Marathon impressions

Four Gettysburgians share recollections and responses from a day that went from revelry to tragedy in a heartbeat.
Boston Marathon 1

Ask anyone what makes Gettysburg College special and their response is usually, “It’s the people.” We are a close-knit community, which grows even closer when times get tough.

It has been a year of enormous consequences: Superstorm Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombings.

Stories from these and other tragedies spread across the College grapevine, demonstrating that a small place can have enormous reach.

When two blasts turned the finish line of the Boston Marathon from a place of triumph to a scene of unfathomable horror, the attack hit home for many Gettysburgians. Phone calls and texts between family and friends brought reassurance as well as stories of close calls and coincidences.

Amy Shields Mack ’96, John Cowin ’68, Chris Weyant ’89, and Rick Waechter ’79 share their stories.


A runner

"Two angels kept my pace closer to an 11-minute mile than a 10-minute mile."

Amy Shields Mack ’96 from Wynnewood, PA, ran in memory of her mother, Patty Shields, and Jonathan Smyth, her “In Memory” partner from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Marathon Challenge team. Mack and her sister, Regan, visited the finish line the night before the race:

MackWe strolled to the incomparable and awe-inspiring finish line on Boylston Street to take some marathon-eve photos, the ‘this is where I am heading tomorrow’ photos. ‘This is what I have run almost 500 training miles for’ photos. After that, I was finally hungry, so we grabbed a quick salad at one of the restaurants right next to the finish line.

We laughed a lot back at the hotel. Regan was teasing me about how precisely I was laying out my race gear:  #23399 pinned perfectly onto my race singlet.

The next day, Mack joined up with the other Dana-Farber runners at the start of the race in Hopkinton.

10:40 a.m. Wave 3 starts. Like a herd of cattle, my crew begins to walk toward the start. Walking is taken over by slow jogging and there it is. START. I step over the line and the race had begun.

Family and friends leapfrogged the route to cheer, including her brother Sean Shields ’00, his wife Emily McAuliffe Shields ’02, and Jim Marsh ’97.

Mile 19-21. Here it comes. Heartbreak Hill. Dad and Regan on the side to greet me as I embark up the infamous grade then off they went to cheer me on at the finish line. Head down, music loud, mind focused. I see another old Gettysburg College friend, Jim Marsh, at mile 20. I almost missed him from being so far into my zone. And then all of a sudden, I look up and I’m at the top. Boston College students yelling and whooping it up, encouraging runners along, well into their kegs.

Mile 25. The CITGO sign. The Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge cheering spot. One mile to go.

I made a decision to pick up my pace…I have a specific time I want to break. I shuffle my iPod to a power song and hit it. My legs pushing as hard as they can. Head down. Focus intense. That finish line is mine within minutes.

Until it wasn’t.

As ‘I Will Wait’ by Mumford & Sons is screaming in my ears, I notice non-runners pouring onto the race course. ‘Excuse me! Out of my way,’ I scream as I bob and weave. ‘Where is the crowd control? Why aren’t the police holding these people back?’ I think as I strive to grab that finish line by the horns and take it down to the ground.

‘The race is over. You can’t finish.’ I take my ear phones off. ‘What?’ The race had come to a complete halt at mile 25.5. Fellow racers just standing still, in shock. People frantically on their phones. What the hell is going on? I was almost delusional as I thought, ‘Did I miss it? Did I cross the finish?’ Confusion ensues.

Eventually news is trickling in that there had been two explosions at the finish line. My mind immediately jumps to Regan and Dad, waiting for me to turn the corner from Hereford to Boylston for the final straightaway toward the finish.”

Without clear information or direction, groups of runners made their way back to the buses, claim their gear, and encounter spotty cell phone service.

As we trudge along, teeth chattering, I hear a beautiful sound. My phone ringing and my sister’s face appears on the screen. We realize that we are a block apart. Dad, Regan, and I hug tightly. We are safe and we are together.

Two angels kept my pace closer to an 11-minute mile than a 10-minute mile. I can’t even grasp what it would be like if I was crossing the line, with my family cheering me on, as those twin bombs exploded. Surreal.”


Cowin

A spectator

"My clothes were covered with blood and I looked more like a victim than a physician."

John Cowin ’68 and his wife Anna, of Leesburg, FL, were waiting to see their daughter Lynda, a cancer survivor, finish her third marathon with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Marathon Challenge team. They heard and saw the first bomb go off and then the second—right across from them.

Of his recollections, Cowin wrote, Lynda cautioned me about being too graphic. I remember after 9/11, the media stopped showing the plane crash because they thought it would bother the public’s sensibilities. We should be reminded these terrorists want to destroy us and will stop at nothing to reach that end. Hopefully reading this will reinforce that idea. Please pray for those injured and the families of those who died. God bless America.

An orthopedic surgeon, Cowin jumped the barricade to be with those most gravely injured.

There was blood everywhere. One man in his thirties had his leg blown off at mid-thigh. Someone had used a belt as a tourniquet to stem the bleeding. He called out for help.

I went to help a man who lost his foot. His beard was singed. His major concern was his three-year-old who was crying hysterically in a canvas stroller besides him. The baby had a small laceration on his scalp. I picked him up and tried to comfort him. I assured his father he was OK.

I next came across a woman who had her arms around her eight-year-old son who had expired. She had been injured and they were trying to move her to an ambulance. As they covered the child, she asked just to stay with him a little longer.

The next two most seriously injured were two Chinese girls. The first was propped up against a fence…she had a shrapnel wound to her belly. At the same time they were doing CPR to the other Chinese woman. The airway was inserted and I bagged her until they were able to put her in an ambulance.

I tried to help the medics identify the most critically injured so they could be moved first. By this time the ambulances had arrived and we helped them load the wounded. In some ambulances they carried two or three wounded.

Meanwhile, Anna was across the street helping some of the walking wounded. I think she was the only other civilian there. By this time police were clearing the area because they didn’t know if there were any other bombs there. As I was moving out of the area, the police and firemen kept asking me if I was injured. It took me a little while to figure out why. My clothes were covered with blood and I looked more like a victim than a physician.”

Cowin, who has been interviewed by the Boston Globe, Runner’s World, and Florida media, provided his first account and updates on Facebook. He has since heard from the injured and their families and received hundreds of messages from his own friends and family.

Two days ago I was called for an interview by Runner’s World. They asked me why I went toward the bombing when other people went the other way. I thought about it for a second and the best answer I could give was that we, as health care workers, want to help people. This was a situation where people needed help. It’s who we are and what we do. Policemen, firemen, and military fit into that category.


An artist

"I just thought about the survivors, the city, and how we’re all in this together."

WeyantChris Weyant ’89 was at home in New Jersey. It was his job to create the “Daily Cartoon” for The New Yorker website throughout April. In the magazine’s “Cartoon Bureau” blog, he wrote, “Drawing a New Yorker cartoon based on each day’s events is a thrilling challenge. You have no idea what the world’s going to throw at you, but you hope you’re ready to handle it. I was up for anything: resigning Popes, broken government, sequesters, North Korean dictators, the Cypriot banking collapse, Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage, even the NRA. I only hoped a national tragedy wouldn’t happen on my watch.”

“And then it did.”

Recalling the day, Weyant said, “Before the bombing occurred, it was just another April 15th—aka Tax Day. I had just finished submitting my cartoon about income taxes for The New Yorker when the news broke. Sadly, because we have so many tragedies that involve a person with access to an arsenal of weapons, I assumed at first that it wasn’t terrorism. As the story developed, I realized this was going in a different direction entirely.”

Weyant struggled, trying to make some sense of the horrific events. “I thought about it all night and was totally stuck before I went to bed. I even considered skipping the issue altogether. When I woke the next morning, I just thought about the survivors, the city, and how we’re all in this together. It’s from that place I wrote the cartoon.”

On using a young girl and an adult in the cartoon, Weyant said, “The child is our voice of innocence and the adult is our voice of maturity and rationality. They’re really two sides of ourselves, trying to comprehend this tragedy. I also think it helps the reader feel the connection between the parent and child, and therefore, connect emotionally to what they’re saying on a deeper level. And the girl in the cartoon is my eldest daughter, Kate. I can always score a few extra hugs from her or her sister, Lily, if I put them in a cartoon. Makes the old man a little cool.”

Weyant’s wife Anna immediately posted it on her Facebook page and friends began sharing it. The cartoon received tens of thousands of shares, comments and likes. Diane Sawyer aired it on ABC World News, as did other networks and news outlets.

When it appeared on Gettysburg College’s Facebook page, comments ranged from “Wow” to “Yeah, Chris!” to “I had this as my profile picture and didn’t realize it was from a G-burg alum! Even better!”

Weyant said he has received wonderful feedback. “When I took my daughter to school the next day, I was approached by so many parents who were extremely kind and thanked me for creating it. I often meet people who say, “You did that cartoon? I made that my Facebook page!” It feels like everyone I talk to has seen it, which is a very surreal feeling.

“The most surprising feedback has been from the comments section of The New Yorker website, Facebook, Pinterest, [and other comment boards]. I was truly touched by how much this cartoon meant to people in the days following the tragedy.

“I’m fascinated by how social media played a very different role with this tragedy. In the aftermath of the bombing, we all had a powerful need to connect to each other as we processed the horrible events. More than just sharing information, this time people used social media to show concern, strength, and support for a single event. Sometimes, it was a powerful photograph, and sometimes, it was a cartoon.

“It was like there was one conversation going on and we were all a part of it. I feel very lucky and honored to have experienced that.”


A CEO

"Everybody on the whole magazine feels proud of our work on that cover."

BostonRick Waechter ’79 is president and CEO of Boston Magazine. From the large windows of a second-floor office, he and other partygoers watched Marathon winner Lelisa Desisa cross the finish line after running 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 22 seconds.

Waechter left the party to walk to his office, less than a mile away, in time for a 3 p.m. appointment. As he walked, he sent a text.

“At 2:39 p.m. I sent a message to a runner friend of mine who had skipped the race this year. ‘It was such a nice day,’ I texted, ‘Bet you wish you ran the marathon today—perfect day!’ Photos released by the FBI of the bombers in the same area were time-stamped 2:37 p.m.

“My path was down Boylston Street, right on Fairfield, left on Commonwealth, left on Massachusetts Avenue, back to the office. I heard noises from where I was but just thought they were normal city noises. When I walked in the office just before 3 p.m., I heard a number of people saying things like “Where’s Rick?” They had just heard about the bombing, knew I was there, and couldn’t reach me because cell phone service had been shut down. That is how I found out.”

The May issue of Boston Magazine was three days away from completion, but when Waechter arrived at 3 p.m., the staff was already discussing how to cover the tragedy in a responsible and respectful way—and under deadline. Their now-iconic cover and the stories of the runners who wore those shoes hit exactly the right note. The image flew across the Internet. Newsstand copies vaporized. A poster version and other items were produced to raise funds for victims and their families through the One Fund Boston.

Editor-in-chief John Wolfson used his blog to tell the backstory:

“Our design director, Brian Struble, and deputy design director, Liz Noftle, came up with the concept of taking shoes worn during the marathon and arranging them so that the negative space is in the shape of a heart.” Wolfson added, “We quickly changed course and settled on the cover concept and the outlines of a feature package: We’d shoot the shoes collectively to form the heart, but we’d also photograph them as individual pairs to illustrate the stories told by the runners in the package.”

Staff from every department helped find runners and gather shoes and stories. Only fifteen stories would fit in the issue, but others would go online. Waechter worked with the printer to flex the schedule.

The bombing took place Monday afternoon. The photo shoot for the new cover was in New York on Thursday. The digital files for the issue had shipped beforehand, but on Friday, when the city of Boston and surrounding suburbs were on lockdown, Waechter, Wolfson, and Struble were alone in the office—and the cover files had to be sent to the printer by 9:30 a.m.

Waechter said, “Brian came in and said, ‘Hey, I want to show you the other side.’ They stayed up all night long for the shoot and flipped the sneakers over, so they were upside down and pretty much in the same positions. Brian said, ‘I’d really like to show the backside,’ and I asked, ‘Where would you want to put it?’ ‘The back cover,’ he answered.

“That’s prime space in the magazine business—changing it would make an advertiser unhappy and we would have to write off a lot of money. But he was really fighting for it and when I saw it, I knew—we all knew. They had captured what they were trying to do. This was a powerful, good statement for everybody and we had to do it the right way.

“Everybody on the whole magazine feels proud of our work on that cover.”

Read more from the fall issue of the Gettysburg Magazine.

Contact: alumnimagazine@gettysburg.edu

Posted: Fri, 30 Aug 2013

Comments

This comment is in response to the first two paragraphs of this article. I find the rest of the article to be powerful and inspiring, and I am proud to have such amazing people who went to my college. But, I find that in respect to the ongoing aftermath of the Newtown shooting, there was a serious lack of support from Gettysburg College, especially considering the eight or so Newtown residents who are current students here. As someone affected by the shooting, I did not get the sense that Gettysburg College was a close-knit community that stood together during difficult times, as the article states. I have never felt more isolated in a community as I do here, because no one understands the depth of the grief felt by Newtown, and there have been no programs to help others understand. No information sessions of PTSD have been offered to help others understand what some of their peers are going through, and what I'm sure others have gone through in different situations. Only a couple students who were not friends of mine reached out to me after the shooting, and not one faculty member ever approached me about it. At my sister's law school, one of her deans personally called her on the phone shortly after the shooting. The Gettysburg student body did receive an email, but that was the extent of the support shown. I find it also inappropriate to list an elementary school shooting after "Superstorm Sandy" in a list of horrific, but very different things that have occurred in the past year. There is a Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund that the college is involved with, there is this informative and supportive article concerning the Marathon bombing, and nothing for the victims and those affected by the Newtown shooting. No opportunity for the actual residents of Newtown to speak out has ever been presented. In my opinion, it should not have been even mentioned in this article, especially considering the lack of support from the college.

Anonymous | Posted Sep 17, 2013 11:59 PM


As a lifelong Bostonian, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this article. The Marathon events were very tough on this city but reading accounts such as these instill such a feeling of national pride that it's indescribable. Thanks for this, it really means a lot

Darin Weeks | Posted Apr 21, 2014 09:32 AM


 

 
 

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