Marathon runners will return to Nanaimo 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.
Scott Jones, Russell Henry, Rachel Kimler and Carene Booth of Nanaimo and Gene Wray and Terry Riggins of Nanoose all ran the race that day and all completed the 42.2 kilometres before the terror attack.
Wray, 60, 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 be able 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 he knew their hurt was more serious than his own.
He, his wife, his friends Jones and Kimler and their partners went out to dinner 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 been an uneasy feeling, he said, and he can’t help but wonder what went so 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.”
Wray’s first-ever visit to Boston had included a Red Sox game, and it had been a dream trip, for awhile. He brings back a souvenir Boston Marathon jacket, a status symbol for runners.
“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…
“I’ll be glad to go home.”