Running the Boston Marathon is about timing: the start, the finish, a personal record, shaving a second here and there. But timing took on added seriousness April 15, 2013.
For veterinarians, staff members, veterinary students and supporters who ran or watched the race, timing and location helped them stay out of harm’s way when the bombs detonated at 2:50 p.m.
‘Scariest Time in My Life’
Rome, Ga., resident Alexis Headrick, LVT, crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 44 minutes, some 46 minutes before the blasts occurred. Fortuitously, Headrick’s parents and young son and daughter cheered her on at mile 19 because they thought she would need some encouragement.
A day before the 2013 Boston Marathon, Alexis Headrick, LVT, center, poses with her parents, Bob and Lisa Sapp, son, Tristan, and daughter, Lily, at the finish line.
She was nowhere near the finish line when the bombs went off, but the subsequent separation from her family was nerve-wracking.
"There was about a 30-minute period [when] it was the scariest time in my life,” she recounted.
Headrick credited her father, Bob Sapp, who works in law enforcement, with easing her fears somewhat.
"We had an emergency plan and stuck to it,” she said.
Headrick encouraged others to have a contingency plan.
"It was a shock, but overall [the marathon] was still an incredible experience, and I’m glad my family was a part of it,” she said.
Would she run again? "Absolutely.”
‘Memory … Tainted’
As in Headrick’s case, supporters of Ward Conover, DVM, of Sequin, Texas, weren’t at the finish line when he crossed in 3 hours, 31 minutes, but they were coming from mile 22, where they had cheered him on earlier.
He finished at 1:37 p.m. and waited for his wife, two sons, niece and sister-in-law to show up. After a reunion, he and his wife headed to a subway station roughly 10 minutes before the blasts.
"It was a great race, an awesome honor and privilege … and it certainly would have been a positive memory, but it is tainted,” Dr. Conover reflected.
Had he and his family lingered around the finish area a bit longer, they would have been present for the first bomb.
"It hit me that is right where they would have been,” he said, "and I’m thankful to God that they weren’t.”
Conover wondered what it must be like for runners whose loved ones were killed or maimed.
"They are going to feel guilty because their family was there watching them,” he said.
Conover, too, said without hesitation that he’d run again.
"Marathon running isn’t my forte, but I would like to better train for it and rerun it for a [faster] time.”
‘Wall of Support’
Deborah Linder, DVM, Dipl. ACVN, an animal nutritionist at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, ran the Boston Marathon in 2007 as part of the Tufts Marathon Team. She was joined then by 20 faculty and staff members and veterinary students.
Dr. Deborah Linder and her boyfriend, Eric Walters, volunteer at a water station at mile 10 during the 2013 Boston Marathon. The photo was taken before the explosions.
Running in torrential rain, Dr. Linder was so impressed by the "volunteers, spectators and strangers who had never met me but were there every mile along the way with hugs, water and dry socks” that she decided to donate her time to subsequent marathons.
Linder and her boyfriend, Eric Walters, this year handed out cups of Gatorade and water at mile 10.
"I always ask to do miles 9 to 10 because it’s the Tufts Wall of Support,” she shared.
Mile 9 passes Natick Animal Clinic in Natick, Mass., where Tufts graduate and owner David McGrath, DVM, set up a reception area for supporters of the 100 members of the Tufts Marathon Team.
Just as she was affected by the generosity of strangers in 2007, Linder was deeply saddened by the bombings.
"One of the greatest moments of my life was the moment I crossed the finish line on Boylston Street in Boston,” she said. "I’m mad that the runners this year didn’t get to rejoice and have that feeling.”
Paws for People
Linder plans to run the Boston Marathon again in 2014.
In the meantime, as a coordinator of Tufts’ Paws for People, an animal visitation group, Linder is using therapy dogs to help students and staff emotionally affected by the bombings.
"The day after the marathon, we had a student support session and a staff and faculty support session in the hospitals for those who wanted to come and visit with our therapy dogs,” she said.
Linder, group volunteers and the therapy animals also showed up at a meeting of Boston Marathon volunteers and first responders. News outlets reported that many first responders witnessed trauma usually seen only in war zones.
"We’ve just started more visitation and support offerings,” Linder said. "We will continue to work with places such as the Red Cross to offer help wherever needed in the upcoming weeks to months.”