Nursing a leg injury and 5-miles out from finishing his first Boston Marathon, Charlestown’s Jack Kelly was stopped in his tracks.
“I started to embark on a downward stretch. I would later come to learn, that this stretch was Boston College and was another infamous part of the race where you eventually filter into Cleveland Circle and start the final push to Boylston, said Kelly, Mayor Thomas Menino’s former community liaison. “Or otherwise known as the longest 5 miles known to man.”
However Kelly would never get to experience that euphoria of the last 5-miles and crossing the iconic finish line on Boylston Street.
“As I ran down this stretch with BC on my right and the usual cascade of college kids and enthusiastic onlookers, I noticed to my left, a biker cop frantically jump on his bike after talking into his radio attached to his right shoulder,” said Kelly. “My initial thought was someone must have fallen down or had a heart attack or something. At this point in the race, people becoming ill is a somewhat common occurrence.”
Kelly thought nothing of it and as a photographer knelt down to snap his picture he heard police sirens.
“I turned to my left and it was racing by me, followed by several others. It almost knocked over the photographer who was taking a picture of me,” said Kelly. “I knew something more than an injured runner was causing this. I was certainly alarmed at this point, but not in a way where I felt my safety was endanger.”
As he continued to run he heard a ominous radio broadcast emanating from a spectator that was saying something about “bombs at the finish line” in a panicked voice.
“ I could not believe what I was hearing and kept running,” said Kelly. “I was trying to reconcile what I had just heard. There was no way what I had just heard was real.”
But as he came to a crossroad, ready to pour into a bowl that seemed to be entering the start of the finish embark into Cleveland Circle, Kelly encountered a barricade of cops and a scattered assortment of other runners.
“We were stopped at the St. Ignatius Church at Boston College,” he said. “We were eventually brought into the church and tended to by earnest and exceptional first responders, firefighters and cops. At every stage, people were calm but alarmed. I immediately recognized one of the cops and a friend of mine who worked at the T. I was told of the truth of what had happened.”
Kelly’s thoughts turned into immediate panic. “ I was horrified. All I could think about was my girlfriend Lisa, her friends and my mother and father and other friends I had waiting for me at the finish line,” he said. “Because of my location and the tracking device on me, this is precisely the time they would arrive on Boylston to watch me come in.’
Kelly then started getting hundreds of text messages and Facebook messages and direct Twitter messages.
“All of the messages were concerning my safety. But, I knew that I was safe,” he said “My only concern was to find out about my loved ones. I spent a frantic 30 minutes trying to reach anyone who could give me information by phone.”
Finally, Kelly saw through the hundreds of text messages, a message from his dad asking him where he was.
“This message seemed to indicate he was at least ok,” he said. “But it wasn’t until I received a call from my uncle who was not at the finish line, to tell me everyone was OK. They were close to the bombs, but had been far enough away and were heading home and OK.”
Kelly said as other runners frantically called their loved ones or tried to find out more information and were loaded on busses to head to some unknown destination, he was picked up by his brother’s girlfriend who lives in Brighton.
“When I arrived at my house, I hugged everyone and sat down to watch the news,” he said. “I could not believe what was happening. I was in physical pain because of the race, but I was more shocked. I was still unsure if any of the wounded were personal friends of mine. My phone continued to receive text messages for hours asking about my safety.”
Like everyone else in Boston and the world, Kelly could not comprehend what had just transpired.
“The worst of the carnage started to illuminate itself. I saw the pictures of little Martin Richard and the pretty freckled-face girl named Krystle Campbell,” he said. “I personally knew people who knew the Martin family and Krystle. We eventually found out of the name of the Chinese B.U. student, 23-year-old Lu Lingzi.”
Days later Kelly eventually, went and picked up his Marathon medal, but said he felt empty.
“I have spent this week walking around in my marathon shirt,” he said. “I felt the spirit of my city. I felt the pride we all have as Bostonians and Americans. I also felt the human spirit. However, I also felt sad and forever changed.”
As he stood looking at his medal, all he could think about was how he had spent months training to obtain this piece of metal.
“When I look at this medal, all I can think about is Martin, Krystle, Lu Lingzi, Sean Collier and the victims like Jeff Bauman Jr.,” he said.
Kelly said next year he will lace up his sneakers in Hopkinton and embark on that long, arduous, 26.2 mile journey to Boston.
“I will slap the spiritual hand of Krystle, Martin, Sean and Lu Lingzi as I race down Boylston towards that still iconic finish line I could not cross this year,” he said.