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Columbia residents at Boston Marathon describe explosion aftermath

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 | 9:47 p.m. CDT; updated 8:30 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Columbia residents share their personal experiences from the Boston Marathon with photos from before and after the tragedy.

COLUMBIA — Shelly Frazier went to Boston looking for closure.

For the third and final time, she booked rooms 925 and 927 at the Colonnade Hotel on Huntington Avenue, just a half mile from the intersection of Boylston and Exeter Streets, where the Boston Marathon finishes. It’s a six- or seven-minute walk between, less if you run it. But who would do that after a 26.2-mile race — especially your last?

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Frazier made the trip to the marathon last year, but knee, ankle and Achilles tendon ailments in addition to severe heat kept her out of the race. Her arthritic knee and Achilles tendon have bothered her again this year, but the 42-year-old Columbia resident suffered anxiety at the thought of not completing one more marathon.

Monday brought ideal running conditions, so she pushed aside the certainty of pain and competed.

Frazier crossed the finish line at 2:37 p.m.; it didn’t really matter that this was later than she’d hoped. She welcomed the familiar feeling of disorientation and reveled in a sweet release of relief. For 10 minutes, she experienced the finality for which she’d come to this city.

The first explosion disturbed her euphoria. The second one destroyed it.

Frazier remained a few hundred yards away from the finish line, not close enough to witness the casualties but close enough to realize she needed to flee. The second explosion signaled the threat that more might come, and what adrenaline she could muster was chained to disbelief and despair.

“I knew I might have to run again, and run fast,” she said. “I really didn’t think I would be able to.”

As emergency response vehicles whizzed by, she started back toward the marathon's finish line. She didn’t want to, but it was on the way to her rooms at the Colonnade.

“I just had to get back to my hotel room,” Frazier said. “I don’t even know why, for all I knew that wasn’t going to be a safe place either. But I just had to get off the street.”

She made it, but this time there was no relief. All evening Frazier watched the news and looked out her window at the locked-down streets. They were empty. By Tuesday morning, her group of friends from Columbia had left town.

“I’m by myself right now,” she said.

Frazier still hadn’t left her room. Her flight wasn't scheduled to leave Logan International Airport until 4 p.m., and she wasn’t sure she wanted to catch it. A plane was detained there because of a suspicious bag, and her flight also required a layover in Washington, D.C. She considered renting a car for the return to Columbia.

“I literally don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “(Driving) would be a very long trip, but it would probably be less stressful than being in a plane. I’ve got a lot of anxiety right now.”

Frazier went to Boston for closure. On Tuesday, she just wanted to come home.

***

One of the rewards for completing a marathon is the meal afterward. Shortly after 3 p.m., almost two hours after Amanda Hicks and her boyfriend, Michael Roberts, had finished, they were in their room at the Loews Hotel, a few blocks from the finish line. They had just showered and were deciding where to eat.

That’s when she got a text from a friend asking if she was OK. Hicks looked out her window and saw runners coming from the direction of the finish line.

She noticed two strange things: Many of the runners weren’t carrying race bags, and most looked to be in a hurry.

“At that point you’re not really in shape to break into a sprint,” she said. “But people were going pretty fast.”

Soon, the streets were cleared, but Hicks and her boyfriend didn’t venture out for their post-marathon meal. They ended up eating at the hotel bar.

“We had what appeared to be frozen pizza,” she said.

It was the fourth year in a row running the Boston Marathon for Hicks, who earned a master's degree from MU in 2008. The 29-year-old now lives in Washington, D.C., and keeps going back to Boston for the race because it has the most enthusiastic  crowd of any big marathon. She loves how people line the street and cheer. She likes the fact that there are no partitions between spectators and runners on many parts of the course.

Hicks recognized that Monday’s tragedy was about the three lost lives and the more than 100 who were injured. But given the effort people put in all year to qualify for the marathon, she also felt bad for the thousands of runners who weren’t allowed to complete the race.

She doesn’t think the bombings will deter runners from returning. Sure, it’s impossible to secure an entire marathon route, but it would be counterproductive to change the nature of the race.

Hicks thinks even more runners might come to Boston next year. On Tuesday, she was already thinking about what it would be like. She had planned on running a marathon in Big Sur near San Francisco instead. That might change now.

“I might want to do Boston again because it’ll definitely be a different experience next year."

Every Tuesday morning, Hicks runs 10 miles. She calls it a tradition. This Tuesday morning was no different. She navigated her way around roadblocks, then ran along the Charles River.

“I didn’t think twice,” Hicks said. “I wanted to do it, get out there, and I saw a lot of other runners out, just taking it easy with their race T-shirts on.”

***

Downtown Boston felt like a war zone. Armed guards stood at the entrances to the hotel where Haley Schwarz and Becky Bond were staying after competing in the Boston Marathon. Police vehicles circled the Taj Boston on the corner of Arlington and Newbury streets.

Inside, Schwarz said she felt safe. From her sixth-floor room three blocks from the finish line, she couldn't see any of the pandemonium.

“We really saw just emergency vehicles headed toward the scene, for even hours after the event,” Schwarz said. “We could just hear or see sirens and vehicles and SWAT teams, and huge vans full of armed guards.”

Schwarz, 33, and Bond, 48, who have run together in Columbia for the past few years, had planned to meet at their hotel after the race. Bond, however, still had a mile to go when police stopped the remaining runners. For the next hour, police blocked the course. Finally, they allowed the runners to leave but not to finish the marathon.

Schwarz said Bond's husband walked to mile marker 25 of the course to meet Bond and walk her back to the hotel.

Although hotel guests were allowed to leave in the wake of the explosions, Schwarz decided she would stay inside until she left for the airport on Tuesday morning. When she did, she found the area around the finish line locked down. Debris still littered the streets, hours after it would have been swept up after any other marathon.

“It’s a crime scene, so it was left as it was yesterday,” Schwarz said.

Schwarz said the bombings won't deter her from participating again. October marked the first time she had qualified for the marathon, and she finished Monday in 3:40:17. She finished at 2 p.m., 42 minutes before the explosions.

Schwarz said she was awed by the spectacle of the race, which brought 27,000 runners. It's so big that it starts in three waves of 9,000 runners apiece, 20 minutes apart. Spectators and runners alike pack the streets in a party-like atmosphere.

“The Boston Marathon is one of the few marathons that you have to qualify to be able to enter,” Schwarz said. "... I felt very privileged to go and run, and I will definitely go back if I am able.”

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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