Commentary

Essays that earned Marathon spots

Updated: April 18, 2014, 9:28 PM ET
By ESPNBoston.com

The Boston Athletic Association granted nearly 500 people entrance into the 118th running of the Boston Marathon based on essays they wrote on how profoundly impacted they were by the bombings at the 2013 race.

Below are 14 of those essayists awarded bibs for Monday's race:


Jasmin Ali, 30, South Boston

I need to take back what had once been my favorite holiday. Patriots Day, for me, was the quintessential Boston event. I loved the Marathon. I had always wanted to do it. I completed the B.A.A. Half in October 2012. I began training for the Marathon with my boyfriend, Jack. He was running it for the first time. Unfortunately, law school got in my way. But I had two passes for Finish Line seats. As we sat, my friend, Anna, and I commented on the perfect weather. I felt so inspired by the runners. I pointed out a gentleman in a red tank top right in front of us. Suddenly, he fell over.

After the second explosion, I grabbed Anna's hand and ran with the crowd. I tried calling Jack. I remembered he didn't have his phone. Jeff Bauman came by. I hung up.

It was an unnatural juxtaposition. Anna and I hysterically cried as we walked to the Friends and Family area to try and find Jack. Naturally, everyone was celebrating loved ones. They didn't know. I didn't even know that Jack's longtime friends, standing on the other side of Boylston, had been hit with shrapnel and lay bleeding on the sidewalk. It marked what would become a never-ending journey for them. I was lucky. Sleepless nights, flashbacks, uncontrollable shaking, crying, and numbness eventually subsides. But the guilt does not.

I am asking you for this opportunity. I need to run for those who helped me. I need to run for those who will now never have the chance. I need to run to take back that day. I need to run for my city. Boston Strong.


Dan Benshoff, 48, West Hartford, Conn.

I was laying on my back in the medical tent when the bombs went off. Under a heap of blankets surrounded by medical workers I was wracked with cramps and feeling sick. An hour earlier I crossed the line on Boylston disappointed with my finishing time. This was my first Boston Marathon and I thought I had it all figured out. I put the training hours in and was convinced each marathon I ran would be faster than the last. The course had other ideas and somewhere near the top of Heartbreak Hill I cracked. My legs were shot and my mind was in a dark and painful place. I managed to haul myself across the line under my qualifying time thinking I would have another chance to prove myself but laying on the cot I wasn't thinking about that. Numerous medical volunteers attended to me that day. They massaged my legs, administered anti-nausea pills and fed me grapes and broth like I was a kid home from school. Mary, my nurse, was at my side the entire time. The mood in the tent quickly changed when we realized what was happening. Anticipating cots would be needed, Mary helped me up and towards the entrance on Boylston. As we walked down the center aisle, I saw horrible and unspeakable images that to this day I can't fully comprehend. I was also witness to some of the most heroic acts of bravery and compassion imaginable. With adjusted qualifying times, I missed the cut by twenty seconds. In 2014 I would be honored to come back and run, not for me or my time but for the volunteers.

Editor's note: Dan Benshoff is Creative Director for ESPN Digital Media.


Sarah Bordua, 28, West Roxbury, Boston

If debilitating blizzards and World Series road closures don't keep me from my work as a nurse at Boston Children's Hospital, why would a killer on the loose in the city of Boston? As an "essential city personnel," I am accustomed to trekking into work in any scenario. City lockdowns don't apply to nurses, so I made my trip through battered Boston to work my night shift April 18, 2013.

I was greeted at the hospital entrance by armed guards with assault rifles. I began my night at work with a heavy heart. Shortly into my shift, I learned that there had been gunshots fired in Cambridge. I switched on the TV in my ICU patient's room and caught glimpses of the rampage that was occurring outside. I felt sick. My heart started racing when one of the nurses said that the hospital was on lockdown and we had to run into the middle of the unit so that every nurse could be accounted for. We heard that there were bomb threats being called in to the hospital and there was rumor that shots were fired in the ER. Even though it was the middle of the night, I called my husband and my brother and told them what was going on.

Miraculously, the longest night shift of my life ended and everyone was okay. The city could resume regular life, as people woke up and discovered that the killer had been caught. I don't know if the city I have called home for 10 years will ever feel the same. I do know that we are more united, experienced and STRONG as a result of April 15, 2013.


Samantha Creighton, 22, Mission Hill, Boston

No, I did not lose a leg. Instead, only my hearing was compromised. A small scratch on my knee. Both: back to normal only weeks later.

No, I was not on the bomb side of the street. Instead, I watched from directly across, in terror, not knowing if my friends opposite me were safe.

Yes, I escaped. But not before falling to the ground amidst the throngs of petrified onlookers trying to run by me. And not before my friend scraped me off of the ground while yelling, "Run!"

Yes, I made it to safety. But not peacefully. I felt the guilt of leaving my friends behind. Had they made it out unscathed?

No, I was not hospitalized. Instead, I sported a visitor's badge as I entered the room of my friends, two of the three Northeastern students who were hospitalized for severe leg injuries. Words escaped me.

No, I am not okay. Instead, I cradle my best friend who lost her innocent 8-year-old neighbor that day. I relive the horror in my mind every day. I take a daily dose of anti-anxiety medicine and attend weekly therapy.

No, I'm not afraid. Instead, my injured friends gave me strength and inspiration. They lived valiantly and bravely through a terrorist attack. How then, does a mere 26.2 miles seem like a feat? Yes, I am optimistic. Running the 2014 Boston Marathon is the next step in my healing process. Facing my fears, overcoming my obstacles, and showing my friends the same strength that they showed me last April is something that I will stop at nothing to achieve.


Edward Deveau, 57, Watertown, Mass.

I am the Police Chief in Watertown, Mass. We supported the Boston Police Department within minutes after the explosions occurred on Boylston Street. We continued to support them for the next four days. On April 19th in the early morning hours, my officers acted heroically defending a back street in Watertown, Boston, and the entire country. For 8½ minutes they were shot at and had four bombs thrown at them. The actions they took saved many, many more lives. They are among the real heroes who emerged by helping and protecting others without any regard for their own personal safety. I was directly involved minutes after the bombing, playing a lead role in the Unified Command Post for the next 20 hours. I worked with Boston, State, MIT, Cambridge Police Departments, FBI and many more local, state, and federal agencies to capture the second suspect and end their terrorist acts. I have run the Boston Marathon three times, and I want to run the 26 miles in 2014 with some of my officers and cross the finish line together. To me, it will be a statement that no terrorist act will stop Boston from being united. The 2014 Marathon will be watched by others across the world, and they will see how a city can come together in crisis and in the end come out even stronger. Thank you for reading my application.


Karleen Herbst, 23, South Boston

Last year, my colleagues and I were in Crate & Barrel hosting a reception for the family and friends of the Playworks Boston Marathon team. When we heard the first explosion, we walked towards the windows only to witness the second explosion go off right below us. Just minutes before this tragedy, we were on the sidewalk cheering on our runners. The next hours of our lives were filled with fear, confusion and uncertainty. We did not know where we were safe and were concerned the city we called home was under attack. Experiencing these tragic events with my coworkers is something that will bond us for the rest of our lives.

That is why this year I would like to run the 2014 Boston Marathon in honor of the lives lost and lives forever changed. Receiving this bib would give me a sense of closure and end the sleepless nights of asking myself "What If?" I would use this bib to help raise money for Playworks, the organization where I work. Playworks serves over 15,000 students across Boston & Lawrence, using the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. Playworks ensures students are safe and included in areas of Boston that are generally considered dangerous and high-risk. On the day of the Marathon, I felt unsafe in the city of Boston for the very first time; however, I know this is something our Playworks students experience daily. Receiving these bibs will bring closure for my colleagues and me, as well as raise awareness and funds for the children of Boston.


Karen Kinnaman, 29, Beacon Hill, Boston

"We eat Heartbreak Hills for breakfast!" This was the battle cry of my MIT Cross-Country team when pounding the pavement in Chestnut Hill. Now living and working as a resident at Massachusetts General Hospital, I have memorized every mile of the Marathon course. Running Boston has been a long-standing goal of mine. Never has this been more confirmed than in the days after the Marathon Bombing during what I thought would be a routine shift in the [Emergency Department].

A uniformed man barged through the ambulance bay doors screaming "police officer shot." Within 10 seconds, a stretcher was wheeled in carrying a pulseless MBTA police officer with a devastating gunshot wound. He was straddled by his partner performing CPR. We learned that the injury occurred "amidst grenades and gunfire" in nearby Watertown. The deck seemed stacked against us, with no time for calculation or preparation. But the stories from my co-residents on Marathon Monday had been truly inspiring, and surely their courage sustained me on this night. Following a 40-minute-long resuscitation effort, we obtained a pulse.

After days marred by death and destruction, here was a story that yielded life. The bombers may have stolen the innocence of my revered race, shattered the lives of my fellow Bostonians, and hijacked the life of one police officer who provided safety to my college campus at MIT -- but ultimately, this courageous MBTA officer opened his eyes, squeezed his wife's hand, and recovered his strength. So too did Boston. Like in the ED on the night of the Watertown shooting -- I am all in for Boston, and would be greatly honored to "eat Heartbreak Hills for breakfast" on April 21, 2014.


Bruce Mendelsohn, 45, Auburn, Mass.

My name is Bruce Mendelsohn and on April 15, 2013, I saved Victoria McGrath's life. The first bomb exploded just below me while I was at a post-race party with my younger brother (who completed the marathon) at 667 Boylston Street.

Within 30 seconds I was on the scene and wrapped a tourniquet around Victoria's lower left leg. In one of the iconic photos of the marathon bombings, Boston Firefighter Jimmy Plourde cradles Victoria in his arms. I subsequently learned from Victoria's surgeons that the tourniquet I applied saved her life. Over the past six months I have spoken to groups of all ages, sharing my unique story and an inspirational message of help, hope, and healing. That's helped overcome some of the anger the bombing kindled in me.

As a veteran of 17 marathons, I would like to run the Boston Marathon to help bring my personal healing full circle -- and to honor the other bombing victims who cannot run.

I'm applying for one of the available slots because I can envision no greater tribute to the victims, nor stronger statement to the perpetrators, that we are unbowed. On April 21, 2014, I hope to cross the Finish Line where just over a year before I saved the life of a young girl. Thank you for this opportunity and for your consideration.


Kate Plourd, 29, Jamaica Plain, Boston

There are a million words to describe how the Marathon affected and changed me. As I saw the "Entering Boston" sign in Brookline that day -- 7 years after moving to Boston, taking up running to get healthy -- I said to myself for the first time, "Boston you're my home." An hour later -- dehydrated and defeated -- in a finish line medical tent, I heard the explosions. Then announcements: "Explosions at the finish line. Casualties. Dismemberments. Prepare yourself to treat the victims."

Phoneless and with all my loved ones either running behind me or at the finish line, the hour until we were reunited was excruciating. The anger, guilt and heartbreak I still feel today will never go away. But running the 2014 Boston Marathon will help me heal my mind. My loved ones weren't harmed, but not a day goes by that I don't think of those who were. I told myself that day that I was done running Boston. It was too hard. I'll find easier, less brutal marathons. But the resolve and strength of the victims not only inspired me to run a marathon this fall, but it motivated me join the fundraising team for the Challenged Athlete Foundation, which has started working with marathon bombing victims in their recoveries. I'll push myself in August in the NYC Triathlon and hope -- before that -- to finish the 2014 Boston Marathon in honor of those who won't ever give up, who I won't ever forget. Thank you for considering my request.


Katie Pratt, 24, Boston

The day of the marathon, I was hemming and hawing about where I would go to watch my best friend complete her first Boston Marathon, I had friends watching in Kenmore Square, friends in Wellesley and a friend going to the Joe Andruzzi sponsored event at Forum. That morning, I made a last minute decision to buy a ticket to the event that would change my life forever. I was about 10 feet away from the second bomb, standing outside on the patio at Forum. In the blast, I had my sunglasses and shoes blown off. My feet were cut and I could not hear anything.

That day, I was taken to the hospital to have glass extracted from cuts in my feet and to have my ears examined for permanent hearing loss, I was so lucky. I still had my legs, my feet, my arms -- I can still run. For me, running has been therapy, I run for those that cannot, I run to honor those that lost their lives at the marathon, I run to support those who were not able to finish, I run because I still can. Running the Boston Marathon has been on my mind since the events last year on April 15th. I want to run to show my love for this city; the strength of the city, to thank my family, friends & coworkers who have rallied around me to help me heal. Please allow me to be a part of something so special and run the marathon next year -- it truly would mean the world to me.


Anida Sahinovic, 27, Boston

Five years ago on April 15, 2008 I moved to Boston. I was born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina. My first weekend in Boston was a Patriots Day weekend -- Marathon weekend. It was the day you need to be out, support the runners, cheer them on and have fun, my host family was telling me. I got very inspired by the energy and runners. I promised myself that I will run a marathon one day.

The following year, I supported my friend, Christian Polman who ran it with his father. The year after that I supported my friend Duje Bozikovic.

On April 15, 2013 I came out again to support the runners. It was a great day. Energy was amazing and that feeling to run a marathon one day came again. I will finish it one day, I said to myself, when everyone started to panic.

Memories and images of my war-torn childhood in Bosnia were back, it felt like a war again but this time in Boston. I was heartbroken. But I was still well and alive.

On November 17, 2013 I finished my first marathon in Philadelphia. It was dedicated to Boston and Bosnia, my two favorite, strong and resilient places in the world.

The feeling of running the Boston Marathon is a privilege that only special people can do. I breathe with the city of Boston now, and call myself Bosnian Bostonian. For the gratefulness of being well and living in this city, I want to train and be a strong woman who will run Boston and celebrate life. I would proudly carry blue and yellow flag on my shoulders, which happens to be the same colors of my home country flag, running and representing Boston, B.A.A. and Bosnia.


Juliana Schilling, 21, Boston

April 15th, I woke up ready for an amazing day at the most amazing place to work: Niketown Boston. As a marathon runner myself, I was so anxious to hopefully see our athletes cross the finish line first! A coworker and I ran outside on a 15-minute break just in time to see [Lelisa] Desisa finish. Two hours later, my life changed forever. I was stationed in the rotunda to greet runners at Nike. I heard the loudest crash and assumed it was an explosion. My EMT training kicked in and as soon as I turned around to re-enter my building, my security locked the door to keep our customers safe from the stampede traveling down Exeter [Street]. A young man who was injured at the first blast site made eye contact with me outside and followed me into Nike. I knew he wouldn't receive proper medical attention inside a building, so I helped him to his feet and as scared as we were, we went back outside. I remember looking at my manager, Doris, and she begged me not to leave her line of vision. I remember the shrapnel that tore tiny holes through Andrew's dark-washed denim jeans, and all I could do was apply pressure and tell him he would be okay. At that point in time, I was the only relay point between my store and what was going on outside. After transferring care to a medic, I directed over 40 of our employees to the safest place in my mind I knew to go -- BU's School of Management.


Dr. Charles Schumacher, 29, Beacon Hill, Boston

The day before the bombing, I was eating dinner with visiting friends from Louisiana when I got a text calling me into work on Monday. This meant our plans to watch the Boston Marathon at the finish line would no longer happen. I felt disappointed, but certainly that kind of text is not out of the ordinary. You see I am a current orthopedic resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Instead of standing at the finish line, I would be covering the orthopedic trauma at BWH. Although the day started off routinely, it quickly changed when my pager went off at 3:08 p.m. It read multiple traumas ED stat. I ran to the emergency department, as I heard, "Code Amber." When I arrived, I realized immediately that Code Amber meant mass casualty. The first patient I saw had a traumatic leg amputation, while the second had a severe blast wound to her ankle. The next three hours, I spent seeing 35 additional patients. Within two hours, the orthopedic team had seven operating rooms running. Over the next two weeks we worked harder and longer days than ever before. We got to know the victims, their families and their friends. I will never forget the victims' stories and how they have impacted my life. I would like to run in the 2014 marathon in remembrance of the victims I had the privilege of helping and console on that dark day and the days that followed. My participation in the marathon will serve as a symbol of solidarity with those who were so brave and have taught us so much.


Adrian Wright-FitzGerald, 27, Boston

As an Athletic Trainer in Finish Line Tent A, I was profoundly affected by the extreme physical trauma, fear and terror I witnessed, and the complete helplessness I experienced as the events unfolded in the medical tent.

There are no words to express the overwhelming sense of shock and sadness seeing a lifeless, broken body being rolled through the tent as others violently perform CPR to reverse the inevitable.

I believe I am stronger from the experience, but some days I am still overwhelmed by jumbled memories of fear, confusion and blood. I still have anxiety in crowds, jump at loud noises, have difficulty treating severe injuries at work. I don't wish for a second that I wasn't there; I am so glad I was one of the helpers.

I have never been prouder to be a healthcare provider and be part of a medical team that worked seamlessly to save lives. In the aftermath I am lucky to have no physical wounds but I feel like my soul is forever scarred, and part of me will never fully heal.

When I could not return to work for a week after the bombings due to shock, PTSD, anxiety, fear, I was able to run. Slow at first, stopping many times to cry, then longer and longer. Running a marathon has always been a life goal, and I would be honored and blessed to be able to run Boston and turn the heartache we have all suffered into happiness again.

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