Runner recalls chaos, kindness after bombs
SARATOGA SPRINGS Going for a run was the last thing on Ginny Pezzula’s mind after the Boston Marathon.
Etched in her memory is the fear and anguish she witnessed after two bombs detonated near the finish line of the race Monday — the stress she saw in almost every face. But the retired state worker from Colonie also remembers the overwhelming kindness that swept through the city as she and fellow runners tried to escape the chaos.
There was the man who insisted she take his sweatshirt when he saw her trembling and the couple who offered their apartment as a place of refuge until everything settled down. Or the police who tried their best to keep her abreast of what had happened and the organizers who continue to email her about the support available for those trying to cope with the aftermath.
“That’s what impressed me,” she said. “Those are the things I’ll remember.”
And that’s why Pezzula decided to join roughly 75 runners in a jaunt through the Saratoga State Park on Thursday evening. Like others, she wanted to do something to express solidarity with the people affected by the bombings — even though she is among them.
“This made me feel better,” she said, pausing. “It really made me feel better. I felt like I did something.”
Angela Meliski of Troy was similarly moved after the bombings. Though she wasn’t in Boston Monday and isn’t a serious runner, the tragic conclusion of the marathon stuck a chord with her.
Like many, Meliski watched with horror as images from the explosions emerged in the media. She thought about her own friend from college, who refused to share his pictures after completing the marathon because they were taken in almost the exact location where shrapnel would later cut down a crowd of people.
This wasn’t just any marathon. This was Boston, a 26.2-mile race that runners can’t enter until they achieve qualifying times in other accredited marathons.
“This wasn’t an everyday event,” she said. ”Many of these people were completing a life goal and for some it got crushed.”
Taking a cue from her friend, Meliski decided to organize a run as part of Runners United to Remember, a movement started by a Chicago-based runners’ group aimed at honoring the victims of the Boston bombing.
The so-called “virtual run” started by Run Junkees has inspired tens of thousands of runners from across the country to organize solidarity events.
Meliski initially figured the dash she started organizing two days ago would draw a handful of friends. But those few friends each seemed to talk to a few more friends.
“Then it sort of spread,” she said.
By Thursday, Meliski’s handful was a large group gradually snaking a quarter-mile through the park. Some wore commemorative bibs bearing Monday’s date, while others wore apparel from Boston’s sports teams. One runner even had a Bruins jersey.
The run was the one time Kate Nicholson felt comfortable proudly displaying her affinity for the Boston Red Sox. The Boston transplant now living in Saratoga Springs sported a Red Sox cap, while her dog Duff wore a Red Sox T-shirt.
Ordinarily, such a combination would garner her a few playful barbs from New York fans. After Monday, however, the heated sports rivalry seemed to vanish.
“It’s very cool to see people from New York showing so much support for Boston,” she said.
Then there were runners like Pezzula, who wore her blue-and-gold Boston Athletic Association jacket, the one she was given at the marathon.
Folded inside a pocket was her bib, the safety pins still attached from the day she wore it in the race.
Pezzula’s run in Boston was an affirmation of a life goal. She had run in other marathons like New York City and Chicago, but the prestige of Boston made it alluring.
“It was just something I wanted to scratch off my bucket list,” she said.
Early on in the race, Pezzula found herself hampered by a nagging leg injury. At times, she recalled, her pace had slowed to a jog.
She was less than three miles away from the finish line when she overheard a group talking about the first blast, which they said had gone off in the bleachers.
About a mile later, police told the runners they probably wouldn’t be able to cross the finish line.
The closer she got to the blast site, the more panicked people became. Her friend later estimated that they got less than a mile away from the finish line when police told them to disperse.
“He just said get out of this area now,” she recalled. “There’s a bomb.”
Like many other runners, Pezzula was left scared and exhausted. Yet no matter where she went, there was always someone extending a hand to help her.
“I couldn’t believe the people,” she said. “I really can’t say enough about it, and that’s what I’ll never forget.”