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Local runner recounts Boston marathon bombing scene

MARATHONER NO. 19935 — Amy Dickinson is pictured, with her daughter Jaime, after finishing the Boston Marathon. Photo taken by Carrie Dickinson.
BOSTON — Amy Dickinson crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon 3 hours, 42 minutes and 46 seconds after she started, in what she called, “one of the happiest, most amazing days of my life.” Twenty minutes later, a bomb exploded at the same finish line she had just crossed.

“The most wonderful day of my life turned into this horrible thing,” Dickinson said. “It was like a moving block party, for 26 miles. It’s so amazing; I’ve been told just to enjoy it and soak it all in.” She ran beneath flags signifying the runners from countries across the world, and crossed the street to run beneath the time clock that showed her own time, between the “F” and the “I” in “Finish.”

After runners cross the Boston finish line, what Dickinson called “an army of volunteers” help the marathoners to keep moving through the crowded streets, handing them water, snacks and wrapping them in silver, heat-retaining blankets. The runners keep walking, toward buses that match the numbers on their race bibs, to retrieve the extra clothing and personal belongings they left at the starting line.

Dickinson had just retrieved her bag when the first bomb exploded.

“I felt it in my chest. It was like a loud firework and there was a ton of smoke,” Dickinson said. “There was a lot of confusion. We all looked at each other, like, ‘What was that?’ The second blast was almost immediate. You could hear conversations, on the street around you, from people who had gotten their phones out, and that’s when we started to realize [what had happened].”

Dickinson said that the two policemen working the barricade, where the buses were parked, were not rushing toward the scene, at first. As soon as the police realized what was happening, however, they took immediate action, running toward the finish line, with a fleet of emergency vehicles close behind.

“After it happened, I just kept moving. I didn’t look back. I’m not a nurse; I’m not a doctor,” she said, of her reaction. “I just thought, ‘I can’t help; just keep moving.”

Because of an electronic chip placed in each runner’s bib, the Dickinson family could track the marathoner’s progress, via email. The runner’s daughters and mother had watched her, at the 22-mile mark, and had told Amy Dickinson that they would also see her at the finish line, if they had time to get there. Because of the number of people trying to contact loved ones, Dickinson said her text messages would not go through to her daughter, when she tried to find out where they were. Dickinson’s family had made plans to meet her at the Park Plaza Hotel, whether they made it to the finish line or not.

“I started getting scared. I didn’t know if they had been at the finish,” Dickinson said. “It went from being so glad my family could see me run, to this awful feeling of, ‘I dragged my family into a terrorist attack.’”

Dickinson said she found her family fairly quickly, at the hotel, but that she was “still processing” what had happened, as the televisions at the Plaza changed from a golf tournament to live coverage of the bombing. The hotel staff offered displaced runners and spectators water, snacks, coffee and places to charge cellular phones or other communication devices. The Dickinson family heard a report that one subway station, within walking distance, was still open, after train, bus and taxi services had been discontinued, so they set out to find it, in the hopes of making it out of the city.

“There were all of these runners just milling around, without a change of clothes, bewildered. People couldn’t communicate with their families, couldn’t get out to where they were staying. I kept getting text messages asking if I was OK, but I couldn’t answer,” Dickinson said. “It was eerie.”

They stopped at a burger restaurant to reconnoiter, after Dickinson decided that staying away from major landmarks and government buildings would be safer.

“I just kept having this sense that ‘We shouldn’t be here. It’s not safe here,’” Dickinson said. At the restaurant, she asked a man seated nearby if he was a local and knew how to get back to her sister’s house in New Hampshire, where the family was staying.

The man’s daughter’s boyfriend Paul, was on his way to the restaurant to pick him up. Paul drove the Dickinson family to their car, before he picked up his girlfriend’s father, even though it added several hours to his travel time. They made it back to N.H. at about 10 p.m.

The Dickinson family had lived outside of New York City during 9/11, and said the sensation in Boston was similar, to that time.

“We kept hearing reports that said to keep moving. The sense of being in a big city, with that much police presence, is strange. You aren’t used to seeing the National Guard with their big guns in a city. To see them and know they’re not there for a parade or a ceremony; it’s surreal.

“There were a lot of scared families,” she continued. “At the time, we didn’t know if there were more [bombs]. I just kept thinking, ‘Who would bomb the Boston marathon? Who would bomb anything?’”

Dickinson said that she was most surprised at the attack on the marathon because of the camaraderie and sportsmanship that is typical to the sport.

“Walking around Boston that weekend was amazing. You felt like a celebrity,” she said, indicating her official Boston marathon track jacket, that designated her as a participant. “I met so many people, from all over the world. It’s the only sport where you can compete with the best in the sport; with people who have run in the Olympics. That experience is going to be hard to top.”

Dickinson said that, despite everything that happened, she still plans to continue running marathons, including Boston. Her training partner, Heather Sopko, qualified for the Boston marathon on the same day as Dickinson ran, and she said she wants to try to run the race with her friend, next year.

This was Dickinson’s third marathon, part of what she called her “mid-life adventure.

“I’m a latecomer to the sport. I turned 45 and started training,” she said, with a laugh. “It’s addicting. And it’s cheaper than a Ferrari!”

Dickinson said that she credits the Sole Sisters running club for keeping her on track, during training runs that got progressively longer, as time went on. She also thanked her friends, back home, who interrupted a baseball game to tell her husband and son that she and the rest of the family were OK, after the bombs went off.

“We were very, very lucky,” she said. “And it’s great to have such wonderful people to help us out, in a time like this.”

Dickinson said that she also went to the Run for Boston solidarity run, held in Delaware Park in Buffalo on April 20, to raise money and awareness for Boston marathon bombing victims.

“It was a beautiful day, just like in Boston. And it was so wonderful, to see so many people come out, to show their support. It helped, to see that.”

Dickinson said that she thinks people will be more aware of potential security risks, in future races.

“The best security is the security you don’t see,” she said. “If I really saw something suspicious, I think I would clear the area. I don’t think I would confront the person, because you never know if they’re wearing a [suicide bomb] vest. If there’s something we learned, it’s that there are a lot of cameras.”

Dickinson said she also found closure in the arrest of suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, although she was scared for the people of Boston, during the lock down and events leading to his apprehension.

“I was afraid for Paul, who was from Cambridge,” she said. “I was just glued to the coverage. I still am. I couldn’t rest knowing someone got away with it. I still can’t. It still doesn’t make sense to me.

“You don’t get hurt, during a marathon,” Dickinson said, of her attitude toward the sport and her participation.

“You might get out of breath, or fall and bruise your ego. But when the bombs went off, the winners had finished and were off having dinner, by then. The international runners were done. These were regular people; people like me and the other runners I know. I’m angry. They struck my sport. It’s not right.”


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