Marathon volunteers reflect on experiences

BOSTON -- As the runners pounded down the course from Hopkinton to Boston, there were more than a few nervous volunteers waiting at their posts by the finish line.

They were some of the closest to the chaos that occurred on Boylston Street last April, and they haven't forgotten what they saw, heard and felt that day.

But just like the runners who pushed themselves to the limits again to conquer the 26.2-mile course, the Boston Marathon volunteers were back in force Monday.

Carol Gough and Arlene Moore have been volunteering at the marathon for the past two decades.

After being just across the street from the bombings last year, the women discussed giving up their gigs as finish line volunteers.

"That didn't last long, though," Moore said. "Because we're like, 'We can't finish on a bad note. We have to come back and retire on a good note.'"

"You can't not come back," Gough said. "You have to come back. That's the only way you're gonna get closure."

After getting herself to safety, Gough, a Halifax, Mass., native, said she stood and watched the first responders rush to help the wounded.

"When I would have a bad day, that's where I'd focus," she said. "I would focus on seeing everybody rushing in and helping. A lot of our teammates went over and helped tear down all the barriers."

Moore, from Abington, Mass., ran the marathon three times years ago and says after all her experience working at the finish line she can tell who the first-timers are. As the day kicked into gear, she was looking forward to seeing those exultant faces again.

"I feel great being back," she said. "I feel like I want to see it go on like it used to go on. People going over the finish line, being happy, kissing the ground, doing high-fives and whatever."

The Boston Marathon is a family affair for Emily McDivitt, whose parents were longtime volunteers. She ran the race three times and has been volunteering for 19 years.

On Monday, she was stationed at the head of the long row of tables piled high with finishers' medals.

"I started doing medals recently," the Melrose, Mass., native said. "It's the best job in the world, I think."

McDivitt was handing out medals when the bombs went off last year.

"I didn't think twice, I just ran," she said. "And it was just so many emotions going through my mind and everything. I couldn't believe it. ... To have this happen, there were no words to describe it."

She admitted to being a bit jittery Monday -- "It's a little scary, I have to admit," she said -- but she never considered not coming back.

"I'm not gonna let something like this dictate something that's a part of me. I'm coming back stronger than ever."

Although Aaron Smith has lived in Boston his whole life -- graduating from Boston College High School and enrolling at Northeastern, where he's in his fourth year of a five-year program -- he'd never been to the Boston Marathon before.

But after what happened last year, the criminal justice major and aspiring Massachusetts state trooper felt the need to do something.

"Especially having lived here, it's weird that I've never seen it," he said. "But I'm really glad we came out this year, especially ... after last year."

Smith and 13 of his Northeastern rugby club teammates decided to volunteer in 2014, getting assigned to the wheelchair lanes just past the finish line. They reported at 8:30 Monday morning for their prerace meeting and took to their posts, where they would remain until around 6 p.m.

"We're helping keep the medical lanes clear and making sure the wheelchairs can get through," Nicholas Laneville, a Northeastern senior and president of the Huskies rugby club, said. "It's been great. Everyone is super pumped. Boston strong is still holding strong."

Smith did a co-op at the Dover, Mass., police department last year, serving as a dispatcher.

"All those police officers got called in and helped out with everything in the aftermath [of the bombing]," he said. "Seeing the response of the city and just the state in general ... I really wanted to come down this year and help out and do my part."

The 118th Boston Marathon was Cheryl Parcellin's 12th as a volunteer, most of them spent handing out medals to finishers.

Wearing a pair of earrings that featured the familiar "B Strong" design -- red lettering on a blue background -- Parcellin said she was "a little bit apprehensive" about being back on Boylston initially.

"Things are starting to feel better now but just coming out here at first it's a little bit scary," she said. "A lot of emotions coming through."

Parcellin usually spends the day with her best friend, Dianne Massa, but she said Massa had to miss the race this year because she's sick.

"It's kind of emotional, but it's a good feeling. It's good to be back here," Parcellin said. "She'll be back next year. We've gotta do it. We're not gonna let anyone stop us."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.