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Last April, 5,633 runners passed the halfway mark of the 2013 Boston Marathon before being stopped on the course and told their race was over.
We invited four of them to share their stories and explain why they decided to return and finish what they started. Juli Windsor was stopped at mile 25.7. Dick Chase just short of mile 25. Leslie Hadden at mile 25.7. And Natalie Stavas at mile 26.
Bob Oakes: Did you know what was happening?
Leslie: No, I didn't know what was happening. We run through Kenmore Square, we're on Comm Ave. just before Mass Ave., and we see that there are people stopped in the street. I start weaving in and out of them saying, "I have to get to the finish. I've got to finish this race." Initially, there were no officials making announcements or anything and then an official did come on a bullhorn. It was kind of, "We've closed the finish. We want everyone to be safe. More details to come." But [they] didn't really tell us what had happened.
How did you feel at that moment?
Leslie: Very frustrated, extremely disappointed and all I wanted to do was just get to the finish.
Dick: I first heard that something had happened about mile 22. I didn't know what was happening, heard it actually from another runner whose son had called him. Then we noticed all the police gathering in clumps rather than being spread out on the route. But no one told us anything so we just kept running.
Finally about mile 23 they said, "We're going to take you off on the next block," and we just kept running. I also heard rumors that there was an alternate finish area, a top secret alternate finish area, that we could all go to and finish. So we kept going. And then finally just before mile 25 at the overpass to the [Mass] Pike, they stopped us. The road was blocked, and they said, "You have to go home." I live in Southborough which is right next to Hopkinton. I just came from home. I had no desire to go back home. I have one direction I want to go in and that's getting into downtown.
Natalie, you just about made it to the finish line. You were there.
Natalie: Oh man, I was so close. The bombs went off when I was turning onto Hereford, and the way I remember is, it's as if there were two herds of animals that were running toward each other and were going to clash because all the runners were coming up behind me, and the frenzy of the crowd was coming down Boylston and back down Hereford away from the bombs. We didn't know what was going on. But the one thing that resonated very quickly is that people were seriously injured.
And so I kept going, and I saw that Boylston Street was such a mess. I took a left onto Public Alley 443. I was at the second bomb site — it dumped me out right in front of Atlantic Fish Company, is where I ended up.
Natalie: And then a lot of things happened. Actually, a police officer tried to stop me coming out of the alley, and I yelled at him. I said, "I'm a doctor. I'm a kids' doctor. Let me help." I ended up doing CPR on one woman who unfortunately, tragically, passed away that day. And then saw four other people who had groin injuries and lower extremity injuries. It's amazing because suddenly it was over. It was just, I stood there, and it was like there was nothing else left to do. It was over.
And so I finally got my wits about me to go back to the hotel where my parents were staying, and it was the Colonnade Hotel, and my mom was in the lobby sobbing. She thought I had died. She thought both my dad and I had died because she was following us on her cellphone and her cellphone got a text message that said "Joe and Natalie will be crossing the finish line in about a minute or two." And 30 seconds after that the bombs went off, and then she never heard from us for three hours. So, my mom, it was like I had risen from the dead. I've never seen anything like that.
Juli: I didn't really believe that there was something going on until I looked up in the sky and saw that there were helicopters, and that's when it occurred to me that something terrible had gone wrong. I was looking at being the first woman with dwarfism to complete the Boston Marathon, and so for me it was also a matter of making a little bit of history and it was going to be a milestone that I felt was stolen from me. And then of course you also have the sense of fear, of knowing that my husband, my mom and mother-in-law were all waiting there at the finish line and not sure if they were OK or where they were.
Was there ever any question in your minds about whether you'd run again this year?
Juli: There was never a question for me. But this year, it's for, you know, greater reasons. This time it's not just my race and the fact of being the first woman with dwarfism to complete the Boston Marathon. This race is about so much more. It's about the city. It's about those who've been affected and it's about coming back with the spirit of empowerment and strength.
Dick: I still consider that I haven't finished that race. I still consider this year's race to be a continuation of last year's race. So my time this year is going to be 8,909 hours, which gives me a good pace, my usual pace, it just happens there was a big break in between. I gotta take that right on Hereford, left on Boylston and finish what I started. For me, that's what running has always been. That's what I think the Boston Marathon is all about: finishing what you start.
There was a certain amount of emotional impact for all of you from last year. How do you imagine that's going to play on you this year, especially when you get close to the finish line?
Leslie: I hope that I'm prepared to deal with the finish. I, I think I will be.
You sound like you have a few doubts.
Leslie: Well, I know I'll get through it. I think it's going to be an incredibly emotional experience, but it's one that I want to have. I think it's going to be a healing experience. I'm most concerned about the emotional impact of seeing people that, that were wounded in last year's marathon.
You mean at the finish line?
Leslie: I know some are talking about being there, which is absolutely incredible, and I commend them for that, but I think that's going to be extremely overwhelming for me to see that.
Natalie: I'm really excited, actually. Like, I will go to bed at night and I wake up every day super excited for this year's Boston Marathon. And I truly believe it's going to be a beautiful day. I truly believe that the runners are going to be happy, that the spectators are going to be unlike anything we've ever seen before. I think there's going to be so much joy and so much closure and so much healing that occurs on a city, and maybe even nationwide, level that I, I just can't wait. I'm like, "Can't it just be here?" I'm like super excited about it. That's pretty much the only emotion I have right now.
No one here is going to get a laurel wreath out of this year's race. You're all shaking your head no, but you're all hoping and working to cross the finish line. So what's the chief reward that you think you're going to get out of this?
Natalie: So I think the beauty of running — you have this feeling that if I can do a marathon, I can overcome anything in life. And it really sets you up for success in your mental landscape and how you view problems outside of just running. And so I think that setting your mind on training for a marathon and finishing it is truly a beautiful success story on many levels that's hard to replicate in any other part of life. And I think that deep down in the end when you cross that finish line, you have this overwhelming sense of, "I did it."
This story aired on April 9, 2014.
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