Counting Blessings, Not Miles

April 19, 2013

By Ken Beaulieu

Photo by Maeve Reilly

Ken Beaulieu heads down Boylston Street
toward the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon

I was one of the lucky ones who were treated Monday in the main medical tent at the Boston Marathon, just beyond the finish line. I had complained of feeling dizzy and nauseous after completing the 26.2-mile run in a time of 3:23:49. When I nearly collapsed attempting to take a seat in a wheelchair, I was promptly whisked into the tent for examination.

“I’m such a big baby,” I recall telling the attending nurse, who informed me that I was suffering from hypothermia and dehydration. “I’m completely wasting your time.”

“Just relax,” she said, wrapping me in a thermal blanket to boost my body temperature. “We’re here to help.”

We’re here to help. Little did she know — or anyone for that matter — that those four words would soon take on a whole new meaning. Minutes after I baby-stepped my way out of the medical tent and into the bright sunshine, two bomb blasts along historic Boylston Street turned the festive homestretch of the marathon into a horrific crime scene. The same nurse who had spent the day dealing with exhausted runners like me was now being called on to help save lives.

I was waiting patiently for my family in the designated meeting area, out of view of the finish line, when the first bomb detonated. It happened right about where I had been standing a day earlier to cheer on my wife and kids at the B.A.A. 5K. “What the hell was that?” I asked no one in particular. It was a question that reverberated throughout the sea of runners, families, and friends. I quickly scanned the surrounding buildings. No smoke. Good. Then I heard the second blast, somewhat muffled this time. Where was my family?

I pleaded with a marathon volunteer to let me use her cell phone. She obliged. I placed a call to my wife. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four rings. Come on! Come on! Voicemail. I don’t ever remember feeling so anxious. Then I heard my daughter Jessica cry out, “Dad, over here! Dad!” It was all I could do to hold it together as my wife and three daughters enveloped me, pained expressions on their faces.

“Did you hear those explosions?” my daughter Hannah asked, tears welling in her eyes. “I think we should get out of here. Please, can we just go home?”

Word began to spread that something terrible had happened near the finish line. The race had been stopped. Possible terrorist bombing. People injured. Police evacuating the area.

As we moved away from the family meeting area and toward the parking garage, the steady wail of sirens sent shivers up and down our spines. There were emergency vehicles speeding to the scene from every direction, and some of the runners leaving the finish area were wiping back tears. We didn’t understand the full gravity of the situation until we turned on the car radio.

It has been four days since the Boston bombings. I’m still struggling with it, still angry, still confused. How could something so heinous happen at a marathon, perhaps the most congenial of sporting events? We may never know.

Amid all the sorrow, I am thankful for having made it out of Boston safely with my family, thankful to the first responders who worked heroically to save lives and ease the suffering. The Boston I know and love will be back. Count on it. And I vow: on Monday, April 21, 2014, I will once again cross the yellow and blue finish line of the Boston Marathon, with arms raised and a more uplifting story to tell.

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