston Marathon on Monday before two bombs near the finish line killed three people and injured at least 175 others.
Gene Wray, who is from Nanoose but works at Buy-Low Foods in Port Alberni, completed the 42.2 kilometres just before the terror attack. The 60-year-old was in cool-down mode, walking away from the finish-line area to retrieve street clothes.
“And the explosion went off,” he said.
“I knew it wasn’t normal. And then right behind, another one, and it shook everything … I wasn’t right at the blast. Close enough for me. Close enough where I didn’t want to be any closer.”
There was a moment of uncertainty, and then, said Wray, absolute chaos. People shouted warnings about car bombs at first, not knowing.
“They were telling us to run. There was people pushing people down because it was just a wave. You could see the wave of fear coming towards me.”
He ducked behind a school bus, unsure if more bombs would go off. Quickly, police cars, unmarked cars, SWAT teams and ambulances were swarming the area.
Panic, then, set in, Wray said, because he was beginning to realize that he wasn’t going to find his wife at the finish line.
For two hours he agonized, finally returning to the hotel. She wasn’t in the room.
“As I’m walking towards the elevator, there she is with a couple of people, crying,” he said.
“We were all safe, and all of our friends were all safe, and all of the Nanaimo people that we know are all fine.”
Relatively fine. That day, and the day after, Wray had to see strangers sobbing in such a way that knew that their hurt was more serious than his.
He and his wife went out to dinner with two other racers and their partners the day after the marathon. The runners, legs sore, tried to joke around as they might after any other race.
“We were making fun of each other, how the curbs are too high to get our feet up,” Wray said. “But it all kept going back to the finish line, all the conversations.”
It’s an uneasy feeling, he said, and he can’t help but wonder what went wrong.“I don’t understand. We were out running,” Wray said. “Like I didn’t understand the school [shooting], I don’t understand this any more. I don’t know where we’re going. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand.”
When Wray had first qualified for the race, he couldn’t wait to go, he said. His first-ever visit to Boston had included a Red Sox game, and it had been a dream trip, for awhile. He has the souvenir Boston Marathon jacket, a status symbol
“That jacket is going to mean something different forever, to everybody,” he said. “Boston 2013. You were there. Well, for the wrong reasons it will be remembered.
“We’re looking forward to getting home, back to the Island. I’ll be glad to go home.”
In a press conference streamed live via the web, U.S President Barack Obama vowed to find out who was behind the bombings. “Make no mistake, we will get to the bottom of this,” said Obama.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a statement on the explosions at the Boston Marathon: “I was shocked to learn of the explosions that occurred today during the running of the Boston Marathon.“
* Greg Sakaki is a journalist with the Nanaimo News Bulletin.