Cumberland High School running Coach Tom Kenwood had believed Monday would be like any other Patriots Day when he took a bunch of his team members to Wellesley to watch runners in Boston Marathon pass by.
Patriots Day, after all, has always been a good day to visit Boston for a chance to see runners in the city’s historic Marathon and maybe to see the Red Sox play or take the kids to a museum.
But the explosion of bombs at the finish line for the marathon’s 117th running changed all that while leaving thousands on the marathon course and people in general wondering why.
“It’s so sad. In this day and age you just never know what is going to happen,” Kenwood said of the day’s events after he and his players had returned home.
Initial reports listed at least two people dead in the bombing attack and more than 100 injured or seriously maimed.
Call and Pawtucket Times Sports Editor Eric Benevides and his wife, Bozena, were out in the sea of runners still on the course when the explosions went off near the finish line and forced the detour of the competitors to a safe gathering area.
Additional suspicious packages were also found in Boston after the first two explosions and were either ruled safe or detonated without incident. A fire breaking out in a service area of the Kennedy Museum in Dorchester was initially described as a possible bombing but later confirmed as being accidental in nature.
Kenwood’s group of spectators had gone to Wellesley to cheer on former Cumberland High School runner Hillary Dionne, who was among the elite female runners setting out on the 26.2-mile marathon course at 9:32 a.m., followed by the elite men at 10 a.m. Additional waves of runners were started after the elite men for a total race field of more than 24,600 runners and wheel-chair competitors.
The winning women and men racers crossed the finish line more than two hours before the explosions occurred near a set of spectator stands at approximately 2:50 p.m. — 4 hours and nine minutes into the race.
Kenwood said he had been able to reach Bishop Hendricken High School running coach Jimmy Doyle, who coaches Team in Training for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and had a few of his runners just miss the explosions at the finish line. Doyle had accounted for all of his runners by the time the two spoke by telephone, Kenwood said.
Kenwood and his runners had already returned to Cumberland and gone to Tucker Field for practice before news of the bombing began to appear in the media.
“My wife, Kathy, called me and told me what happened,” Kenwood said. His wife couldn’t tell him if anyone had died at the time but he learned upon returning home that there had been fatalities in Boston on Patriots Day.
Fred Zuleger III, 74, a Coventry resident and 39-year member of the Rhode Island Road Runners, said he was in “complete and utter shock” when he heard the news that a series of explosions had erupted near the Boston Marathon’s finish line, a race he has run 11 times in his own running career.
“I just said to myself, ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t believe it,” Zuleger said Monday after the attack.
The explosions had sent white smoke billowing into the air at Copley Square, turning a site of celebration into a mess of destruction.
Zuleger said the Rhode Island Road Runners, the state’s largest running club, had at least two members running in Monday’s marathon, but wasn’t sure of their names. The East Providence-based club has 120 members from all over Rhode Island.
“I haven’t heard from anyone yet and I’m just praying that they’re safe,” he said Monday afternoon.
Zuleger himself has run 31 marathons around the world and qualified 11 times for Boston. The 5'6", 119-pound marathoner has competed or trained in 2,167 road races.
“I’ve run in marathons in countries all over Europe and it’s sad to think something like this can happen in the United States at one of the oldest marathons in the country,” said Zuleger, a former president of the Rhode Island Road Runners and the New England 65-Plus Runners Club.
Zuleger, who served as president of the Rhode Island Road Runners from 1997 to 1999 and again from 2005 to 2007, has run an average of 82 races a year since he retired from Citizens Bank.
“This is going to really change future marathons,” Zuleger noted. “This particular incident happened at the finish line, but when you have a race course that is 26.2 miles long, something like this – assuming it was an act of terrorism — can happen anywhere along the course.”
With the Chicago Marathon coming up in August and the New York Marathon scheduled to be held in September, Zuleger says organizers of those races have a lot to think about.
“In these big marathons you’re talking thousands of runners,” he said while noting the large field of competitors and possibly another 10,000 people watching along the route. “How do you protect all those people?”
When contacted late Monday afternoon, a member of the Narragansett Running Association, who requested anonymity, said that club had eight to 10 members running in Boston and that all had been accounted for.
“We’ve heard from all of them and thank God everyone is safe,” he said.
Although likely to be forever a footnote to the tragedy marking the 117th Boston Marathon, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia won the men’s race with a time of 2 hours and 10 minutes, Kenya’s Rita Jeptoo added another win with a her time in the women’s race of 2 hours 26 minutes, and Hiroyuki Yamamoto won the wheelchair competition with a time of 1 hour and 25 minutes.
Times Sportswriter Jon Baker and Call reporter Joseph Fitzgerald contributed to this report.