On Monday, perseverance saved senior Kathryn Ledwell’s life. Seconds after she crossed the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon, two homemade bombs crafted from pressure cookers exploded yards from the line itself, killing three and injuring more than a hundred.
When the first bomb went off, Ledwell was about 100 yards from the finish line. She was close enough to physically feel the heat and force of the explosion. The decisions she made in the most arduous moments of the race — to run when she wanted nothing more than to walk, to wait until the finish line before using the restroom or grabbing a cup of water — allowed her to finish the race and emerge unharmed Monday night.
“I told myself that the faster I finish, the sooner I’d be out of pain,” Ledwell said. “So I continued to run without stopping.”
She escaped the scene physically unscathed, but found herself entrenched in the inconceivable panic that blanketed Copley Square: the initial uncertainty — many at first believed the booms were celebratory fireworks or cannon shots — followed by horror, intensified by the delirium that dawns after one has exerted oneself for 26 miles.
What was once a final benchmark of long-earned victory became a venue of carnage and confusion, with the cries of both the injured and frightened piercing the air. Moments before, spectators had stood watching family and loved ones finish the 26.2-mile feat.
“My brain definitely wasn’t in prime working condition,” Ledwell said. “People were looking around, scared, not really knowing what had just happened. When the second bomb went off 10 seconds later, I knew something was wrong, and a strong feeling of panic ensued. People were screaming, crying and running in different directions. My immediate thought was that if two bombs just went off, there could be more, and they could be coming in my direction. I knew I had to get out of the area as quickly as possible, but my legs were really tired so I couldn’t move very quickly.”
What was supposed to be a victorious culmination of months of sweat and labor was cut short by the explosion of a bomb.
Like so many others who have partaken in the physical endeavor, Ledwell’s story began long prior to Monday afternoon. A longtime runner, she had placed completing the Boston Marathon “at the top of her bucket list,” and sought an opportunity to do so in tandem with another passion — philanthropy.
Ledwell had a longstanding affinity for a philanthropic group called Back on My Feet, which uses running and exercise to create self-sufficiency in the lives of those experiencing homelessness. She tethered her participation in the Boston Marathon to Back on My Feet, training for the race and fundraising for the group simultaneously.
“When the opportunity arose to run the marathon while fundraising for the charity, I jumped on it,” she said. “Fundraising was a challenge, but I was persistent due to my passion for both Back on My Feet and for running.”
Monday should have been the pinnacle of laborious months, and a celebration, but Ledwell finds herself desperate for answers.
“Right now, the fact that I ran the marathon really is not a priority in my mind,” she said. “I didn’t think about it in the moments following the race, and I’m still not thinking about it now.
“There will be more marathons to run, [but] right now I am more worried about those who were injured in the explosions.”
As of Wednesday night, Ledwell — and indeed the world attuned to the situation — has received no comfort in clarity.
Authorities have yet to definitively identify a perpetrator. An eight-year-old boy is dead while his father waits for his wife to recover from grievous brain injuries and for his daughter, a ballet dancer, to learn to navigate life without the two legs that were amputated to save her after the explosion.
Obama has labeled the ordeal as a definite act of terror, but the prospect of resolution is unclear. Those who ran the winding course through sunny Boston on Monday may not hang up their running shoes for good, but some things must wait.
There is still little information being made available about the attacks. But as the nation waits, Boston and those affected are trying to recover.
“I definitely want to run Boston again, and will be running more marathons between now and then — I will have another opportunity to experience the post-marathon feeling of joy and accomplishment,” Ledwell said. “Now isn’t the time for that.”