Islanders haunted by terror at marathon
On Monday, Andrea Brayman ran the Boston Marathon in 3:36.44.
Her time turned out to be important, not because she ran a fast enough race to qualify for next year’s event, although she did. It was important because it put her over the finish line and out of harm’s way before two bombs exploded, injuring more than 170 people and killing three.
“It was a rough day,” she said Tuesday.
Minutes before the bombs exploded, she remembers running down the last stretch to the finish line.
“It’s so surreal,” she said. “I remember running down the last 500 yards, and the people cheering you on. I was so happy.”
She went inside to change her clothes and then headed back out to Boylston Street.
Brayman estimates she was standing about 200 yards away from the explosion and positioned with her back to the finish line when the first device detonated around 2:50 p.m.
“I was right there,” she said. “I heard this big ‘boom.’”
Brayman said she really couldn’t process what was happening. At first, she thought it might have been a problem with the marathon’s sound system. She knew it wasn’t supposed to happen – whatever it was – but she didn’t consider the possibility it could be a bomb.
“Then there was smoke everywhere,” she said. “I turned around.”
At that point, she realized something had gone wrong, but she was too far away and the smoke was too thick to see anything.
“We moved inside,” she said. “It was chaotic.”
She only understood what had happened after she saw the reports come over the television. People seemed dazed.
“These people just finished a marathon,” she said. “They were tired and cold and didn’t really know what was going on.”
Brayman said the building was in a lockdown and nobody could leave.
“We were stuck in this place,” she said. Eventually, they were evacuated.
Brayman had come to the marathon on a bus with her running club, and they could not leave until everyone had been accounted for. “We all stuck together,” she said.
Meanwhile, they didn’t have any cellphone service. Her children were home in Jamestown, and she couldn’t call and let them know she was OK.
“A lot of people were worried about me,” she said.
One member of her group had been with the medical tent at the finish line. The tent had been set up to treat runners who were suffering from dehydration. Following the explosions, it was turned into a triage center.
He did not speak during the entire ride home, she said.
Brayman has been running marathons since she was a senior at the University of Rhode Island. Jamestown’s Jim Pemantell has run plenty of marathons and done the Boston race twice. He wasn’t running on Monday, but he was at the 18.5-mile mark cheering the runners on, as he has done for the past 20 years.
“I ran 44 marathons myself,” he said. “I know what it means to have people cheering for you.”
He saw the same things Monday he has seen for the past two decades. Now he doesn’t know if he will ever see them the same way again.
The elite runners are a different class of athlete, he said. They are actually talking to each other as they run up the hill.
“They must have lungs like basketballs,” he laughed. “If I ran one five-minute mile, I’d never talk again.”
Then, the next group would come along.
“They don’t look like they’re really running that fast,” he said. Then the people who have started to struggle come by. Some are looking down at their feet as they run. Others have stopped running and started walking, he said.
Pemantell shouts encouragement to help them continue.
“Hey, Paul,” he’ll say. “Better start running or there’ll be no lobster rolls left by the time you make the finish line.”
He saw Brayman go by and he called to her. He also waited around to see Linda, a young family friend whose aunt he used to date. The day she was born and her family brought her home from the hospital, Pemantell had held the baby girl in his arms.
He stuck around for another 45 minutes after Linda ran by. Then he headed back for Jamestown. It was about 2:50 p.m.
He knew nothing about what had happened until he was listening to a sportscast over the radio on the drive home. The announcer was talking about an explosion at the finish line.
“What’s he talking about?” Pemantell asked himself. Then the faces of all the runners he had seen started to haunt him.
Linda was about 10 or 15 minutes behind Brayman, and when he heard the news about the bomb, he worried. If she had continued running at the same pace she was doing at the 18.5-mile marker, she might have been coming across the finish at just the worst moment.
She was OK, he found out later, but he couldn’t sleep that night thinking about all the runners.
“I got to thinking I saw every one of those people run by me, and most of them were talking and laughing,” he said. “Then their whole lives just changed.”
Pemantell said some of the injured where running for children’s hospitals and leukemia research. “There were people out there trying to do good.”
When he saw a news photograph of a man who finished the race and found his father lying on the ground with one leg blown off, he was chilled.
“I probably saw that guy go by,” he said. “I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get over it.”
Pemantell said he could almost expect an attack at a major sports event like the World Series or the Super Bowl, but not at the Boston Marathon.
“It was a big fun thing,” he said.
On Heartbreak Hill, the whole neighborhood comes out to urge the runners on. The people break out the barbecues and lawn chairs and spend the afternoon, he said.
“All of a sudden, ‘bang,’” he said. “It’ll never be the same. How can anybody ...” He couldn’t find the words to describe the people who committed such a terrible crime. “They must be totally evil,” he said.
Jamestown’s Rachel Wigton ran the Boston Marathon the last two years, but she skipped Monday’s event because she had just won a half marathon in Virginia last week, her father said.
Bruce Wigton said he is happy she wasn’t there on Monday. Unfortunately, his sister’s brother-inlaw was in the stands by the finish line and saw the casualties.
“It happened right in front of him,” he said. The undetonated bomb was later found under the stands where he was sitting. He has lost hearing in one ear. The family is hoping the loss is temporary, Wigton said. Many of Rachel’s friends were at the Boston Marathon, but all are OK.
Jamestowner Lori Dierig also finished the Boston Marathon on Monday but could not immediately be reached for comment.