Everyone has that “where were you when...” story about the Boston Marathon bombings last April. For five Duxbury women, the memories are still fresh and the desire to run 26.2 miles is stronger than ever.
The “Fab Five,” as they call themselves, includes Deb Burns, Lori Miller, Siobhan Sheehan, Ann Marie Winchester and Tessa Casey, Duxbury residents who have found solace in running together. As this year’s Boston Marathon approaches, the Fab Five reflected on their experiences during last year’s traumatizing events and prepare for what will undoubtedly be an emotional journey this year.
When Winchester entered the last mile of her fifth Boston Marathon on Hereford Street last year, she found herself greeted not by supportive onlookers, but by a police blockade. Not knowing why she was unable to finish the Marathon, Winchester circled around the area a couple of times to keep warm, and to keep an eye out for Burns, who was still running towards Hereford Street as she tried to finish her sev- enth consecutive Marathon. By the time the two connected, the temperature had dropped significantly, and Winchester, in only a T-shirt and shorts, felt her muscles cramping as she cooled down.
Desperate for water for Burns, a trash bag to keep Winchester warm, and with not a penny between the two of them, the women went into a convenience store and explained their situation. The owner told them to help themselves. The two found shelter at the Marsh Chapel at Boston University, where a minister let Winchester wear his clergy robe to keep warm. Burns, who runs with a cell phone because she says she is the “slowest one of the pack and I need my phone to call them to pick me up,” received a text from her husband, letting her know he and her children were safe.
“When he picked me up, he said ‘You’re never running this again,’” Burns said. “I have to think, if you don’t do what you love, what’s the point of living? As much as I love him and my three kids and I don’t want to scare them, I can’t let people make me scared to do what I love.”
At the same time, fellow Fab Five runner Siobhan Sheehan was on Boylston, mere steps from finishing her 11th Boston Marathon. Her experience was quite different from the other women’s experienc- es, as she watched both bombs go off. What sticks out in her mind, however, is the beginning of the Marathon.
"I’ll never forget it,” Sheehan said. “A woman came up to [the Mass. Eye and Ear] group and said ‘You’re going to think I’m crazy but I always pray before I run.’ We huddled around and said this beautiful prayer. I’ll never forget that moment.”
At mile 24, Sheehan said she had a feeling something terrible was going to happen. As she watched the bombs go off, she said she wasn’t shocked, just incredibly sad. Unbeknownst to Sheehan, her sister had taken her kids to the finish line to surprise her as she crossed. Upon learning this, Sheehan’s whole perspective shifted.
“I thought all I’d have to do was get myself home and then I find out they were right next to where one of the bombs went off,” she said.
Miller, a self-dubbed “New York City girl,” moved to Duxbury in 2006 and still thought of herself as a New Yorker until the bombings. She said she was overwhelmed with wor- rying about her runner friends and if they had been hurt. She said she even worried for those she didn’t know.
Miller, who is widowed, said she has found a lot of support with running and with her running friends. This year, she will be running her second Boston Marathon for a children’s grief program.
Suffering from a ham- string injury on the day of the Marathon, Casey had taken her youngest son to look at colleges and was following the news on her phone and on the television at home.
“I was tracking the girls on my phone and had gotten their 40K splits, but didn’t get anything else,” she said. “I knew they should have finished by that time and it was then that I realized something had hap- pened.”
Casey’s older son has Down Syndrome and autism and is a resident at Cardinal Cushing Center, which just this year received three numbers from John Hancock for the Marathon. As soon as she heard the news, she signed up for a number.
“I knew it was meant to be,” she said.
This year’s Marathon will be an emotional one, as many runners will push themselves for 26.2 miles, honoring those who lost their lives and were injured in the bombings. For a marathon that has always been an entirely positive thing, with raising money for hundreds of charities and celebrating runners who could go the distance, Burns said this year will be different.
“Before last year, there was nothing about it that wasn’t happy and good,” she said. “Now we are also running for those who no longer can.”
Winchester, who is running for South Shore Hospital this year, said crossing the finish line this year will be extremely emotional.
“I will probably cry from the time I get to Boylston Street until I cross the finish line,” she said.
Sheehan, who is running for Mass Eye and Ear again this year, said she believes many of the runners are more traumatized than they realize. For her, crossing the finish line will be bittersweet.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to react; I’m not sure any of us do,” she said. “You won’t know until you actually get there.”
While preparing for this year’s Marathon, the five runners came up with the slogan, “Boston Strong, Duxbury Determined,” which they say encapsulates their drive and determination to make this year’s Marathon an entirely positive experience.