April 15th, 2013 is a day we will never forget.
Jonathan was 7 minutes away from the Finish line at the boston marathon 13' when the bombs blew...
**from the perspective of Jonathan's family as spectators**
That Boston Marathon day started out very promising, amidst clear skies and a festive atmosphere. The Red Sox played earlier in the day and as the festivities progressed, crowds and crowds of happy Bostoners migrated from the baseball stadium to the Finish Line down Boylston St.
Jonathan's family was at the Finish Line in their normal spot; right in front of the Lord and Taylor shop, across the street from Max Brenner Chocolate and Starbucks. They were approximately 100 yards from the Finish Line and in perfect position to see Jonathan's finish.
When the bombs blew, Jonathan was merely ¾ of a mile away from the Finish Line, but the family was directly across the street from both blasts.
They could feel the concussion and impact of the first bomb through the ground and could see clouds of smoke emanating from the blast site. The second blast was even closer, occurring at the Max Brenner Chocolate restaurant directly across the street. The scene was chaotic and devastating as everyone simply scattered in all directions, unclear if the immediate threat had passed.
The family evacuated the area as police and FBI converged on the area. There were 5 black Dodge Chargers with completely blacked out windows zooming on the course towards the Finish Line. Several vans filled with heavily armed men pouring into the streets to establish order and assist in evacuations. Olga was able to exchange a few texts with coach Vincent, helping to alleviate their fears concerning their overall safety. Once the phone lines went down, it took TWO AND A HALF hours to reunite with Jonathan and his coaches, and during that time Olga and Verlaine Jr saw some of the collateral effects of these terrifying acts of terror. Police and spectators were physical shaking with fear, exhausted runners were trudging aimlessly trying to locate their families. It was a scary, brutal and almost surreal experience. Instead of celebrating another amazing accomplishment from Jonathan, the family was simply hoping to escape the city of Boston with their health intact. Once the family and coaches were all reunited, they were fortunately able to retrieve their vehicles and get out of Boston before the entire city went on full lock down.
**coach Vincent Del-Cid's gives his recollection of the race pre and post Explosions**
The Boston Marathon had started smoothly; there were three of us supporting Jonathan: Kevin Morrissey and Paul Kentor. Sue Corrie Gamez, a coach who had trained Jonathan all winter and spring was going to run with us at a measured steady pace; but at the last minute we decided that it would be best that she run on her own in order to get a faster time and qualify for Boston 2014.
At this time we already had three coaches and plenty of support for Jonathan out on the course. We ran with our Achille’s Guide shirts and throughout the race many runners stopped by to ask us about Jonathan and compliment him on his efforts.
That is what is truly at the heart of the Autism cause; Raising Awareness. Our efforts felt even stronger this day; being that April is Autism Awareness month, and our autistic athlete was running his 9th marathon (5th Boston) to raise awareness.
Our goal this year was to run a steady ten (10:00) minute pace, but we started out strong and were closer to a nine (9:00) minute pace. Everything was going smoothly, guides Paul and Kevin were having a blast and were truly enjoying their first ever Boston Marathon. Jonathan just kept his eyes locked forward and seemed to be running as if he was looking for someone. He would only break this intense focus every so often when there were large enthusiastic crowds along the course. We had Jonathan run along the sides so that he could high five as many cheeing spectators as possible on the sidelines.
It is so important to plan ahead and for every possible scenario when taking an autistic athlete on that 26.2 mile odyssey. In fact, even managing Jonathan at a water stop can be an absolute handful. Jonathan isn't particularly fond of drinking water while in motion, and he has a tendency to want to stop completely and sip the water as a way to get some rest. To keep him in motion and to continue to train him to get water on the go; one person on the team must stay with him and keep him from the water station. As we approach the water station, the other two coaches must quickly grab several waters for themselves and Jonathan! This way everyone stays hydrated and moving and we keep Jonathan away from the temptation of taking too many extra breaks and stops. While bathroom stops are also a problem, we have a plan for dealing with that issue as well. This being our fifth Boston Marathon together, we knew where all the wooded areas are. We are all able to go in the woods at the same time; this way avoiding wasting too much time. Luckily the first six miles have lots of wooded areas. After wards, we are out of luck and have to use the porto-potties, but by then the body is using every drop to hydrate and sweats.
We arrived at the ten mile water stop and asked around for Carol. There she was excited to meet us and thanked us for stopping by. We talked for a while and took pictures with her and Jonathan. We made sure that Jonathan drank two cups of Gatorade and we moved onwards to complete the course.
The rest of the run was enjoyable; we stopped at Wellesley College to take pictures with some of the girls and kept going. Coach Kevin was starting to struggle a little, but he was able to keep up with us. The plan amongst the coaches at the start was that if Jonathan was still running strong in the second half, we would send him ahead with Paul. Paul was given instructions in that scenario finish the race with Jonathan, but not without stopping by The Lord & Taylor store on the right hand side of Finish Line stretch in order to let Jonathan greet his Mom.
By the time we reached mile 23, we agreed that sinced we started together and we would abandon the alternate plan and finish all together as a team. We would link hands on the final stretch and cross the finish line four across.
We crossed the 40K/24.854 miles in 4:10:54, which was within our targeted goal. We had run 25.6 miles when all of a sudden we saw runners stopping abruptly ahead of us. Our initial reaction was that a runner had fallen and we would have to simply navigate around the fallen racer. However as we got closer, we realized that all the runners had stopped. We quickly asked around and one runner informed us that two bombs had gone off at the finish line.
Because of Jonathan, we run with an I-Phone. Upon hearing the devastating news, we tried to make some phone calls but none were going through. Thankfully, we received a text several minutes later from Jonathan’s mother; letting us know that 2 bombs had gone off across the street from the Lord and Tayolr's near the finish line.
As we walked with thousands of other tired, hungry and confused runners; Kevin and Paul tried desperately to make several phone calls, but to no avail. We were able to send texts to our immediate famiy members to let them know we were safe. We e-mailed our running club to let them know that we were okay and safe from immediate danger.
All of a sudden, the text and e-mails started coming in. Our friend Bobby who lives in Hungary and had been tracking Jonathan e-mailed us to express his concerns about Jonathan when Jonathan's finish line alert never came. Bobby was worried that Jonathan may have suffered an injury or dropped out of the race entirely. We quickly responded that a bomb had gone off at the finish line and that we were half a mile away from the finish line when it happened. As news spread, more and more texts and e-mails kept coming in. We answered as many as possible, mostly with a quick “We're Ok”.
Although we remained positive and optimistic, there was a genuine panic amongst the runners, not knowing the full extent of the situation. A race official announced that they were going to bring buses for us to sit in to keep warm. We waited for the buses for about fifteen minutes and then decided to start walking towards Kevin’s wife (whom we were able to contact and locate). We headed north on Massachusetts Avenue and tried to get north as much as possible so that we could head west where Kevin’s wife and our baggage would be found.
Our main problem was that all roads heading west were being closed evacuated and we just kept walking until the roads opened up. Along the way, we kept asking police officers how to navigate to Kevin's wife's location, but in the chaos most of the officers who had recently arrived were unable to assist us because they were not from the area.
We kept moving west until we met a runner who had picked up his baggage and finally helped put us in the right direction. We were able to locate and reunite Kevin with his wife and after they headed off together to locate their car, we kept going in order to look for the baggage buses and retrieve our belongings. We finally were able to get to Boylston Street and Clarendon, much to the relief of coach Paul who was so happy to regain possession of his cell phone and some warm clothes.
Now that Paul was set, he had to leave us and get back to Cambridge, where he was staying for the weekend with a friend attending Law School in the area. Unfortunately in the aftermath of the tragic explosions, there was no transportation available to get him there. Paul ended up walking six (6) miles back to the school. During his journey back to Cambridge, he met all these different people in the same predicament and they chit chatted all the way there.
While we were happy to reunite most of the team, Jonathan’s journey was not done. Our next goal was to pick up Sue who, after finishing the race and qualifying for Boston 2014, was waiting for us at the corner of Boylston and Arlington, Boston Common Park. We joyfully met up with Sue and received the wonderful news that she was able to contact Jonathan's mother who was sitting on a bench waiting patiently for her sons at the corners of Huntington and Belvedere. She had been directly across the street from the blast and in the aftermath decided to stay put so that she would be easier to find. Although we still had to navigate around closed streets and evacuated buildings, we finally get there and a relieved Olga gives her son a big warm loving hug and she took some deep sighs of relief to know that we were all finally reunited after 3 scary and confusing hours.
We walked as a unit back towards the parking garage across the street from the Finish Line; said our goodbyes to Jonathan, got into our cars and headed home.