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Skaters, coaches reflect on Marathon bombing

Traumatic events of April 15, 2013, still haunt local skating community
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Ross Miner received a standing ovation after performing his "Boston Strong" free skate at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. -Jay Adeff

April 15, 2013, wasn't an ordinary day for the figure skaters of Boston. It was Patriot's Day, Marathon Monday, and all along the race route -- from Hopkinton, through Wellesley, up and down Heartbreak Hill, into Back Bay and at the finish line -- skaters lined the streets; some were even among the 27,000 or so who intended to complete the 26.2-mile course.

At 2:48 p.m., ice dancer Mark Jahnke was in the last mile of the race, running past Fenway Park as hordes of Red Sox fans cheered the runners after a win for the home team. Several former pairs skaters were at the race: Tyler Harris, who ran part of the race as a "bandit," was on the sidelines in Newton. Trevor Young had finished the race and was at his hotel. Daniyel Cohen and Kellene Ratko were watching from Boylston Street in Copley Square.

Near the finish line, Haydenette Devin Wang waited to aid any runners who needed medical assistance.

Elsewhere in Greater Boston, Ross Miner was focusing on his training at the Skating Club of Boston and meeting with his coaches, Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson. Stephen Carriere was driving home from the rink. Coach Bobby Martin was at home with his family. Simon Shnapir was in the air, flying home from the World Team Trophy with partner Marissa Castelli.

At 2:49 p.m., Cohen and Ratko saw and heard the first bomb go off a half a block away. Moments later, they heard and felt the second as they ran for their lives down an alley. Wang grabbed a wheelchair and ran toward the bombing sites. She held the chair as a gravely injured Jeff Bauman was settled in, and then pushed him toward the medical tent, past a photographer who took one of the most-circulated photos from the bombings that day.

Jahnke was nearing the finish when race officials halted the proceedings. He was stuck in a mass of runners, growing cold and dehydrated, trying to understand what was happening. In the end, he walked for miles back to his dorm at Harvard University.

Now working in New York City, he's still trying to understand what happened that day and what it meant to him.

"I've honestly been trying not to think about it; I get upset when I think about it," Jahnke said. "For those of us who didn't get to finish, our first thought was, 'I'm not going to get to finish my first marathon.' You've literally just expended every ounce of energy in your body, and you're not going to achieve that goal. But then you feel horrible about feeling that way, because people died and were hurt. I still can't believe it actually happened."

"It's one thing watching chaos unfold on TV, but it's another when it is going on where you grew up," Carriere said.

"I still feel like it was so surreal that it happened," Miner said. "It was such an unbelievable series of events."

Jahnke ran the Providence Marathon in Rhode Island about a month after Boston.

"About half the people running had run Boston," he said. "We all ran with our Boston bibs on our backs. I talked to the guy who crossed the finish line and tore off his shirt and started tying tourniquets with it. I hit the wall really bad, and I had to slow down and walk, but another woman and I got each other to the finish. You think of running as solitary, but there's a real togetherness."

Harris says that, even a year later, it's hard to put his feelings about the bombings into words.

"I think the hardest part is that I never expected to be anywhere near a terrorist attack, but I was," he said. "These are the things you see on the news in the parts of the world far removed from your home. ... You never expect it to happen in your backyard. I was astounded by the amounts of men and women ready to go to the aid of anyone who needed it. The brotherhood that I witnessed in that week gave me a complete faith in humanity that I will carry with me my entire life." 

Harris's triathlon team later did a "remembrance run" that spelled out BOSTON on the map of the city, ending at the Marathon finish line.

Friday

On April 19, 2013, residents of Boston and Watertown obeyed a "shelter in place" directive and stayed put as law enforcement searched for suspected bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Miner heard the police helicopters over his house in Watertown all day. Mitchell and Johansson stayed indoors in their apartment in Boston. The Skating Club of Boston was closed.

"I was heading into the rink to teach early in the morning when I got a text from my student's mother saying, 'Turn around,' and that the Watertown/Brighton area was on lockdown," Carriere said.  

Harris was working at a Starbucks in Watertown and ended up stuck there for six hours during the manhunt. He was eventually evacuated by a SWAT team member with a loaded AR-15.

"They took us to our cars and followed us to make sure we made it home," he said.

The sister of Martin's wife and her husband witnessed the shootout with police, in which Tamarlan Tsarnaev was killed, from their windows. They and their newborn baby were taken out of their house by a SWAT team and left standing by the side of the road at 2 a.m. in their bare feet. They borrowed a phone from an EMT and called Martin, who drove through multiple police checkpoints to pick them up.

"They [had] bullet holes all over their fence, holes in their garbage can," Martin said afterward. "You could see the marks of the explosive device on the ground."

Martin says that, as a parent, he is still affected by the events of a year ago.

"It's still kind of raw," he said. "I don't think it ever leaves you at all. Any parent has a fear of things happening to the ones that you love. This is what terrorism does -- it scares everybody. I refuse to allow that to affect anything that I'm doing, but it's a struggle."

In the end, Miner dedicated his whole season to the memory of the tragedy with his "Boston Strong" free skate, which relives the race, the bombings, the search and the recovery. The program got a heartfelt standing ovation at the U.S. championships in Boston. Miner got a special pep talk from Shnapir before he skated.

"I was in the locker room before I went out, and Simon came down and said, 'Come on, Ross, do it for Boston.' When I went out there, the crowd reminded me why I was doing it. It did make a special moment for me."

Thinking back to the events last year, Miner says they helped cement his connection to his adopted hometown.

"It made me feel much more connected to the city of Boston than I was," he said. "I've lived here longer than I lived in Vermont, but that really did it for me. It made me more aware of how lucky I am to live in the city.

"This is everyone's city."

April 21, 2014

The Marathon is always run on the Massachusetts state holiday of Patriot's Day, commemorating the start of the revolutionary war. This year, the holiday and race will be on April 21.

Harris and his triathlon team will be race-side by Boston College, where he plans to spend the whole day cheering on the runners. Harris is going to skip the marathon this year to train for the IRONMAN Lake Placid in July, benefitting the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation; he says that next year he may "ultra" the Boston Marathon, running from the finish to the start and back, a total of 52.4 miles, for charity.

"I'd like to go and watch the race," Shnapir said. "I know it's going to be really tough to get down there. I remember how intense that week was, and how scared everyone was, but how much we all came together, as a city, as a state."

Miner also hopes to watch, if he can.

Jahnke says he has been planning for this year's race since the moment he was stopped last year.

"Since that moment, I've been like, 'I'm running next year,'" he said. "My goal is just to get to the finish. I've been dealing with some knee problems, so I'm nowhere near as trained as I want to be, but I don't care. I have to be there."

As the weather in Boston sidles into spring, the sunny, warm days have brought the memories of a year ago back to the minds of everyone in Boston.

"That's part of what made it such a shock," Jahnke said. "Everything was perfect, until 2:49."

Some material from ESPN.com was used in this story, with permission.

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