‘We Walked Around In What Felt Like A War Zone': Maine Woman Shares Her Experience With Boston Marathon Bombings
The following was written by Coreen Lauren, a Maine woman who ran the Boston Marathon in 2013 and was in the medical tent at the finish line when the bombs went off. With the Boston Marathon coming up on April 20, we present her story of a day that will live with many of us forever.
Today I sit in my kitchen, a small space in Portland, Maine and think about how to tell my story. Today is the day after the city of Boston announced to the world that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is guilty on all 30 counts for his involvement in the marathon bombings.
Today feels like just another day. As strange as this may sound, I feel nothing when I learn of the verdict. I am not surprised with my lack of emotions because for me it feels as though much of my world has been standing still since that perfect marathon day in April 2013.
I think back about the months of training and how during that winter I learned I had high blood pressure and my heart was enlarged. I think about how I worked through testing and medication adjustments to get myself to the start. I think mostly about my family and friends who supported me through this journey. Running is my passion.
I studied and calculated every milestone along the course so that I could tell my family and friends where I would be at any point in time along the course. My closest and dearest friend Judy also happened to be my training partner. This would be our third marathon together. She is now well-versed in understanding my medical condition and understands at times I may struggle.
Judy and I ran side by side for 23 miles. Prior to getting on the start line, we had an agreement to run together until the last 5K. In the event one felt stronger than the other, we agreed to separate if it was the right thing to do. On this day she was stronger than I was. I knew I was having issues around mile 15. By mile 18, I was feeling overheated and my mouth was tingling and I knew I was in trouble. Judy was great. She ran beside me and tried to be my eyes, telling me about the people and places we were passing. I was in such a zone all I could do was calculate how many minutes I had to run to get to the finish.
I recall like it was yesterday telling her to go ahead at mile 23. She hesitated she ran ahead and then came back and asked if I would be ok. I told her I was ok and I would see her at the end. I recall seeing her slip out of my view and the feeling of being alone was strong.
I positioned myself in the middle of the road thinking if I fainted someone would see me. I recall telling myself I only had 3.2 miles, 30 minutes at most. I also began to think if I walked, that 30 minutes may turn into an hour and then I rationalized with myself that one hour was too long, I needed medical help.
I recall making the famous left-hand turn onto Boylston and wondering where my family was. I was at least six to eight minutes slower than predicted and they would know I needed medical help. I prayed they would not see me at the finish, I wanted so much to be strong. I recall that last 800 meters felt like forever to run and then there Judy was, standing at the exact place I crossed the line. I honestly do not believe we said a word to one another. Judy gave me support on one side and a medical person gave me support on the other and together they guided me to the medical tent. I recall going to that same tent in 2009, but had no understanding of why I felt the way I did. On this day I also failed at understanding what went wrong, and in that moment it did not matter.
Judy stood at the entrance of the tent and promised she would wait for me. Neither one of us had made it through the finish chute.
I recall a short triage and then the staff gave me a cot in the back of the tent against a wall. I believe I crossed the finish line at 2:39 pm. I was frustrated as I told the medical staff I was overheated and they told me I was not. In fact they told me I needed to take my clothing off and they needed to heat me up. This did not make sense to me, but I allowed them to partially remove my clothing, give me an IV and slowly warm my body up. I had five separate individuals helping me.
As I slowly became more aware of my situation, I was concerned for Judy, who was waiting outside of the tent. I was also concerned for my sister Shawna and my nieces who were to meet me in the lobby of my hotel a short walk from the finish. I also knew my daughter, who was at work in Maine, would know based on my finish time and a gap from hearing from me that I had experienced some challenges. I prayed I would soon exit the tent and finally be joined with my family.
The noise from the first bomb seemed to last for a period of time. It gained the attention of every person in the tent. I immediately knew something was not OK. I had eminent thoughts of 9/11 and wondered if we were in danger. Over a loudspeaker every medical person was advised to attend to the runners and they would update us with any news.
The second bomb vibrated the earth beneath my cot. The noise of the explosion was so loud, I feared buildings were collapsing around me. I sat up on the edge of the bed and demanded my IV be removed so I could find my family. In a matter of seconds we were told there were bombings. The tent filled with people dressed in black uniforms, security people I am sure. I recall one of the nurses assigned to me began to panic and shared she was in an abusive relationship and she did not have it in her to be strong. I stood and wrapped myself around her and told her she was in the safest place there was.
It felt like an eternity waiting for someone to take my IV out. I was weak and found myself sitting up for moments then laying back down. I recall a person being wheeled in a wheelchair very close to me, he was smeared with blood. I recall a second person, an older women dressed in blue, also in a wheelchair. She too had blood all over her. I heard lots of yelling and movement around me and realized the tent was quickly filling with victims. I recall a stretcher coming in the back side of the tent at the foot of my cot. The person was lifeless and a team was working diligently on the victim. I began to express the need to leave because I felt someone who was critically injured needed the cot that I was presently occupying.
I can’t determine how long it took for the team to let me go. Even after that, I had to wait to have a security guard to guide me out. As I was making my way toward the exit another runner called out to me and asked me to help get her out of the tent. She appeared to be in shock as she spoke. Her family was outside of the tent in the family waiting area and she needed to get to them. She also shared she had no idea how to get to the family waiting area. A combination of maternal/coaching instincts took over. I told her I would assist. I put my arm around her and we made our way to the exit.
Pamela was her name. I remember asking her name thinking I could make a connection with her by saying her name and telling her she was going to be OK. Our path to the exit was tight. I positioned Pamela closest to the wall to prevent her from seeing the number of victims. As we neared the exit we were stopped to scan our bibs for tracking reasons. I looked to my left and noticed a young gentleman covered with blood and he appeared to be missing a lower limb. That vision is etched in my brain. I know Pamela saw that same image as she began to tremble in fear. I remember telling her she was going to be OK and I would stay with her as we made our way out of the tent into the finish chute.
Outside of the tent was strange. From our location we could not see any destruction. I held Pamela on my right side and laid her head gently on my shoulder. I learned her last name was Drafts, which meant we needed to find letter D in the family meeting area. What I was not sure of, did she realize what I had? THERE WERE NO PEOPLE..not a soul in the finish chute of the Boston Marathon. How could that be? It meant they stopped the race. This was serious. We passed the table where thousands of bottles of water sat. We passed another table where thousands of medals sat. We were fortunate as someone had brought finishing medals to each of us while we were in the medical tent.
When I realized they had stopped the race, my fear rose. Where was Judy? Where was my family, where were the dozens of people I knew that were in the city?
At the end of the chute, we turned towards the family meeting area. Pam was not talking. I continued to ask her questions not sure she ever responded. And then I saw Judy in the middle of the road, alone trying to keep warm with the wrap they give her at the end of the race. I am not sure how to express the emotion I felt when we saw each other. We did not speak a word, she quickly offered assistance on the other side of Pam.
As we arrived at the location, we noticed bags, but no people. I asked if she wanted to stay with us and in fear she cried no she would stay in that location until her family found her.
Judy and I left Pam and headed towards our hotel, which was behind the finish line. Upon arriving I searched for my family but couldn’t find them. We asked for help. We were given our bags that were held in storage. We asked for a place to change as we were still in our running clothing some two hours after finishing the race. The staff was exceptional. They gave us a hotel room and we were told we could also shower.
I remember when we got to the room, Judy used the bath first and I got on my phone and texted my son telling him to please post on Facebook that I was fine. I recall I had nearly 60 texts at that time, numerous voicemails and could not decide how to respond. I reviewed key individuals that had reached out and I texted them back. I continued to ask for them to communicate on my behalf as the phone lines were not good. I recall my ex-husband being most concerned as he knew my medical condition better than anyone. I later learned when I did not arrive at the location I had planned, he left our friends in an effort to see if he could find me. I feel sick inside for the number of people I caused distress and pain from that day.
Showered and hungry, Judy and I made an attempt to leave the city. There were subsequent warnings of other bombs close by. We were escorted by security to the parking garage to get our car and go home. After sitting in the car for about 10 minutes, we were told to get out of our car and the garage as well.
We were lost in the streets, the epicenter of the bombing and we walked around in what felt like a war zone. There were people walking around us with guns. I had never seen anything like it before. We walked in silence. We attempted to enter the Marriot at Copley but were denied. We headed back to our own hotel, but were denied access as well. We walked back towards the parking garage and sat on a curb. We had no food, nothing to drink and started to get cold. On a last effort, I asked a bartender to please let us into the Marriot at Copley. They could see the look on our faces and let us in. We were brought to a meeting room where our friends were several hours earlier. We were given food and access to a television where we were finally able to see what the world had already seen around us. The overwhelming feeling of despair was heavy.
At some point after watching the same video of the bombings, we were told the parking garage was now open. Judy and I thanked the individuals who helped us and made our way to our car. The city streets were filled with security, on foot, in vehicles and in the air. This was combined with the sounds of ambulances still heading towards the medical tent at the finish line and to nearby hospitals.
Judy and I did not share many words. We crossed the Tobin Bridge and I took a phone call from a local radio station and I agreed to share what we experienced, however it was not until a much later time did I realize our mine and Judy’s experience were very different.
I recall driving over the bridge in Portsmouth into Maine. I know I saw a tear stream down Judy’s face. She is not a person of many words.
When we arrived back at my house in Falmouth, my former husband and my daughter were waiting inside. I am lost for words to explain how that felt to finally see my family.
Inside my house there were lots of tears. My ex-husband stayed by my side, not having a clue of what I saw. My daughter shared her experience from work where she was told there were bombs at the finish line and they took her into a conference room and let her see video. It was hours before she heard I was ok. I feel pain and sorrow for her suffering.
I spoke to my sister who was at the finish line with her children. My niece Kristen was also with them. The group was standing at the flags near the finish but did not see me cross. They received texts on their phone telling them I was done. They had headed towards my hotel when the bombs went off.
On the Tuesday morning after the bombing I did live interviews for our local radio stations. I cannot remember a thing I said. I met my sister for lunch and we discussed my nieces. I know my love for my family multiplied by a thousand. I also know that my nieces struggled for months and still to this day with the events from that day.
Looking back now what I have come to realize is this. I was the eyes and the ears of the tragedy of that day. I have tried to piece together, why I was there? I now understand that by being there I have been able to share with my community what it felt like to be in that exact location in that moment in time. I know I share the pain of many. We are not the victims who lost limbs or have shrapnel in our skin. We are the individual who got up the next morning and tried to go back to our normal lives..
I think especially about one of my friends who was running Boston for the first time. She never made it to the finish line that day. She was stopped at mile 25 along with several thousand others. Her husband was waiting for her along the finish line. After the first bomb, he instructed his daughter to go inside the mall and he would find her. As soon as she left, he jumped over the fencing and began to offer assistance to the victims, the first was a young boy whose life was cut short. He knew from his training he had to move onto the next person. He was assigned to a young college girl who was struggling. He could tell from her vitals she too was going to lose her life. Against his training his instinct was to not leave her side. He thought of his own daughters and what would it be like for them to lose their life alone. He stayed by her side listening to her gurgle for breath. Her life passed before his eyes, though not alone, he is my hero.
I was able to meet with my friend and his wife a few days following the marathon. As I was getting ready to leave my home I remembered my finishing medal sat on my kitchen island. I had yet to even look at it in any detail. On the day we agreed to meet I picked up my medal and planned to give it to him. He was far more deserving than I. I never realized the impact that medal would have on him. Again it was a reminder for me while we have no outward signs of injury, the events of that day certainly changed his life.
I think of my own family and how they suffered from that day. My niece’s sweet innocence forever lost. My daughter’s fear when I told her I would run in 2014.
I think about my own personal changes since that day in 2013. I left my corporate job which I loved. I sold my home and up until this writing had been spending 50% of my time doing consulting work in Massachusetts. I have traveled. I became a grandmother to an amazing grandson. I believe in some ways via this writing I am ready to re-engage myself to the most important pieces of my life that have been in limbo for some time. Putting my family first, followed by re-connecting with my friends and my coaching business.
I am fortunate to be able to tell my story. As I said in the beginning, today is the same as yesterday. Now after putting these words together I am certain that tomorrow will finally bring something new.