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April 19. 2014 11:15PM

Memory of bombings remains vivid for those who were there


Ben Thompson, 12, left, of Merrimack, and his brother Matt, 7, head back to Boston for the second year in a row to cheer on friends, family and strangers as they run the Boston Marathon a year after two bomb blasts forever planted horrifying images of the race in their memories. (RYAN O'CONNOR/Union Leader Correspondent)

A year after keeping her children out of school for a day and traveling to Boston to cheer on a family member as he ran in the Boston Marathon, Elise Thompson said she's headed back there for the race. Her brother, one of thousands of entrants whose 2013 jaunt was cut short due to twin bomb blasts erupting near the finish line, has accepted an invitation to rerun the race.

But Thompson said this year's family venture to Boston carries a much deeper meaning.

"I think it's important that since I took my kids down there last year that I take them back this year to let them know that we move forward and we mend and we bond together," she said. "The bad guys don't win."

Last year, Thompson and a handful of family members, including her 6- and 11-year-old sons, had just exited a nearby MBTA station at 2:50 p.m. and were headed toward the finish line when they were met by a crowd of panicked spectators running in the opposite direction.

They decided to walk to Commonwealth Avenue. That's where they encountered a sea of runners who had been stopped from proceeding.

Though Thompson said she's sure she'll never forget the experience, she hopes this year's marathon is less memorable.

"I just want to go down this year and finish what we started and be excited to be a part of the Boston Marathon and not a part of history," said Thompson, though she admitted she's a bit anxious.

"I'm trying really hard not to be," she added. "We will not be carrying a backpack, and we don't plan to be at the finish line. We are going to stick to maybe some less-populated areas,"

Like Thompson, hundreds of Granite Staters plan to trek back to Hopkinton, Mass., where the race begins, to Heartbreak Hill, where so many runners face their last major challenge of the race, and yes, to Boylston Street and Copley Square, the backdrop of last year's bombings.

A running memory

Michelle Collier of Bedford is one Granite Stater who won't be in Boston Monday. Last year, she celebrated her 48th birthday by running her first Boston Marathon and was caught between blasts as she ran down Boylston Street toward the finish line.

"First, I heard a loud noise, and at that point in the run things moved really fast and really slow, all at the same time, and I thought, at first, it was fireworks and then I realized this was way too loud," she recalled. "Then I saw the smoke and realized it was a bomb, and then I heard a second one, and after instinctively hitting the ground, I decided to just get up and run to the finish, all the while thinking I have all my friends and family out there waiting for me and I could have just put them in harm's way. It was pretty freaky."

Collier's loved ones escaped unscathed, but she was not granted a bib in this year's race because she crossed the finish line en route to a shelter.

"I would have loved to run again this year," she said. "It's possible I may run it again in the future. I won't ever say never, but let's just say I'm not afraid to run it again."

Collier, who witnessed the blood and gore firsthand and heard the screams of terror all around her, said she returned to the scene of the attack while in Boston on business a month later.

"The Marathon (finish) line was still there, but outside of that it just looked like downtown Boston. The areas where the bombs went off were cleaned up and people were milling around," she said. "It really didn't feel any different than just being in Boston."

It was actually months later and more than 5,000 miles away that Collier said she experienced her first vivid flashback.

"I was at an Ironman event in Hawaii that was started by cannon fire, and I guess I wasn't prepared for it. It took me right back to where I was as I approached the finish line at the Boston Marathon," she said. "I heard the blasts and saw smoke go up, and I started thinking, 'oh my God, someone's put a bomb at the start of Ironman."

The experience was an eye-opening one for Collier, who grappled with a similar wave of nostalgia last weekend as she ran the final 6.5-mile leg of the One Run for Boston, which began in Los Angeles and concluded at the Boston Marathon finish line.

"It was really cool seeing everyone approach us in blue and yellow and supporting the families of those dramatically affected (by the bombing) and Sean Collier (no relation) . but when we turned onto Boylston Street, and I saw the Boston Marathon finish line and realized I was at that same spot I was last year (when the bombs went off), I got pretty emotional. It brought me right back to where I was when it all happened."

On the mend

For 36 years, Jon Dana had traveled to Boston and volunteered at the Boston Marathon, the last 30 at the finish line. As director of sports medicine at the University of New Hampshire, it's a fitting place for him to put his experience to use.

At 2:49 p.m. last year he was helping runners as they crossed the finish line when the first bomb exploded, just yards away.

"At first I thought it was a celebration gone wrong or an explosion in a building, but when the second bomb went off I quickly realized it was a bomb, there was no doubt about it," he said.

Dana admitted he had a fight-or-flight moment, but within seconds decided to move toward the carnage.

"I went over to the site of the first blast to see if I could help, and as I went over there I was going to see and deal with some pretty bad things, and I wasn't let down," he said. "I saw what everyone else who was there talked about, lots of blood and missing body parts, but I made the decision to go there and try to help."

There, Dana treated three women, all with varying degrees of leg injuries.

"That was way out of my league," he said. "Like a lot of people, I felt like I could of or should have done more, but it really was like jumping in the deep end of a pool and not knowing how to swim, I've never been exposed to anything like that before and hopefully never again."

Monday marks the first time Dana will walk back to the site of the first explosion.

"I'm not very apprehensive about it," he said. "I mean, what are chances of it happening once, let alone happening again?"

Still, the memories linger.

"Oddly enough, I didn't appreciate how big a deal it was until I got home several hours later," said Dana. "To me, it was just the Boston Marathon. I really didn't consider the worldwide implication."


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