Boston and Scranton Strong
On the morning of April 15 (known as Patriots’ Day to New Englanders), Chris Benestad ’99, Joe Swift ’99 and a few fellow runners woke up at Benestad’s Northborough, Mass. Residence eager to conquer the legendary Boston Marathon, their final test following months of arduous training.
“It was a beautiful day,” Swift recalls. “There were perfect running conditions.”
The 2013 marathon, which drew nearly 27,000 participants, was Benestad’s eighth race in Boston, and he set a personal record (PR), finishing in two hours and 41 minutes. Seventeen minutes later, Swift crossed the finish line – just seven minutes behind his PR at Boston. It was his third time finishing the world’s oldest annual marathon.
Somewhere between 1 and 2 p.m., Swift settled into the Back Bay Social Club, a restaurant three blocks from the finish line, for a celebratory beer and meal with his family and friends. With him was Paul Curtis ’99, a fellow Royal who was on hand to watch the race. At a nearby hotel, Benestad and his family, including his two young children, were doing exactly the same.
As the congratulatory texts and phone calls poured in for Benestad, some took an ominous turn. “All these text messages just starting coming in, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’” recalls Benestad. “I remember thinking, ‘Why are they asking me this? I’m fine.’”
Swift and Benestad, just a few hundred yards away, were unaware of the blasts that devastated the race at approximately 2:50 p.m.
“We were oblivious to what was going on,” Swift says. “We didn’t hear anything.”
Swift and his party were evacuated out the restaurant’s back entrance, away from melee, but into a mass of disoriented people. “We didn’t understand exactly what was going on,” Swift recalls. “We didn’t know if it was electrical, if something blew up, or if it was a terrorist attack until we were talking to others on the street. And people were running in every direction.”
Not until Swift, who lives in Fairfield, Conn., arrived at his father-in-law’s residence in Charlestown, Mass., did he understand the full extent of what had occurred .
While Swift was being hustled out the back door of a restaurant, Benestad grabbed his kids, jumped into his car and drove home, weaving through crowds, ambulances and emergency personnel. “It was scary because you didn’t know what was happening,” he says.
For Benestad, a high school teacher, the incomprehensible events hit especially close to home. The Boston Marathon is a part of his life. He regularly trains on the course, and runs for the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the race. The race is a “yearly event for my family and me,” he says.
For Swift, the thing that haunts him is “what if.”
“In the days afterward, when it was slow at work or right before bed, I would think of 'what if?'” Swift explains. “What if they decided to detonate the bombs when I was crossing the finish line? I probably walked right by those two bombers on my way to lunch. But I’ve come to learn that you can't look back like that.”
The actions of heroism that day have also stayed with the runners. Benestad says, “An explosion went off, yet these people weren’t running for cover, they were diving into the smoke to help.”
Swift and Benestad both believe next year’s Boston Marathon will be both an important demonstration of defiance against terrorism and a fitting tribute to those who died. “You can’t let cowardly acts stop you from doing what you love,” says Swift, who plans to run Boston again next spring.
Adds Benestad, “The events that occurred after 2:50 p.m. this year were truly heart-wrenching, but the Boston Marathon is still a great event. I know there are many people who truly can’t wait for next year.”