Demi Clark is lucky to be alive. She acknowledges that readily, in a very direct, matter-of-fact tone some 20 hours after completing the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon. Ten steps from that historic finish line, Clark was euphoric just thinking about her accomplishment. Just then, behind her and to her left, the first of two bombs exploded only feet away.
When the initial bomb detonates in the horrifying high-angle video, most eyes train directly on the gentleman whose legs buckle from the concussion of the explosion. But just in front of him, up and to his right, is a young woman in an orange singlet. That woman is Clark.
Clark, a mother of two daughters, 9-year-old Maizie and 7-year-old Willa, a running veteran who had completed two previous marathons, is a former NASCAR team public relations representative in the Camping World Truck Series. As she neared the finish of her fourth marathon -- the greatest marathon in the world -- she was ecstatic at the accomplishment.
Then she heard the first explosion. She instantly went deaf. She thought it was a cannon, the kind you see in a Civil War re-enactment. But when she turned and saw sheer terror on the face of a race official, she knew something was terribly wrong.
"I'll never forget that face. It will always be burned in my brain. Just horrified, what I would think someone would look like looking at Nagasaki, if they saw that happen," Clark said Tuesday. "I turned to my left and saw just carnage, people everywhere, blood and glass and runners I had just passed. Then the second blast went off. At that point, that's when we thought the city's under siege. What's next? What's going off next?"
Clark said she immediately saw someone without an arm. Blood and bloody people everywhere. Bodies blown forward against the wooden picket fence that lined the street. And after that, smoke.
"I just have this image in my mind of an arm flying through the air," she said. "At first I thought it was a wooden picket from the wooden picket fences along the finish. But immediately I knew, no, that's an arm. A lot of people lost limbs. And it was so much glass. So gruesome."
From there fight or flight set in. Clark fought to get to her family.
"It was a war zone. Truly," she explained. "It was triage immediately. I would not even know what it's like to be in Afghanistan, but this was a war zone. Then it was Momma Bear. I was in a tremendous panic, because there was a 7- and 9-year-old in that crowd that doesn't deserve to die today -- and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get them out of here.
"I immediately looked to the bleachers to see where my family was, and Boston Police were right up on the bleachers to get them cleared because they thought it was about to blow. My husband is 6-4, 240, and has the strength of the Incredible Hulk. I spotted him immediately. He had a daughter under each arm like a loaf of bread, and was doing everything to catapult them over. I'm so proud of him. We both had the parental instinct of 'get our children out of here.'"
Clark's daughters and husband were seated across the street from the blast, in the VIP bleachers. It was the first of her races her daughters had ever attended. Clark was among the top 100 fundraisers for her charity, so she was given VIP seating for her family. Otherwise, they could have been standing directly in the blast zone.
"That's sitting with me today," she said. "Ironically, I had been running on the left-hand side, right where the blast was, for about three miles prior, hitting people's hands, high-fives and all that carries you through those last miles when you're on fumes.
"I'd just moved over to the right in those last 100 yards, just to make sure my daughters saw me. It was very important for them to see me finish. Those two things put together, I definitely think of now.
"My gift from God is that I'm here right now. There are too many coincidences that I got through unscathed."
I just have this image in my mind of an arm flying through the air. At first I thought it was a wooden picket from the wooden picket fences along the finish. But immediately I knew, no, that's an arm.
"-- Demi Clark
Clark said her daughters are confused today. They are old enough to know what happened, but not old enough to comprehend why. They saw their mother sobbing and in shock. Clark met with a grief counselor Monday night, who told her to do everything in her power to give her girls a sense of normalcy Tuesday. Make them feel normal. Make them feel safe.
Clark marveled at the immediate outpouring of assistance by fellow runners, Boston police and fire personnel and military on site. Asked what she would like to say to the individual or individuals responsible for this, Clark was vigilant.
"They're tremendous cowards," she said. "The only people that are at that finish line are the most innocent people possible. They were babies, families who have given up 20-24 weeks of their lives in support of a runner who's on that course. And for someone to try to say that's going to be my target, you have no courage and no respect for human life.
"The running community is stronger today. For me as a runner, I'm stronger. It just shows me that these types of things, no one knows why they happen, but at the same time they have tremendous potential for hope.
"Runners are such givers, and their families are so supportive that I think this will only galvanize the community. This will be a stronger Boston in 2014 and we're all going to keep running. We have to. We can't stop. We won't stop."