Marylanders look to create new memories at Boston Marathon

Back on My Feet running club, of Baltimore, holds a moment of silence to honor those killed or injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, before an April 2014 run.
Back on My Feet running club, of Baltimore, holds a moment of silence to honor those killed or injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, before an April 2014 run. (Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun)

Lynne Douglas stood frozen some 100 yards shy of the finish line at the Boston Marathon when the second bomb exploded, bringing last year's race to an abrupt and chaotic end.

Today, the Columbia woman will run to overcome that moment.


"We're running not to forget, but to replace the terror with a happy experience," said Douglas, 58.

Douglas, whose leg was bruised by shrapnel, had expected the 2013 race to be her last marathon, the apex of running years that had begun in her 20s. But like dozens of other Maryland runners, she wants to create a new memory in place of the images of fallen runners, rising smoke and utter panic that defined last year's event.

"I've been so grateful, appreciative of what I have — and inspired by the seriously injured victims," she said.

Such emotions — and the memories of last year's tragedy — extend far beyond those who will run in the marathon.

Nikia Williams, the program director of Back on My Feet, organized an early-morning moment of silence last week with dozens of Baltimore runners — some of them bound for Boston.

"We run for Boston, and in honor and memory for those who can no longer run for themselves," said Williams, whose program aspires to use running to help Baltimore's homeless find independence.

About 600 Marylanders will be among the 36,000 runners at the starting line in Hopkinton, Mass., on Monday, and others will travel to Boston to watch the Orioles take on the Red Sox that day.

Many runners say they're looking to honor the three people who died in last year's attack and the more than 260 who were injured. They refuse to allow the bombers to shape the identity of Marathon Monday.

For Cindy Hagan and others, the same competitive spirit that compelled them to qualify for the elite race is sparking a return.

"My first thought was, 'I'm going back,'" said Hagan, 54, who was less than a half-mile from the finish line when the 2013 race was canceled. "I don't want somebody to do this and think they're deterring others from doing what they want to do."

Hagan, a personal trainer from Lusby who has run 70 marathons, remembers the chaos erupting: She was about to turn onto Boylston Street when police officers pushed barricades in front of her, saying, "The marathon is over!" Unaware of the bombs, she said, "What do you mean marathon over? We just ran 25.9 miles!"

Victim confronts scene

Erika Brannock returned recently to the spot where a bomb blast knocked her off her feet, causing an injury so severe that her left leg was amputated above her knee.

In her hands, she held the figurine of angel and a stone. She drew on some lessons from ancient Eastern meditation and focused on her breath. On the ground, she placed two pieces of shrapnel doctors had removed from her leg.


"I felt like it was done and I could move on now," said Brannock, a 30-year-old preschool teacher in Towson.

Back in Boston for the first time since she was released from the hospital in June, Brannock spent the past week in the city, attending a tribute to the victims, participating in a walk that united survivors and first responders, and getting a personal audience with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.

Brannock also visited a memorial near the finish line. Her mother, Carol Downing, left the sneakers she had worn in last year's race, with "Boston 2013" written on the heels.

Brannock was standing last year in front of a LensCrafters along with her sister and brother-in-law, Nicole and Michael Gross, waiting for her mother to finish the marathon. The first of the two bombs exploded inches from where she stood.

Brannock was not released from the hospital until 50 days after the bombing; her long recovery included 18 surgeries. She took the first steps on her prosthetic leg in October.

"I stood exactly where I was," she said, recalling Thursday's visit to the spot of the bombing. "It was extremely emotional, and the strange part was two fire engines went by while I was sitting there and it was a really eerie sound to hear."

Going through that process will allow her to stand ready Monday to watch her mother cross the finish line, Brannock said.

She's not exactly sure what to expect, but is prepared.

"I know there are probably going to be some heightened emotions of 'OK, we're back here,' but I think I have conquered the fear of being there, and that I am not going to be afraid," she said.

Downing, 58, expects the highlight of Monday's race to be stepping across the finish line and greeting her daughters and son-in-law. Nicole Gross, a standout athlete as a Mount Hebron High School student, sustained serious leg injuries last year; her husband escaped with burns and lacerations.

"This has been a tough year," Downing said. "Watching my daughters struggle with their injuries and all the surgeries they've endured has been heartbreaking for me. …

"I have no expectations for a finish time on Monday, only to cross the finish line and have my family safely standing there and waiting for me."

Starting-line anticipation

Ross Brewer, 50, was less than a mile from the finish on April 15, 2013 — beating the time of his five previous marathons — when racers suddenly began bunching up ahead of him. Brewer, a director for technical services and support for a Sparks office of Becton Dickinson, said there was "no question" he would run again Monday to finally finish the race.

"It makes me angry more than anything else," he said about the bombs.

Brewer still has strong emotions when he hears a story on the radio about that day and how it hurt so many innocent runners. Sometimes, he just has to switch it off.

"We all hear about acts of terrorism elsewhere, in other countries," he said. "We're shocked and dismayed, but you don't understand how it impacts people until you're there."

Brennan Feldhausen said he won't let those responsible for the attack take anything else away from the joy of Marathon Monday. Runners are resilient, he stressed.

"We're probably not the right people to mess with," said Feldhausen, 29, of Locust Point. "We're a tenacious group and a motivated one.

"They are ultimately winning if we let it alter our life. That's not something, on a personal level, that I am willing to give to them."

Like the other runners, Nate Brigham has tried to imagine the moment Monday after the national anthem plays and the race goes silent, before the gun fires to signal the start. He expects that's when the weight of the experience will settle in.

He hopes he won't be overcome with emotion.

"There is 26 miles in front of you; you've got to race. You've still got to run," said Brigham, 31, of Lake Evesham.

For years as a student at Tufts University near Boston, Brigham and his friends would spend marathon day cheering on the runners along Heartbreak Hill. He had waited to run the race until he knew he could be competitive, and last year he trained hard and finished in 2 hours, 36 minutes.


When the bombs exploded, Brigham, his wife, Emily, and his parents had gathered at their designated meeting place at Boston Common, a historic park a few blocks from the finish line.

Brigham is eager to get back on the course Monday.

"Everybody has that moment from last year, it's the 'Where were you?' type of moment," said Brigham, who works in communications and marketing at Community College of Baltimore County. "That's why I am looking forward to going back so I can say, 'I was there when they expanded the field size. It was a beautiful day and everyone finished as strong as they could.'

"I am looking forward to that more and anything, to be part of that experience."

It was somewhere along the course last year, before the attack, that Peter Jackson of Bolton Hill decided he'd be back. The energy and excitement of the crowd in Boston was unlike any other he'd encountered in five previous marathons and two Ironman triathlons.

Jackson, who completed the race last year in 3 hours, 30 minutes, had just finished up dessert with his fiance, Abby Ferretti, and their friends at the bakery Flour near Copley Square and were walking down Dartmouth Street when the bombs exploded.

"I knew I wanted to come back. Then all of sudden the day got turned upside down, and it was all about finding safety and knowing that everyone was OK," said Jackson, 28, vice president of the fundraising platform GiveCorps.

"Once that all settled down, and I was boarding the plane, I made the resolve to be at the starting line at Hopkinton again. It was that much more important to me."

'Never-give-up attitude'

For Joann Donnellan, 49, of Silver Spring, the Boston Marathon was the cap on three marathon goals: the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, the New York City Marathon, and finally, Boston.

She decided to return this year, she said, to push forward the spirit of the charity that she ran with last year: Team Hoyt, a father-and-son team based in Holland, Mass., designed to help those with physical disabilities.

"It's a never-give-up attitude," Donnellan said. "It's very important to go back and be with everyone and celebrate the power of human spirit that we can overcome tragedy."

During the race Monday, Lauren Lake expects to be somewhere in the middle of the pack.

The marathon, her eighth, will allow her to check off another milestone toward the goal of completing a marathon in every state.

She won't be trying to set a personal record or crush a competitor's time. She'll be watching to see who might be struggling.

To the 22-year-old Patterson Park resident, community and camaraderie is what running is about.

"If you have water, you give them water." said Lake, a law student at the University of Baltimore. "If they are struggling, you offer words of encouragement."

She wasn't in Boston last year, but the bombings had a profound impact on her. Her mother, Dee, had finished the race just 10 minutes before the first bomb exploded on Boylston Street.

Her mom was able to send a quick text — "I'm OK" — before the two lost contact for the several hours.

Lake falls apart when she remembers that way she felt that day.

"It's just the fear," Lake recalled last week. "I was just thinking that if anything happened to her, it would be just me and my brother, and he's not grown up yet. It was that momentary thought, 'what if I had to take care of him?'"

This year, Dee Lake will be on the sidelines to support her daughter.

On a recent day at the Inner Harbor, mother and daughter gathered with dozens of others Baltimore runners from Back on My Feet to pay tribute to the victims.

"We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed," said Williams, who organized the event. "That makes me think of Boston, of those who were affected by this tragic event and those who are healing."

Back on My Feet also has a Boston chapter.

Dee Lake, a special education teacher from Bolton Hill, said the tragedy has unified the running community, making it stronger than ever.

Together, she said, they will overcome the attack.

"It was aimed at every day life," she said, "and you can't stop every day life from happening."