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One month later: A Boston Marathon runner’s reflections on the tragedy

You may remember reading about Kelsey Barry’s journey to the Boston Marathon start line a few days before April 15. In our article, she was excited, optimistic, and ready to hit the road for her second running of Boston. And then everything changed. Not only was Kelsey minutes away from the finish when the bombs went off, she’s also a UMass Dartmouth alum and a Watertown resident. Here’s a Q&A with Kelsey about what happened that day, that week, and how she’s moving forward. 

Kelsey Barry at Mile 9 of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Kelsey Barry at Mile 9 of the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Q. Where were you when the bombs went off?
A. I was on Mass Ave about to go under the bridge — about 5 minutes from finishing. As I was running, I noticed the spectator crowd dwindling and a bunch of people ahead stopping suddenly. I looked to my left and saw a man lying down in the middle of the street stretching so I thought the commotion was around him. I heard sirens and police so I knew he had help arriving soon. Little did I know he was stretching because the race had stopped, and the sirens were not rushing to help him, but rushing to the finish line.

Q: What happened next?
A: Policemen placed guardrails in front of our path and all they said was that we weren’t able to go further. Of course every runner in front and behind me was thinking the same thing, “what is going on?” As we were all stuck in the guardrails and runners behind us started piling up, someone opened them so we were able to spread along the sidewalk, however, we still weren’t sure what was happening. Spectators soon were rushing to our sides asking if we needed to use their cell phones to call our loved ones. Cell phones were not working, and this put everyone in a panic. No one knew if anyone was safe.

Behind me someone said, “There was an explosion at the finish line. Blood is everywhere. They are saying it may have been a building-mechanical explosion.” But deep down I knew that wasn’t it. I had an eerie feeling. And all I could think about were my family and friends — everyone was at the finish line waiting for me.

Then, a girl that was running near me said her three friends were on their way to give her more news on what happened. They all saw panic in my eyes and I asked them if they knew anything and she said, “It’s bad. I guess there was an explosion and lots of blood. They think it was a terror attack.”

I burst into tears, and was ready to run towards the chaos. I just needed to know that everyone I knew was okay. They were all that was on my mind. As I said this out loud, these four girls took me with them to their apartment nearby — ensuring they would help me find my family and that everything was going to be OK. They got me water, pizza, and gave me their sweaters as I was shivering uncontrollably. I was in complete shock. As we walked along, seeing people running in every direction, we approached Berklee College of Music and phone signals started working again. I had never been so happy to see an incoming phone call from my mom. I knew she was safe. I knew it was going to be OK.

It took me 2 and a half hours to locate her because she wasn’t able to cross over Boylston to get to where I was, but those four girls stayed with me until she came. I cannot thank those girls enough, and it made me realize that there are good people still in this world. When I needed someone, anyone, anything to calm me down, they rushed to my side and through all the commotion and confusion, they made me feel safe and made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

Q: What was that next week like for you?
A: The next few days felt like the longest days of my life. Once I got home on Monday around 7 p.m. after locating all of my family and friends, all I could think about was that I could have been right at the finish line at that time had I not stopped to walk a little at Heartbreak Hill. All I could say over and over was how thankful I was to be OK, and everyone I know be unharmed. My parents and friends were suppose to be directly where the bomb had gone off because I run on the left side of the road every race. But instead, they were stuck trying to find parking and were a block away when the bomb went off. My brother was about 100 feet away from the first bomb. Luckily he ran to safety.

I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t tired. I was sick to my stomach and filled with sadness. How could I eat knowing the events that just occurred? How could I sleep knowing that people had died? This was supposed to be the happiest day of my life. The happiest day for everyone who ran that race. This is what we train for all year — and yet I sat on my bed feeling empty. I didn’t sleep that night and took a few days off of work to rest/get my mind to focus again.

However, on Thursday night as I was heading to bed, I heard gun shots and sirens down the street from my house. I jumped up and ran downstairs to my parents and woke them up. I turned on the news only to see the suspects from the marathon bombing were in my town. Right down the street from where I live. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen in my little town, and it was so scary to know that right when I was starting to move forward, I suddenly was taking three steps back. My heart raced a mile a minute as I sat lifelessly glued to the TV. As Friday morning approached, Watertown was put on lockdown and no one could leave their homes. I felt like I was trapped in a movie scene. I had never been in a situation like the marathon, and now my backyard looked like a war zone with army men searching, guns in hand. As the day rolled on, and emotions were high, the news stated that suspect two went to UMass Dartmouth, which is the college I attended. I just felt so scared. I felt so connected to this whole mess. As night time approached, and suspect two was finally caught, all I could hear down the street was applause and cheers. I couldn’t get myself to join the celebration, I was still so nervous to step outside. The next day I went to get coffee, and suddenly burst into tears and rushed home. I didn’t feel comfortable being outside with people surrounding me and I know I wasn’t the only one.

Q: What emotions did you feel when you got your medal?
A: I planned to pick up my medal on Friday, which never happened because Watertown was on lockdown. As the next few days approached, I was back to work and had to catch up so I wasn’t physically able to pick up my medal. My friend took my bib number and license and picked it up for me when she went to get hers. But when I held it in my hands, it had a whole different meaning. It wasn’t that I had run a marathon, it’s that I survived. I was almost mad to receive it, because it doesn’t change what happened. It doesn’t make me happy. But it did make me proud, proud that I will run next year. And I will run in memory of those who lost their lives.

This incident was horrific to be a part of, but it will not stop my passion for running. Running is what I do, and no one can change that.

Q: How do you feel one month  later?
A: As a month has passed, I still think about what happened every day. I still wake up hoping that it was all a bad dream. I’ve been into the city multiple times since the incident occurred, but I haven’t gotten the courage to return to Boylston Street. I just can’t get myself to go back there just yet. The memories, good and bad from that day are still fresh in my mind, and so vivid that I don’t think I will ever forget what I felt that day. It takes time to heal from a tragedy, but I am confident that I will cross that finish line next year, wearing my number proud and running in memory of those who lost their lives, and for those who were injured. It’s something to look forward to and I can’t wait to get back into training.

Q:  Any final thoughts?
A: I want other runners to know that you can’t let something like this stop you from doing what you love. Boston is a small city, but we are a tight knit community. Even though Watertown is a few miles outside of Boston, everyone knows everyone…and I feel like that’s how Boston is. The people who lost their lives deserve to be remembered forever, and us runners are the ones to keep their memory alive.

Thank you, Kelsey, for sharing your story with the WalkJogRun community.