For four local runners, their celebration after completing the 2013 Boston Marathon lasted only a few minutes.
Rockwall Running Club members Jose Lopez, Greg Rankin, Carrie Varner and Claudia Zulejkic had just finished the world’s oldest annual marathon that’s also one of the world’s best-known road racing events.
Their celebrations were interrupted by bombs and news of death and injury.
“I feel so sad and angry that what should have been this incredible event turned into this tragedy,” Zulejkic said.
“Innocent lives stolen and families that will never be whole again. My heart aches for all those hurt and killed. My soul aches for the hatred that the individuals that partook in this horrific event must carry. It’s a moment that will forever live in my memory.”
Varner, who finished the race just nine minutes before the first explosion, said there was no after-party, no celebrations after completing the 26.2-mile run.
“Actually, there was nothing at this point to celebrate,” she said.
Lopez found a positive side — Bostonians.
“I don’t want people to remember just that (the bombs),” Lopez said. “I mean, what I want people to remember from this is how a whole town of a million people came, embraced this race, supported these runners.
“That’s what running should be. It should be about being a community and embracing that community. It should not be about terror or fear or all this hateful nonsense. It should be about love, about compassion, about striving to do things you think you can’t do. That’s what running is for me.”
After the explosions, everyone — including directions from emergency personnel and offers of free food from restaurant owners — wanted to help the runners.
“People just stepped up,” he said. “That’s what I think should be emphasized in the media because we are a community, we are Americans.”
Zulejkic said she had agreed to meet friends at a family meeting station around the corner from the finish line. She said there were “tons of runners and their families hugging and congratulating one another.”
There was a loud explosion.
“My goodness, it was so loud that what was an area where you can barely hear yourself speak becomes silent,” she said. “Everyone is looking around wondering what the heck just happened.”
Then, there was another explosion.
That’s when there was “a sense of panic because of the unknown.”
Varner said she was picking up a bag that she had checked before the race when she heard a “horrible explosion.” She and others thought it was a transformer, but then they heard the second explosion. The second one frightened everyone.
She finally found her husband, Glenn. They knew it was bad.
“They (police) were clearing us off the streets to get ambulances in. Police, firemen, it was chaotic. The police herded us all out of the way, away from the finish line and we tried to find our way home. We walked down Commonwealth, which is the last mile of the race, and they stopped all the runners there. I felt horrible for those runners that did not get to finish the biggest run of their running careers. It was so sad.”
Lopez said he had returned to his brother’s apartment near mile No. 25. They heard a “bang.” At first they thought it was a gas explosion. Then they thought the noise had come from a construction site.
Then they began to hear television reports of the bombs.
Rankin said he and friends were in a parking garage and didn’t hear the explosions.
“When we came above ground, emergency vehicles were all over the place and everything was getting shut down,” he said. “It took us a while to get out of downtown.”
Then, he said, they started getting calls and text messages from friends and relatives.
“I think everyone in the car was having trouble processing things until we got back to the house and watched coverage on the TV,” Rankin said. “Very somber mood after that and was still that way when I left Boston this morning (Wednesday) to come home.”
This was Rankin’s first run in the Boston Marathon, and he’s already qualified to run next year.
“I will not let this scare me from coming back,” he said.
Lopez will also be back for another Boston Marathon run.
“Of course,” Lopez said he responded when a television reporter asked him if he would run another Boston Marathon. “I’m not going to let terror dictate my life because if it does, then my goals in life won’t be accomplished.”