Boston Memories


Jennifer McAlister
January/February 2014

Overwhelmed with emotion, I stare down the street leading to the finish line for the Boston Marathon. The joy of seeing a dream become a reality, the relief of finishing, and the excitement of greeting Jason at the finish line keep my feet moving. I normally speed up when I can see the finish, but on this day, my legs can barely shuffle. All I want is to be done, get my medal, and sit down. I’m exhausted and I can’t wait for the relief of resting. That’s when I hear a loud boom in front of me; mile 26.1. Then a building partially blows up – fire and smoke are everywhere - it’s crazy. But I don’t stop running.

My mind can’t conceive that this is something sinister. Is it a celebratory blast in honor of Patriots Day? Is it fireworks? Then another building explodes, followed shortly by another blast. The second explosion seems to be at the finish line right in front of me. Now I stop running.

A police officer starts screaming at me and the woman next to me to get away from the trash can. When I see the fear and panic in the officer’s eyes, I realize that this is serious and brace myself for the next detonation. Yet in this moment, I realize that I’m not afraid to die. I don’t want to be separated from my family, but I have a peace that God is in control. Because I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, I know that I will immediately be with Him if He chooses to take me home. What I’m afraid of is the pain of getting there!

Silently I pray that if another bomb goes off and hits me, it will be quick, painless, and complete. When nothing happens for a few moments, I try to make my way to the finish line. True panic now starts to set in. I know Jason, Chimene and Arnold are all supposed to be there. Is my husband alive, is he hurt? Are Chimene and Arnold okay? My mind races and my heart pounds.

As I try to get to them, I am turned back by police officers that are not allowing anyone near the devastation.


Qualifying for the Boston Marathon had been a goal, dream, and prayer for my friend’s Toni, Chimene, and I for years. However, in order to register for Boston, we each needed to finish a marathon in less than 3 hours and 45 minutes. After many attempts and disappointments, I began to entertain the thought that it might not happen for me.      

The following year we all decided to run the St. George Marathon. It was my idea and I asked Toni if she would sign up with me. She agreed and both of us registered online. The St. George marathon uses the lottery system, so not everyone who registers is guaranteed a spot. Lo and behold, Toni was accepted and I wasn’t.    

“When you get a ‘no’ it is because a greater ‘yes’ is coming,” kept going through my mind. In the middle of the night, I woke up with the solution – fundraise! If I raised money for a charity, I would be guaranteed a spot in the marathon. I believe this was God’s plan all along. I chose to raise money for the Dove Center in Utah that helps families harmed by domestic violence. I had lost my precious friend, Shelby, to domestic violence and I wanted to honor her memory as well as help other women. Due to the generosity of my family and friends, I not only raised enough money for my entry but also for Chimene’s. A greater ‘yes’ indeed!       

The three of us, dressed in matching outfits and ready to run, began the St. George Marathon feeling strong. Toni and I ran ahead of Chimene who decided to run with the pace group. We were running faster than we needed to but didn’t realize it because we felt so great. I kept up with Toni until we reached the dreaded hill that greets you at mile seven and doesn’t say goodbye until mile 12. I was very happy that I held a faster pace in the beginning because I was losing speed on the hills. There were times when I was hurting and wanted to quit but then I would think, this pain is nothing compared to what Shelby’s family had to endure -­  do this for her. That kept me going.

I then began to focus on one simple goal; put one foot in front of the other. Psalm 121 was my saving verse when the pain would intensify. “I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.” Before I knew it, I was at the top of the hill with a beautiful view only seen from that vantage point. Thank you Lord!

Unfortunately, Toni was nowhere in sight. Because of what I had learned from my previous marathons, I didn’t get too discouraged because I realized that I had a lot of time to catch her. I chose not to stop at every water stop to make up for my slower pace on the hills and it paid off. At mile 23, I looked ahead of me and saw the same outfit I was wearing! It was Toni and I was overjoyed! I ran up behind her, tapped her on the shoulder, and by God’s grace, we had the joy of finishing the marathon together. Not only did we qualify for Boston, but with five minutes to spare! We anxiously waited for Chimene at the finish line. We wanted all of three of us to qualify and prayed that God would allow that to happen. We didn’t have to wait long, only three minutes later, we saw her triumphantly cross the finish line, where we all hugged and cried together! All three of us were Boston qualifiers!       

Finally the highly anticipated weekend arrived and we didn’t waste a minute of the experience. The three runners, along with my husband, Jason, and Chimene’s husband, Arnold, had fun taking pictures, touring the city, and shopping at the expo. I had    the joy of finally being able to officially wear the Boston Marathon jacket and kept it on most of the time. All the hours of training and the many miles our running shoes had traveled were worth this feeling of accomplishment. As Proverbs1 says, A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul…       

Jason and Arnold planned on meeting us at certain spots along the marathon course. Jason pointed out an area near the finish line that he thought would be a great place to watch us finish. I kept this spot in mind so that I would know where to find them the next day.

We were set to start at 10:20, so we didn’t have to get up as early as usual. Toni and I met Chimene at the starting area and decided to use the restroom one last time before our 26.2 mile adventure began. The line was not moving fast and I had a very uneasy feeling.   

We ended up missing our 10:20 start, putting us behind. Once we began running I forgot all about my uneasiness. I was wrapped up in the moment and thrilled to be taking part in something that seemed beyond my reach for so many years.   

Toni and I started out fast while Chimene decided to hold back. For the first 13 miles, we felt great and then we hit the dreaded wall. We both started hurting at around the same time.

“Let’s not worry about it,” I told Toni, “we’re not running this to qualify but to enjoy the accomplishment of being here, let’s just have fun.”

Like always, we are wearing matching outfits. Our shirts read “Soul Sisters, Sole Sisters” on the front and a scripture on the back. The verse we chose for this race is from Galatians2, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

At mile 15 we saw Team Hoyt ahead of us. Team Hoyt is a father and son team who participate in both marathons and triathlons. The son has cerebral palsy so his father pushes him in special wheelchair while they run. It was so motivating for me to see them at this particular point in the race. How could I complain about being tired when this amazing man was pushing his grown son in a wheelchair! Seeing them also reminded me of how our Heavenly Father carries us when we can’t do it by ourselves -­‐ not because He has to but because He loves us. Toni and I asked if they would take a picture with us and they graciously did. The entire exchange took about 45 seconds but it was worth it. I call these types of moments, kisses from God. Life can be very hard sometimes and He knows we need to be refreshed as we run the race of life.  

At around mile 20, Chimene caught up with us and passed. Her plan to take it easy in the beginning paid off and she was now ahead. Toni and I had planned on staying together until we crossed the finish line. Unfortunately, Toni stopped momentarily at around mile 25 because her stomach hurt, but I didn’t know it. She was calling my name but I had my headphones in and didn’t hear her. I kept going and found myself turning onto Boylston Street without her.     

That’s when the blast came.


“Please can I use your phone?” I cry to a spectator on the route.

I dial Jason’s cell phone and all I hear is “beep, beep, beep.” My heart jumps into my throat.

“Please Lord, let him be okay, please Lord, please Lord.” 

I hit redial twice before I hear the beautiful sound.

“Hello.”   

“Oh thank God,” I cry into the phone.

“We got stuck in traffic. We couldn’t make it to the finish line.” He tells me. “And don’t worry, Chimene is okay too.”

Panic and confusion continues to reign as emergency workers push us away from the finish line. In less than five minutes I have experienced so many emotions: exhaustion, euphoria, joy, confusion, fear, panic, terror, relief, and now nothing. I am numb.

I watch in shock as hundreds of emergency vehicles pass me and helicopters hover overhead. Cold and confused, I wander up the street not knowing where to go or what to do. As the authorities push us further away from the crime scene, I encounter a group of men who surround me.

“What happened?” one of the men asks me.

“Bombs exploded at the finish line.” I reply.

He doesn’t seem shocked. “Did you finish?”

“No,” I say.

“I told you she wouldn’t finish!” Another man pipes in.    

What is going on? I wonder. I don’t know these men. Why would they say that? I have to get away from them. I push past them and start moving further up Boylston Street.     

Then I remember a verse from Ephesians3 that says “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 

Suddenly I’m approached by another stranger who starts challenging me about the scripture on the back of my shirt.   

“What does your Bible say about women preaching?” He yells at me.

“I am not preaching,” I reply.      

“What church do you go to?” He keeps bombarding me with questions and accusations, “Where are you from?”

Is this for real? People are dead and injured less than a mile away from us and he is harassing me over my t-shirt? It’s like I’m stuck in a bad dream and can’t wake up.

“You need to go away,” I tell him, but he doesn’t listen.

Then another man approaches us.

“You need to go!” he tells the obnoxious stranger with authority.

Thankfully the man doesn’t argue but simply says “okay” and walks away. As belligerent as he was, I’m amazed that he doesn’t argue or get the last word in, but simply left.

The kind man stays with me and doesn’t leave my side – it must be obvious that I need help.  He lets me use his phone to text Jason. My hands shake so badly that I can’t type, so the man types for me. We exchange many texts with Jason as we try to figure out where to meet. The man finally tells Jason that he will take me to a hotel close by and that Jason can meet us there.

The man walks me to the hotel where I thank him for his help. We say goodbye. It takes Jason over three hours from the time the bombs exploded until he can get to me. Just before Jason arrives I see the kind man standing in the corner. I thought he had left, but I wonder now if he was waiting for Jason to arrive.

I’m so happy to see him when he walks into the hotel lobby. After today, I realize all the more that we are not promised tomorrow and the thought of almost losing him makes me want to hold him tight and not let go. 

Later in the evening, I ask Jason to text the man who so graciously helped me, and let him know how appreciative we are.   

“That’s a good idea,” Jason says and takes out his phone. 

After a few minutes of scrolling through his phone, he seems perplexed.

“What’s the matter?“ I ask him.   

“I can’t find any of the texts from him,” Jason replies, “there is nothing here.”

Jason hadn’t erased anything and he knows the exact time the texts were sent, but they weren’t there. Messages from others that were sent before and after their exchange were there, but absolutely no record of the multiple texts sent back and forth between them.

This man showed up when I needed him and helped me when I couldn’t help myself. The Bible tells us in Hebrews4 that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. If ever I needed an angel it was then, so I wouldn’t be    surprised if I someday find out that he was indeed an angel from heaven! Whether he was a good Samaritan or an actual angel, to him I will be forever grateful!   

Finally, we are all reunited at Chimene and Arnold’s hotel. The media begins calling and interviewing each of us about our experience of being so close to the explosions. From Sports Illustrated to our local newspapers, interviews are abundant. It    all seems so surreal. We are sick over what happened to the precious bystanders, who were there simply to support others, and angered over the evil that seemed to prevail on what should have been a perfect day.

***

It took about three days before the numb feeling began to subside. It was like the anesthesia was wearing off and I started to feel all the emotions I should have had immediately following the explosions. I felt nervous and irritable. My heart rate was elevated and even the simplest of tasks seemed overwhelming. I began to question why God would allow this, while at the same time praising Him for His hand of protection over us. I reflected on how close we all were to being killed or injured.

Had Toni and I not stopped to take a picture with Team Hoyt, I would have been directly in front of the second blast when the bombs exploded (the Boston Marathon Association later emailed me my estimated finish time based on where I was the 40K mark. The first bomb exploded at 4:09:43, my estimated finish time was 4:09:36). So many things had to happen exactly as they did for us all to be safe. Even Jason and Arnold; had they not been caught in traffic or Chimine lingered at the finished line…   

 

I am so grateful that we were all protected, but at the same time I feel guilty for being upset at not being able to cross the finish line. I struggle to understand why God wanted me to be at this marathon, at this particular time. It took twelve marathons before I qualified for Boston, years of prayers, hundreds of hours of training, and finally a miracle from God Himself to get me there.

Why would I be stopped at mile 26.1? The answer was spoken to my heart a few days after I began questioning God.  

“This is just an intermission. You will come back and cross the finish line. But because of your testimony, you will be able to cross the eternal finish line holding hands with many other souls.”   

Oh let it be! Only a great and awesome God can take something so horrific and bring good out of it. The cross is a perfect example of how He turns ALL things around for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose5. I will continue to share my story, pleading with all who will listen that we are not promised tomorrow. My prayer is that everyone in my sphere of influence will understand that Jesus is the only way and accept His gift of salvation before it is too late – we never know when a bomb might blow.

1 - Proverbs 13:19
2 - Galatians 6:14

3 - Ephesians 6:12
4 - Hebrews 1:14

5 - Romans 8:28

About the Author

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  • Jennifer_McAlister's picture
    Jennifer McAlister is a graphic designer and web designer who combines her love for God, fitness, and design and started a website called Witness Thru Fitness where she designs workout-wear with a Christian message. Jennifer lives in Fort Worth, TX with her family and enjoys running. She will complete her fourteenth marathon in January. You can see her design work at JenniferMcAlister.com. She lives with her family in Fort Worth, TX.

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