By SUSAN TEBBEN
Two Mahoning Valley runners who experienced the chaos of the Boston Marathon took time at home to reflect on their experiences.
For Ken Smith of Warren, watching the explosions shake the windows of the restaurant where he was eating was only the beginning of the surreal day.
Smith had finished the race and met with his wife in front of the medical tent before they found a place to eat close to the finish line.
“I had just changed out of my gear; I still had my medal around my neck, and I was happy for a few seconds before the world just went nuts,” he said.
Smith remembered people saying they thought it was thunder. But Smith, an Air Force veteran, commented that he “wished it was thunder.”
From that point on, he said it was like watching the action happen from inside a fish bowl. The restaurant staff kept calm, and the restaurant patrons were not told to evacuate, Smith said.
“It was like I had a window seat to the whole thing,” he said. “There was glass between us and the world. It was the strangest thing.”
About 60 ambulances and hundreds of police cars went up and down the intersection as Smith watched, and runners and spectators ran past crying. Some runners, still with their numbers on their shirts, were walking aimlessly through the area trying to find out what was going on.
Smith tried to make a call and found that cellphone service had been shut off. All anyone in the area could do was text to communicate to the outside world.
A diner in the restaurant asked the staff to turn on a TV to see if anything was being reported. That’s when Smith said his thoughts were confirmed that “something horrid” had happened.
Michele Benedict and her husband, Jim, were a mile from the finish line when they heard what they thought was a cannon blast.
As the Benedicts of Canfield turned the corner to the last half-mile of her first Boston Marathon, they saw the smoke and realized the explosion wasn’t what they thought it was.
The runners and the police officers covering the event stopped. A policeman near them listened in his earpiece.
“He said run any direction but toward the finish line,” Michele Benedict said. “I wasn’t thinking it was something terrible or that maybe people had died. I just don’t think that way.”
Having nearly finished a marathon, Michele was sore and could barely walk, she said, as she watched spectators running all around her in the “pure chaos.”
“People were jumping in their cars to get away from the area; ambulances were all around us. It was hard to go anywhere,” she said.
The Benedicts’ hotel was a short distance from the finish line, but they had to go around what was now a crime scene. When they got to their hotel, they were told to stay there.
“We were ready for a celebration, but we didn’t get to take pictures or do anything we thought we would. No one got to celebrate,” Michele Benedict said.
She and all the other runners got their medals the next day, which the race organizers gave to everyone, not just the top finishers.
Despite the chaos and the fear, Michele Benedict said if given the opportunity, she would gladly run the marathon again. The bombing was the work of a random person, Michele said, and it shouldn’t influence living her life.
“You can’t live in fear,” she said. “Boston is a great city, and I would do it again if I could.”