The first bomb exploded at the 4:09:43 mark on the race clock, right behind the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Kelli Davey, from Draper, had just crossed that line. She called her husband, elated to have finished her first Boston run, when she heard what she thought was a cannon blast. Not knowing what had happened behind her, she hung up and went to find her belongings. As she collected her drop-bag, she turned around to see smoke coming down the street and police running back toward the finish line. Phone service suddenly stalled and she had yet to find her husband and two sons who were waiting for her. She sat on the steps of an old church, sent them a text to tell them where she was, and waited, watching the commotion ensue. Emergency vehicles lined the streets and athletes, spectators, police and medics rushed around her.
In 2013, two bombs were detonated during the Boston Marathon in downtown Boston, Mass., in the middle of the crowd. The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon; the first race was held in 1897, and athletes have been flocking there since. Participants train for years to earn a coveted spot in the race. It wasn’t until the family was in a van on their way to the airport later that day that they heard what happened around them. “That’s when we really found out what was going on. We were listening to the radio and it really sunk in. I’m like, ‘Wow, these people got hurt and I was right there.’” 264 people were injured in the double bombing that day, and three were killed, according to the Boston Globe’s webpage.
Since the year of the bombing, Kelli has returned each year since. Why would someone return to a place filled with fear and confusion? To say, “Thank you,” she said.
When an athlete runs through the streets of Boston, spectators shout encouragement from start to finish. “From mile one...they cheer your name constantly. ‘Go Kelli, you look awesome! You’ve got this, GO GO!!’ [For] three and a half hours, 26 miles, people cheering you ...You feel like a rockstar.” When the bombs exploded in 2013, it wasn’t athletes who were hurt, it was the fans. Kelli said, “You love the spectators when you’re in Boston. So the fact they targeted the spectators made us all feel really guilty.” An average of half a million people attend the Boston marathon each year to watch, making the race one of the most highly attended sports events in the world, according to www.BAA.org
Runners from the Boston Marathon after the Salt Lake Marathon memorial run. Photo by Kelli Davey
Five days after she returned from Boston in 2013, the Salt Lake Marathon invited Kelli and the other Boston athletes from Utah to run together as a memorial. They paced the race so they would cross the finish line together at the exact time the first bomb exploded. “There were a dozen of us that ran that together, and it poured rain the whole entire time, but it was nice that it had poured. We cried the whole 26 miles in the pouring rain and we felt better. We all wanted to go back the next year to say thank you for being such a great city.”
Since the bombing, the regulations on race day have intensified. In the past, athletes were allowed to take bags with them to the start line and their things would be transported to the end of the race. Now, they throw away everything they don’t carry with them on their run. Kelli said that in 2014, “They had National Guard and police every 20 feet for awhile and in the city it was every 5 feet.” However, the usual crowd was not deterred. In fact, in Kelli’s estimation, the crowd had doubled. She said, “Boston people, they’re pretty ‘If you do something to us, we’re going to come back full on you.’ They were going to show them, ‘You can’t keep us away.’”
To qualify for the Boston Marathon, you must complete another approved marathon under a strict time limit, based on gender and age. Kelli began her Boston quest when she completed her first marathon almost 10 years ago, Top of Utah, when her youngest child was a year old. From then on she was hooked. When she missed the Boston qualifying time by 26 seconds a year later in St. George, Boston became a real possibility. After five more years of training and running other local races, she finally made the qualifying time, just two minutes under. When she found out she “burst into tears.” Kelli said, “It’s a big deal for everybody, everyone has their own story of how they got to Boston. It means a lot. That’s why I love running that race because I look around at everybody and I always think, ‘I wonder what their story is, ‘cause everybody had to go through something to get there.’ Needless to say, when I ran that first time I was really on a high. It’s kind of like a spiritual thing for me. When running in Boston, I was saying a prayer: I’m so thankful to be here, thank you so much.”
More than 20,000 athletes run each year. The international race attracts athletes from Angola to Vietnam. The 2013 champion, Lesila Desisa from Ethiopia, came back to win again this year in April with a winning time of 2:09:17, according to www.BAA.org
Kelli laces up her running shoes six days a week. She says that she would run a race every weekend if she could. “I don’t like to wake up [in the morning], if I go out and run, it just feels good. I feel better and I feel healthy.” Kelli, her husband Mike and their four kids participate in various athletic sports, from cheerleading to hiking. Physical fitness is important to them as a family; it keeps them happy and healthy.
Her motivation began as an outlet, some personal freedom as a young mother, but over the years her reasons for running have shifted. “I just like to run for me. I appreciate nature more, I feel better, I have a better attitude; I stress out about stuff … it helps … [running] keeps stuff in perspective and everything’s going to be OK.”
Kelli said, “I think I will always go back and run Boston. For now I have already qualified for next year so I am planning on it.”