A community project hosted at Northeastern University

Reflections from a Finish volunteer


In addition to what I wrote the day after the marathon, my uncle contacted me from his local news station in Miami, FL where he works as a cameraman. I an several others were featured on the broadcast that night, and the following is a link to that coverage. We certainly received quite a bit of love from all over the country, indeed all over the world that day.



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I hardly slept last night, laying snuggled up to a friend who had hosted me so that I didn't have to be alone, still wrapped in my yellow volunteer jacket and wearing jeans. I listened to the sirens of the endless police cars, fire trucks and ambulances hurrying to and from Copley, just about a mile away. At first, each one was like a new punch in the gut. I shook my head, closed my eyes, covered my ears to block it out. To hide from each sad reminder of what I'd witnessed and experienced hours before.

But after a while, I began to appreciate the sound. It was a trumpet of resolve. Boston's finest were working around the clock to help the affected and begin healing the city. It was the sound of dedication, determination and love unlike I've ever heard. It was a lullaby.

When I woke this morning, I wasn't sure how to feel. We turned on the local news, I checked Facebook, Megan made me coffee. It could have been any other morning in action, but it didn't feel the same. I was anxious, thinking about how today would go. But when we stepped outside we were embraced by morning sun brighter and warmer than I've seen all year, and I knew we were going to be okay. All of us: my friends, my school, my city. The whir of helicopters overhead no longer sounded of tragedy, but of safety. Someone was watching over us from that bright blue sky.

So on my walk home I decided I was ready to write it all down. Everything I saw, and heard, and felt. Everything I can remember. I'm putting it all here, so that I don't have to keep it with me. It's just one of the thousands of stories that will be told about the 2013 Boston Marathon, it's just one perspective. It's not a story about lives I saved, because I didn't. It's not a story about the loved ones I lost, because we all walked away unhurt. But it's still my story, and it's worth telling.

I began April 15, 2013 the same way I begin it every year: by wishing my big sister a happy birthday. I commented on her Facebook; since we live in different time zones, calling her at 5 o'clock in the morning wouldn't be a very nice birthday surprise. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, did my hair. I got dressed, choosing a light jacket that I didn't mind losing since it would be replaced with a beautiful new Adidas one and running shoes, so I'd be comfortable working in them all day. I met up with Northeastern's Student Alumni Association members with whom I was volunteering and we all walked to check-in together at the John Hancock Patriot room. On my way there I called Dayna, who was on her way to school, to offer a more personal happy birthday and catch up on a few things. I told her I'd call her again later.

We wound around a maze of hallways and meeting rooms, dodging medical volunteers in white jackets who had just finished their check-in and were busily preparing for their assignments. There were a few minutes of chatting in the Patriot room before our group's leader, Charles Ziegenbein, called us to order with a shrill whistle. He suggested we begin the meeting, held with an air of nationalism on Patriot's Day in the Patriot room of the John Hancock building, with The Star Spangled Banner. We all rose and sang together, celebrating our unity and love for the marathon, the city and each other. None of us expected that those moments would hold such irony before the day was out.

The next three and a half hours were all hustle as we separated the sheets of “blankets” we would be distributing just past the finish line. The sheets were plastic on one side, adorned with the Adidas, John Hancock and Boston Athletics Association Marathon logos, and metallic silver on the other side, to reflect the athlete's body heat. Their purpose is to keep the runner's body temperature from dropping too rapidly after they finish racing, but they looked more like superhero capes than medical equipment. By the time runners began coming through we had 25,000 blankets ready in the racks, shining in the sun and lighting up Boylston Street. The scene reflected our enthusiasm and the celebratory atmosphere in the square.

The first runner I blanketed was my favorite. He was a middle aged man, sweating profusely and limping a little. A colleague standing in front of me asked if he wanted to be wrapped up, and he replied, “Yes, but by her,” and looked directly at me. The other volunteers parted for him, and as he approached me he said, “You look like you could use some action back here.” I turned beet red, reached around him with the blanket, and congratulated him on his accomplishment.

As he moved past my friends, they began giggling and joking about it, but soon the time for that was over. We became flooded with runners. They were coming thick and fast for a little over an hour, thanking us for volunteering, telling us how great we were for being there, and asking where they could get their medals. After wrapping one arm around a woman with the sheet, she asked if she could just have a hug. “Of course, you just finished running 26.2 miles,” I told her as I pulled her into me, “You're a superhero today; you can have as many hugs as you want!”

And on it went, all smiles and laughter and thanks and congratulations, neon running gear mixing with bright yellow jackets and superhero capes. We were a sea of color, until about 2:50 p.m. The mob had subsided, though there was still a pretty steady stream of runners coming in about that time. I was blanketing a tall man with long brown hair, probably about in his mid-30's, when we heard the first boom. The ground shook under our feet and he looked up into my face with wide eyes.

“What was that?” he asked. We turned back to see a gray-brown cloud rising up from the sidewalk next to the finish line and spreading over the street. There was a moment of terrified silence before the sound of screaming reached us where we stood, about 100 yards away. We froze. Everything that had been bright before was instantly shadowed Happy laughter turned to terrified panic, and those shining superhero capes became shrapnel before our eyes.

“I don't know,” I said, looking back to him just as we heard the second explosion, my hand still holding the sheet to his chest. His heart skipped a beat. “Just keep moving that way,” I said, motioning down Boylston.

The next ten minutes were mayhem. We looked around to find our group leader, asking what we should do, while still blanketing runners and sending them further down the street. Spectators were shouting about bombs and injuries, some of them taking off down the street away from the finish line. Runners who had just completed a marathon appeared to find a second wind, sprinting towards us with fear on their faces and tears in their eyes. We began just handing the blankets to the runners to wrap themselves in an effort to move them back more quickly. Charles told us to get them away from the area, so I grabbed an armful of blankets from the nearest rack and ran towards the water station that separated us from the finish line. I wrapped people up as fast as I could, always moving forward and telling them to keep moving down.

I heard sirens, and a police officer behind me yelling to get out of the street so that emergency vehicles could pass. There were two runners in front of me still, so I wrapped them up and told them to move over to the sidewalk. We pushed a barricade back to get out of the street since they couldn't climb over it; their limbs were just too exhausted for that. After watching a few ambulances and police cars rush by, and seeing no more runners coming out of the haze, I moved forward to see if there was anything I could do. But as soon as I saw the first loaded stretcher I turned back. I couldn't handle it.

I sprinted back down Boylston to find the friend I had come with that day. When I couldn't locate him, I tried calling him. The network was busy; too many people were trying to connect with their friends and families. I decided to call my step dad Bill, just to let him know I was okay and try to figure out what to do next, where to go. I tried at least 10 times before the call went through. By the time I heard his voice I had begun crying, completely overwhelmed by what I had just seen and done.

I decided to go to Douzo, the restaurant where I work. It was just a couple blocks away. I told Bill I'd let him know when I got there, and took off around the corner. Because of street closures around the scene I had to run a couple extra blocks, dodging pedestrians and appreciating my decision to put running shoes on this morning. I felt hot in my volunteer jacket, and realized that I had lost the one I put on that morning after all. It wasn't the only thing I lost that day. When I reached Douzo, I collapsed into my co-worker's arms and just sobbed, letting go of everything I'd been holding in for the past 40 minutes.

My co-workers and manager were amazing, giving me water, offering me something to eat, and trying to find out more information for me. One great friend even let me wear his jacket, so I didn't have to walk around the restaurant in neon yellow, calling attention to the fact that I was there.

Still not having gotten in touch with my friends, I cried out of worry for where they ended up, praying that everyone was okay. In time I heard from all of them, and was able to get in touch with all of my family and friends. When I got a call from the last person we hadn't heard from I nearly fell to my knees. Reminding myself where I was, I went into the kitchen storage area and knelt down, sobbing out of relief. My people were okay. All of them.

We were so lucky.

After that I was just tired. We all paid attention to the bar TVs, watching for the latest updates and shaking our heads at the announcements of the numbers of dead and injured, and the news that other devices had been found around the city. They closed Douzo early, and a couple of servers walked with me towards Megan's apartment. We spent the night watching the news with her little sister, all three of us huddled on her bed. I gave an interview to my uncle Wade's colleague Carlos in Miami, and touched base with my family again before bed, thankful the day was over.

By 11 o'clock we were all ready to put it to rest for the night. Megan set a timer for the TV, and she and her sister were asleep within minutes. I lay there listening to the news and the sounds of the sirens outside, knowing that everything had changed. Changed for me, for my friends, for Boston.

But listening to those noises reminded me of the hope we still have, of all the people doing such powerful good for Boston. What happened yesterday was a terrible tragedy, and it left a kind of empty sting that I never thought I'd have to feel. But whoever caused it is the minority. The number of people in this city and all over the world that are helping, acting bravely and loving one another far outnumber those who seek to cause harm and spread fear. As Bostonians, we have love from one another, sympathy and support from New Yorkers, prayers from other Americans and our allies all over the world, and we will use it all to keep us going as we move forward and heal together.


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