Luck spares runners from finish line blasts


By Bruce Burdett and Jim McGaw

Sore legs kept Westport's Mary Cass out of harm's way.

Tiverton resident Susan Kent's decision to push on despite broken foot got her and her fans out in the nick of time.

For Susan Darmody of Westport, it was the decision to take a quick bathroom break before the finish line.

And for her daughter Lindsay, waiting at the finish, it was a call from her father Chris Darmody that summoned her across the street. Minutes later, the second bomb went off, precisely where Lindsay had been standing

It was fortunate coincidences like these that kept some local runners apart from tragedy when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish Monday, killing several and wounding over 100.

Ms. Kent ran for the fifth time Monday despite a fractured right foot. The pain worsened as she neared the end and she thought of pausing for medical attention.

"But I kept going — Thank God I didn't stop."

Her persistence got her across the finish line 20 minutes before the bombs went off.

"My family and friends had been standing right between where the bombs exploded." Later, they were walking across the Boston Common when they heard he explosions, followed quickly by sirens from every direction.

"We didn't know what happened until we got to the car."

"Just horrible," she said. "I feel so badly for those people, that little boy." I didn't sleep at all last night."

She said she will race there again. "If you don't go back, they win."

For Ms. Darmody, 48, it was her first marathon and the race was going well.

"I had passed the 25-mile mark and was about a half mile away when all of a sudden there was a crowd in front of me, people going the wrong way." She first thought it was Boston College or Boston University

students pulling some prank — there had been some boisterous young race fans earlier on. But then police told the runners that the race was done, that there had been bombs near the finish line.

She might have been at the line already but for that bathroom break decision.

"That took about five minutes which would have put me very close to the line … very lucky timing," she said.

She also knew, though, that the finish line was where her family was waiting.

Mr. Darmody and daughters Lindsay, visiting from North Carolina, and Katie, down from UNH, were in the grandstand across Boylston Street from where the bombs went off. But at one point, Lindsay went over to the other side.

"She was right where the second bomb went off," Mr. Darmody said. But with his wife just minutes from the finish (he had been using the race tracking system) he called Lindsay back across the street.

"I told her that she (her mother) would never see her over there. She would be looking for the flag I had brought so that we could find each other."

When the first bomb went of, he guessed that it might be a rifle volley saluting veterans — "I had seen groups of veterans and the noise and smoke were a lot like when they shoot the guns at Patriots games for touchdowns … But when the second one exploded, there was no doubt. There was lots of screaming, people running in all directions, mayhem."

It was that flag that helped reunite the family.

"I just started walking toward the finish in the crowd," Ms. Darmody said, "and finally saw that flag," a moment she described as an unbelievable relief.

Coming so close to the end without finishing was heartbreaking, Ms. Darmody said. A teacher, she was running to raise funds for the Bottom Line Foundation, a charity that helps students attend college.

"I had been training since November," going most weekends to Newton to run with others and other days pounding the pavement in Westport.

She'll be back in Boston soon to finish what she started.

"I was feeling strong, I knew I could make it and I am going to run that last half mile."

But most of all she said she feels terribly for the many runners and spectators who were less fortunate. "We're home now. We were the lucky ones."

Mary Cass, 51, a Bristol Community College professor and Westport resident, was running her third marathon and was about a mile out when the bombs exploded

Her husband David said she was having an off day, "which proved to be pretty lucky … Her target time would have put her very close to the finish line."

He said she had paused at one point for treatment of sore legs and blisters. "That may have made the difference."

'Broken-hearted' veteran runner

Kevin Callahan of Portsmouth, who's run 21 consecutive Boston Marathons, said the city never looked better going into this year's event Monday.

"They had built up all this tremendous family activity on the holiday with children along the route," said Mr. Callahan. "Then you get to the college community, where they're a little more fired up. It's a whole positive environment for the five hours that race is run. It's unbelievable."

And then in an instant, the celebratory feel of the day was shredded to bits.

"I personally feel affected by this because I've done this for a number of years," said Mr. Callahan, who safely completed the marathon before the two explosions. "And then to see it all fall apart ..."

As he's done for the past decade or longer, the 56-year-old joined the Narragansett Running Club Monday morning on a bus trip to the city. The runners always have a designated meeting area after the race, in this case the Rattlesnake Bar and Grill on Boylston Street.

Mr. Callahan completed the race in 3 hours, 33 minutes and 20 seconds, more than 30 minutes before the two explosions near the finish line. He made his way to Stuart Street to get his baggage, water and a medal.

"You proceed with this lengthy process ... They shove you toward your bus where you can get your bag, where all the gear is so you can keep warm. You're just trying to unravel what the rest of the day's going to be like.

"That's when we found out. Our first reaction was, 'What? Are you kidding me?' We were just in disbelief."

He got out his cell phone to track down some members of his group, to find out if they had made it to the Rattlesnake. "And we lost all cell phone communications," he said.

Mr. Callahan said it was a "chaotic scene everywhere," with building evacuations and people being told to walk in the middle of the street and away from buildings. Some runners from his bus were reunited at the Rattlesnake, but at 4 p.m. they were told to evacuate before the group was fully assembled, he said.

They moved away from Boylston Street and toward the bus area, when cell phone use was restored. Although it took awhile to locate one member, all 30 members of the group eventually hopped a bus back home.

"It took forever to get out of there," said Mr. Callahan. "We left probably about 5:30."

The veteran marathoner said the tragedy jolted the Boston community as well as the family-friendly atmosphere created by the Boston Athletic Association.

"Certainly after an event like that you have all this euphoric happy feelings and camaraderie with your colleagues, then it was totally blown," said Mr. Callahan, who described himself as "heart-broken."

He has every intention, however, of running again next year. "I'll definitely do it," he said.

Mr. Callahan's worried, however, that the "spectator portion" of the marathon may dwindle.

"The impact was pretty massive for that reason it may be diminished," he said.


Runners from nearby

Among the 25,000 Boston Marathon runners on the starting roster were several from these towns. Several had finished the race before the finish line bombs were set off, others were still out on the race course, according to the race website.


From Westport:

Christopher A. Batt, 47 — listed as finishing in 2:56.36, in 68th place in his division

Mary Cass, 51 — halfway time of 2:04.19

Susa Darmody, 48 — halfway time of 2:22.08

From Tiverton:

•  Susan E. Kent, 48 — listed as finishing in 4:03.47

• Adam S. Tebbs, 31 — listed as having a halfway time of 2:07.31

• Michael Yelonsky, 52 — (no splits listed)

From Little Compton:

• Joseph Maiato, 19 — (no splits listed)

• Dan Murphy, 54 — listed as finishing in 3:22.32

From Portsmouth:

Kevin M. Callahan, 56 — finished with a time of 3:33.20

Elizabeth J. Guidon, 44 — halfway time of 1:58.57


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.