Updated: Oct 4, 2018
Running toward the finish line with mere meters left. Unlike other marathon finishes this one has two shoots. I decide to stay right as I envision the moment when I cross the finish line and throw my arms high over my head in victory. When I see the the 26-mile marker I am reminded this run I had dedicated to the 26 children/teachers who died in Sandy Hook elementary shooting. I say a prayer for them. Filled with the pride of having lived my dream, my head held high I see it – a blast and cloud of smoke. BOOM
It is just like we see in the movies. Things are moving quickly but it is as though my mind is moving in slow motion, processing all that is happening. I have always been one to doubt myself and charge through things anyway. When the bomb goes off there are two military people to the right of me and they come to a dead stop and shutter. I scream at them “that wasn’t right?!”. They looked at me and responded “no”. They had just confirmed to me that a bomb had gone off at the Boston Marathon.
The Boston marathon is run on Patriot’s day and a day which no doubt highlights the patriotism of the American people. As my brain was running analysis on the situation I said it can’t be celebratory fireworks with runners coming in around the 4 hours 10 minute mark, I am sure they would only do that for the faster runners. It went from a boom to a cloud of smoke. My next thought was “why”? Why a bomb?
When the the two military officers confirmed what I feared I knew I had to run from away from danger. I was right on the corner of Exeter street and decided that would be the best exit off of the race course. As soon as I turned my back the second bomb exploded and I could feel it on my back. I knew not to turn around. Images of 9/11 forever engraved in my mind told me don’t look back. I feared the building behind me was falling down and I knew if I looked back I would freeze in a state of shock. Everyone was screaming. I heard people say “run for your lives”. As I ran along Exeter street a few seconds later I decide to take cover in a glassed in entrance. I figured if there was debris littering the sky then I would save myself from getting hit in the head with flying objects. I stayed there for what seemed like a minute or 2 and when I realized that there was nothing flying around I was going to continue to make my way to the family waiting area.
One of the reasons I love race day is because I feel free. In training on long runs runners are forced to carry water to stay hydrated. This usually means wearing a hydration belt – a nylon belt tied around the waist with a Velcro fastener and 2-4 water bottles. On race day there are hundreds maybe thousands of volunteers handing out water so we don’t have to burden ourselves with hydration belts. In every race I run I take the time to thank a few of the volunteers because I know without them the race would not be possible. I am especially grateful that due to their generosity of time I do not need wear a hydration belt on race day. Whenever I take the belt off it’s equivalent to taking off high heels after a night of dancing.
Hydration belts usually have a zipper compartment to store money, gels and a phone. No belt on race day means no phone – which I am okay with usually. Before the race my family and I determine we will meet in the family waiting area under the letter “B” – for Burt, hence no need for a cellphone. Except on this day I wished I had a cellphone to call Kunal, my husband. As I neared the corner of Stuart street I asked a woman if I could borrow her cellphone to call Kunal. She obliged without hesitation.
The call to my husband... “Hun Bombs have gone off – I am okay for now and making my way to you guys. I love you”. There was a small part of me that feared I wouldn’t make it to him – yes, I feared I wouldn’t make it to him alive. My brain was once again brought back to images of 9/11. I thanked the lady and continued on my way.
I just ran 42 kilometers yet my desire to find my family kept me running. Lucky for me I have a good sense of direction and knew approximately where to head for the “family waiting area”. In a state of panic, I continued to ask people where the family waiting area was– where is the family waiting area??? I couldn’t fathom the idea of walking/running further then I had to to get to my family. I didn’t want to make a mistake and take a wrong turn fearing that the longer it took me to get to them there was an increased chance they would no longer be waiting. What happens if I get to the family area and they have gone for security reasons. Then I would be stuck in this chaos all by myself without a phone, direction, money, warm clothes – I would be lost. Even though I was surrounded my thousands of people I felt so alone. I was convinced that if my family was gone then I would melt into a helpless puddle on the ground – paralyzed.
As I was nearing the street where my family was I could hear them yelling out on police radio more bombs have gone off. I felt so vulnerable. Bombs could go off any second close to where I was or even worse close to where my family and friends were waiting – the people I love most in the world were in danger too: Kunal (my husband), Manisha (my daughter), Mom, Dad, Nancy (sister), Chriss (BFF), Nate (BFF’s son), Dawn (childhood friend and wifey), Stephanie (running partner and wifey), Andrew (her husband), Josh (Steph’s son), Mitali (my sister-in-law) and Elizabeth (her best friend). I knew this was a terror attack and if they could manage to take down the World Trade Centers in NYC then I was convinced that they were taking all of Boston down.
When I turned the corner I was so happy to see the big letters set up by the BAA to help us find our loved ones. My heart sank when no one was waiting for me under the letter “S” – for a split second I was thinking of my husband Kunal Saha. Extremely fatigued from having run a marathon and then sent into a state of shock that bombs had gone off I wasn’t thinking straight. I didn’t want my fear of them not being there to materialise so I had to rationalize things. I talked to myself then I realized they would be under “B” for Burt. I continued to shuffle forward. My cheerleaders were easy to spot because I had bought them florescent lime green shirts to wear so I wouldn’t miss them on the marathon course. I only had one opportunity to see them and that was at the 25 kilometer mark…there was no way I was going to miss them. They were clumped together – some looking at their phones, others looking around and a few had gone to get snacks. When I approached my exact words were “I did not finish the marathon – bombs have gone out – let’s get out of here”. Both Chriss and Steph said to me that they had starting to hear a buzz about bombs, the people around them were starting to make mention of bombs going off at the finish line.
In fact, I was the one to confirm that to be true. Initially they too thought it may have had something to do with Patriot’s day. Upon seeing everyone I was so relieved but still wanted to get away from the marathon as quickly as possible. Now I started to shiver, my heart beating faster I begged everyone to leave. We were missing someone. Nathan had decided to sneak into a shop to make a purchase. We obviously couldn’t leave without him. Poor Chriss was a mess. As a mother I felt for her but as someone who had just seen a boom go off I wanted to get the hell out of there. We waited for what seemed like an eternity to me. Minutes later Nathan shows up and we all sigh a collective relief. The store did a lock down and they wouldn’t let him leave and for some reason – I don’t know – minutes later they let them go.
Upon Nathan’s return we started to discuss our exit strategy. Initially the plan was for Kunal and I to stay in Boston to celebrate and for everyone else to head home, including Manisha. My family and friends had already taken Monday off of work to be with me and they needed to get back. Patriots’ Day is always celebrated on a Monday another feature that makes the Boston Marathon unique and special (the only marathon run on a Monday rather than a Sunday). I knew I would be tired after the marathon so Kunal and I switched hotels to be an extremely close to the finish line. Since I viewed my participation as “a one and done” I was going to do it right. I was going to treat the marathon as my parade – the cherry on my Sunday and that meant staying in town that night to celebrate with fellow runners. What I had envisioned changed in the blink of an eye.
While discussing how to get back to our hotel and cars a man started screaming at the top of his lungs as he ran down the street arms flailing in the air – “go now to give blood – come on everyone –let’s go give blood”. Just as I was calming down somewhat, this guy sent me back into full panic mode. In fact, I didn’t hear what he was saying I thought he was telling us to get out of danger and I started to follow him. Kunal quickly grabbed me and pulled my body close to his. I begged him to get me out of there – that I couldn’t handle one more minute but we weren’t going to abandon our family until a solid plan was set in motion.
My family and friends had taken the subway to see me on the marathon course and the finish. Nathan took charge to lead them back into the subway to the hotel and out of the city. I found them incredibly brave to get back onto the subway, a place I believe where people are extremely vulnerable to attack. I knew they had each other to lean on and they would make it through. I can’t lie there was a small part of me that feared for them but I was too focused on Kunal, Manisha and I finding refuge from the chaos.
We were all in a state of shock – some of us more emotional than others. It was a very emotional goodbye as we parted ways but I was happy to be moving instead of standing still. The anxiety flowing through my veins wanted me to keep moving. We made an attempt to get our car that was already parked in the hotel parking lot but they said we wouldn’t have access to the parking lot for a while. The hotel staff was busy handing out towels and water bottles for the runners who are scattered about the cozy lobby. There is so much going on that my body is in full on sensory overload. We are still too close to the finish line and I want to get as far away as possible. Kunal, Manisha and I start walking briskly away and the farther we get from the finish line the calmer I feel. After walking for over 10 minutes we decide to look for a restaurant so I can rest my legs and we can get a bite to eat. Despite not being very hungry I simply want to go somewhere I feel safe, somewhere my daughter will be safe.
The police are everywhere trying to direct people and for whatever reason a police officer starts to scream at us to move move move. It sends a cluster of pedestrians into a state of panic – our minds in chaos thinking there are more bombs and we are still in danger. Again I am forced to run, my heart pounding incredibly fast and my anxiety through the roof – we are all in fight or flight mode. A few minutes later we are walking again. All I can think about at this point is my poor daughter and what she is going through – she’s only 11 years old – this all too much!!! We find a café and I can’t remember what we eat (actually I don’t eat) but I feel safe for the moment.
After an hour or so Kunal decides it’s time to head to the hotel to try to get the car out. I don’t remember much about the walk back except how the lactic acid make my legs feel like lead. Kunal knows all I want to do is get out of danger and that to me means getting out of Boston. Once at the hotel they inform him that there is no way we will be able to get out of the city that night because the police have locked down the perimeter. Kunal has the difficult task of letting me know that we have to stay the night. Exhaustion is setting in and the thought of snuggling with my daughter in a warm bed motivates me to stand. Although anything could still happen I feel safe in the room. All I want now is to shower and rest my legs.
It took but a minute or two and both mine and Kunal’s phones were ringing and binging like mad. The first call I take is from the French media back home, I am on the phone with them for a few minutes. That phone call quickly takes up my reserved energy. I take the next call too because it’s my friend Cat Spencer, from The Beat radio, calling to see how I am and asks if he can interview me for the next day’s morning show. For all that he is done for me, to help raise autism awareness, how can I say no – I can’t so we begin the interview. In that moment I am grateful for his concern but know I am in no shape to continue talking to people. The Quebec press quickly realize that I am the closest Montrealer to the finish line with a mere 200 meters from crossing and they all want to talk to me. I am forced to turn off my ringer. The text messages are relentless and it becomes clear that people back home are worried about me (and those who had accompanied me). I have no energy to talk anymore. The first text I responded to is that of a former student and friend, Ryan Martin letting him know I am ok. In a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion at this point I decide the fastest and most efficient way to let everyone know we are okay is to write a facebook post. Today I was a mere 300 meters from the finish line of the Boston marathon when the first bomb went off. I am currently with Manisha & Kunal safe in our hotel room.
Breath Audrey breath. I take my daughter in my arms as though she is small child and rock her. I want her to feel safe but I think it’s mostly for me. I need to remember that this little life depends on me and I need to be strong for her. I need her to move away from this experience with as little emotional damage as possible. I start a dialogue about terrorism and use simple language as to not confuse her or make her more afraid. Kunal and I explain that there are bad people in the world but that there are more good ones then bad. We just happened to be where the bad people were. We continue to tell her that we must be vigilant but we cannot stop to love – we cannot live in fear and that we must solider on. I spend that whole time talking and rocking her at the same time. It calms me. In this moment I am not a runner I am a mother. I am grateful that Manisha is with me because I am convinced her presence is what is keeping me together.
Kunal sets up the computer so Manisha can watch some shows. I finally get the chance to take a hot shower. Let me tell you that a shower post marathon is one of the best showers you can ever take. I take an exceptionally long shower to help release the tension in my muscles and to help wash away the negative emotions the day has forced upon me. I am grateful to be alive, I am grateful to be unharmed physically, I am grateful my family is safe, I am grateful my cheerleaders are on their way home, and I am grateful for this shower.
Manisha and I settle into bed to watch the “Golden Girls” because we need the distraction. We both end up falling asleep. Kunal stays awake to keep watch over us. When I wake I feel hungry but how will we get food (our small hotel does not have room service)? Kunal is brave enough to step out and I want my post marathon usual – hamburgers. Before he leaves he warns me not to be afraid of all the sirens going off. He was in NYC when 9/11 happened and he expressed that the city will remain on high alert for sometime and that I shouldn’t be afraid. Although the sounds of sirens are stressing me I am reassured by his explanation of things. I trust him!
Kunal came back with the hamburgers and I think at this point it was about 8 o’clock at night. By this time, I was famished not have eaten a thing since probably 10am and having dispensed an enormous amount of energy. I was feeling better now that I had showered, napped and eaten. So many thoughts going through my head by my focus was to stay calm, rational and be strong for my daughter.
While we were napping Kunal was glued to the news. I didn’t want Manisha to know anything more about that day so we were forced to have a conversation at a distance. Kunal told me about the fatalities and casualties. As a mother my heart broke into a million pieces when I heard that 8-year-old Martin Richard had died in the explosion. He died where the 2nd bomb exploded - he died in back of me. I wept. Not long after eating I was tired again and so too was Manisha. After a couple more episodes of the “Golden Girls” we decided it was time to go to sleep. All I could think about was the minute the garage was open then we heading out of this crazy place and heading home to Keyan. I couldn’t wait for the moment my family would all be together
While I slept this happened: First FB post and picture update from the loving husband now that both my girls are peacefully asleep: there are no post-marathon photos, but this pre-marathon picture tells quite the story and simple life lesson. It's all about appreciating the simple joy of the LOVE of those around us. It's unfortunate that the best way to appreciate life is the reminder of its fragility. When the three of us are reunited with Keyan tomorrow, this senseless act will once again emphasize the good fortune we have to share with one another. A safe night to all - what a joy to see my beauties sleep. Kunal
This was my Boston marathon experience but what I didn’t know then is that it was to be continued…
On this day April 15, 2018 the 5-year anniversary of the Boston marathon bombings I felt compelled to share my story.