A number of local residents, including Johanna Gullo of Canandaigua, who participated in the Boston Marathon, spoke to Messenger Post about their experience yesterday.
Just a block past the finish line, Canandaigua native and Boston marathoner Johanna Gullo never even heard the explosions go off. She never saw the people running, the smoke-filled air, the injured bystanders or the blood-stained sidewalks.
“I had left my headphones on after I finished because I didn’t have a great race,” Gullo said. “I went to the bus to pick up my stuff and found I had 16 text messages. Everyone was wondering if I was OK. When I got a text from my 10-year-old daughter asking if I was OK, that kind of hit home.”
It was the first moment the mother of three and Canandaigua Moms in Motion member had any clue of the pandemonium and carnage just steps behind her.
“It’s the Boston Marathon and you think that you’re going to get done and you’re going to be in the most exciting atmosphere,” said Gullo. “Then it’s on the news and your family and friends are texting you to see if you’re OK.”
This was Gullo’s second Boston Marathon, and loved ones hope it will be her last. Most of her texts on Monday were from friends saying “no more big races for you.”
“I immediately thought of my dad who has mentioned to me before — especially after 9/11, that big, high attendance races can be a target,” said Gullo. “It’s a lot of people in a small area. But who would ever have predicted something like this? You can’t live your life that way.”
On April 28, less than two weeks away, Gullo plans to cross another marathon finish line in Big Sur, Calif.
After Monday’s race, Gullo met up with other Rochester-area runners at Fire and Ice, a two-story, hibachi/sushi restaurant just a block away from Copley Square. The Boston hot spot is typically packed after the marathon, but on Monday at 7 p.m. the place was deserted, apart from a few runners recharging their cell phones and stressed-out wait staff trying to make order out of chaos.
“We heard a rumor that our hotel was evacuated, but we hope we can still get back in tonight,” said Gullo from the restaurant late Monday. “We’re at the Copley, and it’s right at the mall — a high-traffic area. We’re all sort of trying to decide where we’re going to go.”
Waiting for information
As remote family members, co-workers and friends frantically tried to use social media and cell phones Monday to try to learn the fate of their loved ones at the marathon, the search was made more difficult because heavy cellphone use slowed service. The hours that followed the blasts were silent and tense.
Two miles away from the marathon finish line, former Bloomfield resident Rachel Repard, who is also a former Daily Messenger reporter, was at work on the 16th floor of the Longwood Medical Area. Shortly after 2:50 p.m. she noticed the smell of smoke in the air and the sound of helicopters overhead. That’s when Repard said ambulances with police escorts began arriving. Inside the medical facility the mood was tense.
Page 2 of 3 - “People are scared,” Repard said after the blasts. “They just don’t know what’s going on. They can’t contact their friends, and we have colleagues that are running in the race. The Boston Globe website is down, so we couldn’t even check that. It’s scary.”
She said the crowds getting out from a Red Sox game combined with runners and spectators from the marathon made for a sort of “perfect storm with tons of people everywhere.”
Joel Cisne, president of Finger Lakes Runners Club, said most runners from his group had either texted or been in contact by a word-of-mouth relay.
“We have a number of runners, most of whom have checked in and are okay,” said Cisne on Monday afternoon. “For now it's madness.”
Red Cross efforts
Erin Caldwell, regional director of communications for the Finger Lakes region of the American Red Cross, said the local chapter in Massachusetts had volunteers at the marathon — as it does every year to assist with the event. She said the organization is working now to connect with the volunteers.
“Right now, communication in the area is very difficult,” she said.
Caldwell added that the American Red Cross Safe and Well website assists people to get in touch with loved ones during a disaster and encouraged people to visit the site at safeandwell.communityos.org/cms/index.php.
Since his inaugural Boston Marathon in 2012, Rochester lawyer and columnist Steve Levitsky has had his sights set on the 2013 marathon.
But a sore knee kept him sidelined from this year’s race. He wrote about his disappointment on the eve of the event. The next day his emotion turned to grief.
“When my secretary told me about a Facebook post she had received notifying her of the bombing, I could only think she was joking, trying to temper my disappointment at not being able to run,” Levitsky said.
When the facts were confirmed, he could only think of friends who raced, and was relieved to learn that all were safe.
“My disappointment at not being able to run has been replaced by sadness for those deceased and injured — and anger at another terrorist attack on our way of life,” Levitsky said. “God bless those injured and the brave souls who helped them, and God help those responsible for this tragedy.”
The power of community
Messenger Post blogger Eric Eagan said the one thing to remember is that running brings people together — and it always has.
“People will run to support each other through this,” said Eagan. “They will run in memorial, they will run to move forward, they will run to remember and sometimes even to forget.”
Page 3 of 3 - It’s a community that really “gets it” in times of need, he said.
“We always seem to be ready to lace up the shoes and start running for each other — not sure how many other communities have that kind of support,” Eagan said. “The Rochester running community is as tight as any running community I have seen. The showing of support and outreach to our local runners and families in Boston Monday was unrelenting. That’s the type of community we can all benefit from.”
Gullo knows that first-hand.
“The running community, especially Moms in Motion, is amazingly supportive,” said Gullo. “The messages, the texts, everything I’ve gotten from my friends — people are really concerned.”
And her respect for the Boston Marathon itself is also unwavering.
“It’s an amazing race, and I feel really honored to be a part of it,” said Gullo. “You’re with the best runners in the world and you can’t really complain about that. But for something like this to happen, I don’t know how it’s going to affect the race next year. I hope it doesn’t.
“It’s the most prestigious and sought-after race in the world,” said Gullo. “It’s a hard race to get into. It’s not fair to mess with Boston.”