COLUMN: The life changing experience of the 2013 Boston Marathon

Top: (Left to Right) John, Laura, Gia (sister), Madeline, Henry, James, George, Annalisa (sister), Myself, Elaine, Audrey (sister), my Dad, and Steve Lutz.
Bottom Left Miscellaneous marathon runners.
Bottom Right John proudly showing off his marathon hardware. (He finished at 3:14)

Top: (Left to Right) John, Laura, Gia (sister), Madeline, Henry, James, George, Annalisa (sister), Myself, Elaine, Audrey (sister), my Dad, and Steve Lutz. Bottom Left” Miscellaneous marathon runners. Bottom Right” John proudly showing off his marathon hardware. (He finished at 3:14)

Charlie Connelly, Staff Reporter

It is said that everything happens for a reason, that things in life aren’t just coincidence. Our lives have a bigger picture, a vast plan beyond what we can even perceive. Some believe there is a higher power protecting our every move; others believe in chance and luck. Personally, I had always lived my life in the mindset of the latter. I believed in God, of course, but the way I conducted myself had never truly been weighted on whether or not events in my life were a fluke or were meant to be.

That all changed, though, on the one day I won’t forget for as long as I live: April 15, 2013, when I was at the Boston Marathon.

Before I begin, I first need to say that my experience was nowhere near as devastating as the ones who were at the site of the explosions when they went off. My family and I were extremely fortunate that none of us, as well as my aunt and uncle who were blocks from the finish line at the time of the explosions, were injured or harmed at all. However, I still believe that having been there on that day is experience enough that it deserves to be shared.

My family had organized the trip months in advance. We were all going to go see my Uncle John run in the Boston Marathon, one of the most prestigious events in the athletic world. My uncle was beyond thrilled to know that we were all coming to support him on such a big day, and we all felt the same. It was the last day of our five day family vacation, and since John was so consumed with the anticipation of the race, we had yet to see him once. We had seen my Aunt Laura and cousin Madeline, his wife and daughter, a couple days before, and they both couldn’t say enough about how excited he truly was. John is one of the biggest influences in my life and I knew to see him run in the marathon would be inspiring.

On that Monday morning, the plan was to leave our hotel in Rhode Island and go straight to the marathon. We thought of going to the finish line, but we knew that would be too crowded. My dad had eventually planned with Laura that we would meet them at Mile Marker 17 to see John run by. However we decided that we would go to the area around Devil’s Hill instead, which is said to be the most difficult part of the entire race. Standing at Mile Marker 21, Devil’s Hill is said to be the most grueling part of the entire race because of the changes in incline. Nevertheless, there is always a huge crowd of people around Devil’s Hill as well because that is the place where runners need the motivation most. Once there, we began to see a steady flow of ecstatic runners, all in high spirits for what they were accomplishing. For me it was genuinely moving to see all of the eager faces running through, and I knew when my family and I saw John that feeling would only go through the roof.

We had been there for about an hour when we got the call from my Aunt Laura that he was nearing where we were. We knew he had on a red tank top and hat, so we kept our eyes peeled. It took about ten minutes after the call and then suddenly I heard “John!” and at that moment we saw him across the street with the biggest smile on his face, and he screamed back at us to run with him. Immediately, my cousin James and my two brothers George and Henry began to run down the street to catch up with him. Once we did, we ran about a half block with him and he kept carrying on, laughing and smiling just at the sight of us. The smile I saw on his face was the smile of pure happiness; an image I can still see in my head.

Once we all saw John, my Dad let us all know that we still had to stay to see his good friend Steve run by too. He was well behind John, but nevertheless we still waited and we got to see him run by as well, more enthusiastic than I had seen anyone all day. After we saw Steve, we left the marathon, completely thrilled with the experience. We had not only seen John and Steve, but we saw thousands upon thousands of other jubilant runners as they neared the triumph of running the Boston Marathon. That sight alone was something that simply sticks. However, once in the car for about ten or so minutes, my Dad’s girlfriend Elaine got a phone call, and what I heard out of her mouth is something to this day that still pierces my ears.

She let out a screaming “What!” and began to panic. The rest of us in the car were all napping, ready to go back to the airport and so the scream woke us all up. After we woke, she got off the phone and explained to us that there were two explosions at the finish line of the marathon. Silence. Shock. There were no words to describe what was running through my head.

Elaine, still frantic I could see, was shaking. My Dad had the look on his face of deep concern, and that’s when I got scared. He didn’t want to get nervous to save my little sisters from getting scared but I could see his eyes in his rearview mirror, that he was without a doubt fearful. No one knew what to say. I don’t think there was anything we could say. We were all in such utter shock that truthfully could not be put into words. We had just seen thousands of happy runners, including John! It was surreal. All that went through my head in that moment was the smile and pure joy I saw in John’s eyes. I even thought that maybe that would be the last time I would ever see it. I didn’t cry, nor did anyone else in the car. There was no certainty behind what was said; all we knew was that there were two explosions that went off at the end of the Boston Marathon. Nothing more, nothing less.

Still in complete distress and unaware of the well being of John, Laura, or Steve, who were mere blocks of the finish line at the time of the explosions, we headed back to Rhode Island. Then Elaine got a text, and it was from Laura. She and John were safe and sound.

The overwhelming sense of relief I felt when Elaine got that text still gives me goose bumps talking about it. Later that same day to our fortune, we flew home from the Rhode Island Airport safely and were at last away from what was a truly terrifying way to end an amazing trip. I don’t mind talking  in recollection on the matter now, but the worst case scenario thoughts I had when I heard the news, still scare me. However, those thoughts and feelings are masked with the tremendous feeling of knowing that my family and I are safe and okay. None of us were harmed physically from the senseless violence that day, but there is no doubt that it won’t be an experience that will soon leave our thoughts.

Although the experience of not knowing the safety of loved ones is truly awful, the knowledge of knowing they are well, without a doubt overpowers it. Like I said, my experience does not even compare to those of who were at the finish line when it happened and of those who now have to live without loved ones, and for that fact my heart completely goes out to those unfortunate.

People ask me, “Did you hear them? Did you feel the bombs?”  To my pleasure every time I can answer with a sense of gratitude and say “No.” I was about ten miles away from the site of the explosions when they went off and I couldn’t be more thankful to say that.

So, was it luck? Was it just chance that my family decided to not go to the finish line? I don’t believe so. I don’t go around saying what or who “saved me” and how it “drastically changed the viewpoint of my life forever”, but that still doesn’t mean I don’t believe that in a way. Sure, I believe things happen by chance. I believe you can be lucky. What I do believe now though having experienced such an event like the 2013 Boston Marathon is that maybe there are people who are watching over us. Maybe I do have someone protecting me. There is no way that it was just chance that my Uncle John, Aunt Laura, Steve, and the rest of my family and I are alive and well today, there had to be something more than that. I can’t pinpoint what that is, and I don’t think anyone can, but what I do know for certain is this.

My family and I are all well.  At the end of the day, that’s all that matters.