Back to Boston, to reclaim the finish line

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Atlanta runner reflects on Boston Marathon bombing

The Boston Marathon, shattered by terrorist bombs a year ago, starts at 10 a.m. Monday, with 36,000 runners, plus 3,500 uniformed police and 600 National Guardsmen.

Everything felt so right, so good, when Rick Boyd turned the corner onto Boylston Street, looked at his watch and realized he was about to finish the Boston Marathon under four hours.

About 180 yards from the finish line, he felt thankful that, at 48, he was healthy enough to run the 26.2 miles. He was thankful he could run the race with his wife. He was thankful that …

The detonation startled him, confused him. Seconds later, another deafening explosion, so close he could feel the concussion. He hit the ground.

He heard screaming. He saw police running out onto the street. He peered into the smoke, maybe 20 yards away, and saw a man bloodied, being dragged from the scene. Both of the man’s legs had been blown off. He saw a half-dozen more people dazed and bleeding.

Then the Atlanta lawyer did a quick calculation. His wife had been running ahead of him, not far away. She might be in the middle of all that.

The thought struck him.

My wife might be dead.

II 

Boyd’s wife, fellow attorney Tara Adyanthaya, was thinking the same thing about her husband. In addition, her brother and his family were among the spectators cheering near the end of the race.

She thought, in a split second, her whole life might be shattered.

Tara had crossed the finish line and was standing in the area where runners receive some drinks and a blanket, where they reclaim their gear and cell phones. She started sobbing, feeling “unchecked fear.” Her leg muscles, past the point of exhaustion, seized up, but she willed herself to keep moving. Get to the hotel, she thought. That was the plan. Rick would meet her there.

Soon, she came upon a woman who saw she was crying. The woman didn’t know what had happened. She thought the runner was overwhelmed with happiness, having finished the race.

“Congratulations,” the woman said.

Tara called her family members at the race. No answer. She called another runner and fellow Atlanta attorney, Bob Threlkeld, who was also running the race. She left an emotional message, which he has kept to this day, but which she cannot stand to listen to.

She continued on toward the hotel, all the way hoping Rick was OK.

Finally, 40 minutes after the bombs went off, she heard her husband call to her. He was walking toward the hotel, following the plan they had made before the race, back when this was just a pretty day for a run.

Rick and Tara stumbled toward each another and embraced.

III

After all that, the couple is going back to run this year’s race in Boston. Maybe that’s hard to understand.

But maybe it makes all the sense in the world. They’re doing it, they say, to make a statement. They’re doing it to honor the 264 people who were injured and the three who died that day.

Rick has been raising money for the One Fund team, which benefits the families most affected by the bombings. He surpassed his goal of $15,000 and then raised the goal. Contributors may go to Rick's Crowdrise.com page.

Finally, they are doing it, as Tara says, “to reclaim our finish line.”

Threlkeld, a lawyer in the Atlanta firm where Rick works, will be joining them. At 52, he has been running since he was on the Redan High School track team in Stone Mountain. That day in Boston, Threlkeld was running behind the couple, having slowed down at mile 15 of the race. He was about 800 yards from the finish when the bombs stopped everything.

From there, he heard something that sounded like firecrackers, saw smoke and a lot of commotion. But he had no idea that two pressure-cooker bombs had exploded with nails, ball bearings and metal shards.

Then he saw what seemed like hundreds of ambulances, coming and going, and realized the enormity of the event.

Unable to get back into his hotel — it was considered part of the crime scene — Threlkeld walked around Boston, emotionally exhausted. Still in his race clothes, he sat in an Italian cafe, where a man asked him whether he was OK, whether he needed any money. Threlkeld had $14.

The man handed him $100.

IV

As Tara headed back to Boston last week, she admitted to fears that something terrible might happen. But it’s more important to her to face those fears and conquer them.

Part of that relates to the bond these runners feel with one another. They understand the commitment and sacrifice that goes into these marathons. In Boston today, that feeling is expected to reach almost magical proportions. They will do more than draw strength from one another. They want to show the world something about what it means to be human.

“I feel compelled to go,” Tara said.

She had run nother marathon 12 days after last year’s race in Boston. But the road back was more difficult for Rick, who had been much closer to the explosions and the carnage.

At first, Rick came back home and went to work and seemed fine. But then he started to obsess about the news about the bombing. Tara did that, too, but she started noticing something different about her husband. He seemed emotionally removed, as if he were going through the motions. He started having nightmares about that day. He spoke with some guilt about not rushing in to help the victims.

Tara, who specializes in mediation, tried to be strong for him, but not in some overly positive way. She knew that would be annoying. She just let him know she was there for him.

It would be months before he would run again.

 V

Last July, three months after Boston, Rick packed up the clothes he had worn in the race. The shorts and shirt were still unwashed, left in a plastic bag.

He flew to Boston and went to Boylston Street, where the bombs went off. He stood where he had stood before.

He looked around the scene, about 180 yards from the finish line, and felt himself growing more agitated as he remembered it all. The bombers had taken something from him that day.

He had come to get it back.

In the same clothes he had worn for the 2013 Boston, he took off and started running down the street. And Rick Boyd finished his marathon.