Tragedy at marathon too close for comfort for locals

This image captured through a crowd by JoAnna Blasko shows the area near the Boston Marathon finish line where an explosive device detonated about an hour later. Her husband, Chris, was one of three participants from Forest Lake in the famous event that was marred by tragedy Monday afternoon. (Photo submitted)

This image captured through a crowd by JoAnna Blasko shows the area near the Boston Marathon finish line where an explosive device detonated about an hour later. Her husband, Chris, was one of three participants from Forest Lake in the famous event that was marred by tragedy Monday afternoon. (Photo submitted)

Three FL runners and their loved ones return from Boston unharmed

 

Kat Ladwig
Sports Editor

Mike Kaiser left the Nantasket Beach Resort in Hull, Mass., at 5:30 a.m. Monday morning to prepare for his fourth consecutive Boston Marathon. His fiancee, Sonja Benston, left at 8 a.m. to find a spot among spectators on Boylston Street, within feet of where the second of two explosions would occur less than seven hours later.

Kaiser

Kaiser

Kaiser, 49, started the race in Hopkinton as part of the second wave of racers. Looking back, the Forest Lake resident said a number of events could have transpired that would have put Benston among those injured or killed in Boston. Between stomach pains, calf cramps and the effects of an asthma attack suffered the day before, Kaiser alternated between running and walking after the halfway mark.

“I was having a terrible race and the weird thing is I kind of resigned to just walking and enjoying the experience — to take the opportunity to soak it all in and high-five kids along the way,” Kaiser said. “I’d decided on walking more, but the supporters along the way just kept cheering and I felt like I had to keep going. If it hadn’t been for the cheering and encouraging, I may have crossed the line a couple of minutes later and I don’t want to think what could have happened.”

Mike Kaiser clears the 26-mile mark during Monday's marathon. (Photo submitted)

Mike Kaiser clears the 26-mile mark during Monday’s marathon. (Photo submitted)

Benston, also a Forest Lake resident, was lucky. The second explosion rocked the finish line area less than five minutes after she left the area.

She was about half a block away from the first explosion when it occurred.

“At first I thought maybe it was planned, like something to celebrate the day,” Benston said. “When the second one went off I saw the plume of smoke and just froze. I knew it was something bad, something really bad.”

Benston worried not only about finding Kaiser, but the possibility of more explosions. Kaiser heard the commotion and rushed through the finishers’ chute to find his cellphone.

“It literally shook the whole area,” Kaiser said. “It was the loudest thing I’d ever heard. At first I thought it was a gas leak, but when the second one exploded, I knew it was something else. I figured it was an act of terrorism and prayed that Sonja had gotten out of there.”

The couple spent the next few hours at a restaurant a half mile from the scene, watching news coverage and absorbing what had transpired.

With cell service down and most subways stops closed, Kaiser and Benston couldn’t travel if they wanted to. They were eventually accompanied at the restaurant by triage nurses who treated victims at the scene. One of the nurses treated a young woman who ended up passing away.

Both Kaiser and Benston said the day’s events were surreal. Kaiser recollected spotting during the race a T-shirt that read “Embrace Violence.”

Kaiser is struggling to come to terms with the bombings.

“We were in shock and just sad,” Kaiser said. “You hoped that it wasn’t something evil, but that’s what it was. I just can’t believe someone planted bombs. It’s senseless and terrible. Just senseless and terrible.”

The couple planned to return home to their combined family of five kids on Wednesday.

Another Close Call

Harley

Harley

Forest Lake resident Lori Harley, 47, had finished the marathon on Monday and was a couple of blocks away from the end of the course when she heard what sounded like a cannon. Harley was too far away to see what happened, but her husband, Jim Harley, had arrived at their room on the sixth floor of the Lenox Hotel with a window facing the street when the first explosion detonated.

“I ran to the window just in time to see the second one explode,” Jim said. “I was 200 to 300 feet away.”

Jim Harley ran to the hallway to get away from the windows and went down to the lobby where police were keeping people inside the hotel and off the street. After 15 minutes, the Lenox Hotel was evacuated due to suspicion of another explosive device in the area.

Lori Harley visits the finish line of the Boston Marathan route the day before the race. (Photo submitted)

Lori Harley visits the finish line of the Boston Marathan route the day before the race. (Photo submitted)

With no access to their belongings or a place to stay, the Harleys spent the evening and part of the night on the streets looking for a place to stay. They wound up at the Copley Hotel after being kicked out of a resting station set up in the Neiman Marcus department store. The Lenox Hotel re-opened Tuesday morning after, Lori Harley believes, authorities performed controlled detonations of two additional explosive devices in the area of Boylston Street.

She said Monday’s events, while sad and unthinkable, won’t alter her love of marathons.

“I had nightmares and I feel blessed for not being among those injured or killed,” Lori Harley said. “I just can’t stop the tears from welling up. A marathon is emotional in itself and I was excited to see my husband at the end of the race, then all of this happened. But I just can’t let it change my life and shape it around people like this who want to scare us.”

Blasko

Blasko

Determined to Return

One other Forest Lake resident was among the more than 26,000 racers who participated in the marathon in Boston.

Chris Blasko, 33, traveled to the event with his wife, JoAnna, and parents Dave and Jacki. Blasko’s parents set up camp right next to the site of the first explosion while his wife watched from across the street.

Like Kaiser, Blasko experienced stomach issues that slowed him throughout the race. He reflected on how his family and friends could have been in the middle of the chaos had he given in to his body pains and walked a mile or two. Fortunately, the marathoner and his supporters cleared the area before the explosions.

Chris Blasko is all smiles just before Monday’s event starts in Hopkinton, Mass. (Photo submitted)

Chris Blasko is all smiles just before Monday’s event starts in Hopkinton, Mass. (Photo submitted)

Blasko hopes his time of 3:02.15 qualifies him for next year’s race.

“I’m grateful for no one in my family getting hurt, but I have sympathy for those that were. It’s hard to explain,” Blasko said. “I just know that it was a possibility of me returning here. Now, if I re-qualify I feel obligated to do it and show my support for the city and for myself.”

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