April 24, 2013 - Clarkston area residents Kirt Stalker and Cathy Ivan escaped injury when the Boston Marathon was bombed, April 15, but it was close.
Kirt Stalker and his wife, Cathy Ivan, at the Boston Marathon before the bomb attack. (click for larger version)
"One or two walk breaks and I would have been there," said Stalker.
Ivan, his wife, volunteered at the race. She was assigned to a spot at the start line, but when she was released she headed to the finish.
"My friend and I walked to the course and stood to watch the elite runners come in, and then we were off to find a spot to watch for my husband," Ivan said. "We walked to mile 25 after determining it would be too hard to get on the T (subway) to ride further out on the course. We waited a couple hours for Kirt to come by and once he did, I headed back toward the finish line as Kirt and I were going to meet at our hotel after the race."
Stalker crossed the finish line with a time of 4 hours, 19 minutes, and 21 seconds, just a few minutes before the first bomb exploded.
"I was walking away from the finish line through the chutes," he said. "I heard the first explosion – it sounded like a cannon. I turned around and looked, and saw a big plume of smoke."
"I had just crossed over Massachusetts Avenue and thought it was an empty gravel hauler hitting some ruts in the road," Ivan said. "Then the second explosion went off. I looked behind me again, but knew it couldn't have been another truck."
"At that point, I knew something was going on," Stalker said. "When the first explosion went off, I thought it was a sewer blast or something."
Everyone was confused, Ivan said.
"I saw two cops look at each other, then start walking toward the finish line," she said. "There wasn't a lot of chaos initially, but when the sirens all started up and the cops took off running, panic set in."
People were running away from the blasts, saying "don't go in there," she said.
"I cannot say if it was just bystanders running at us or runners as well. I was too caught up in my own horror knowing Kirt could be in there," Ivan said. "I called a friend who calmed me down and had me head to our hotel room. There were people running all over and constant sirens."
On the other side of the blast sites, Stalker was concerned about his wife.
"I borrowed a cell phone from someone and left a voice message, but she didn't get it until 45 minutes later," he said. "No one knew what was going on."
Suffering the effects of the close call as well as more than four hours on the road, Stalker wandered through the crowd for a bit before making his way back to their hotel.
"I was out of it – I had just run 26.2 miles," he said. "Volunteers got us out of the area."
For Ivan, waiting in their hotel room became a vigil.
"I was getting text after text wanting to know if we were OK," she said. "Then I noticed the text notification I had signed up for to follow Kirt's progress, and he had crossed the finish line. That was huge."
When Kirt got to hotel, he found people watching television coverage in the bar.
"It showed everyone responding," he said. "I grabbed a beer, then went up to hotel room. My wife said I seemed out of it."
But he was there within about 35 minutes after she was. They spent about an hour responding to friends and family via text and Facebook that they were OK.
"Our hotel was on lockdown. All restaurants in the area, including in the hotel, were closed," she said. "We sat glued to the TV in our hotel room for a few hours then went in search for food for Kirt. When we left on Tuesday morning, our hotel had just been released from the lock down."
As with thousands of other runners, the Boston Marathon was a long-time goal for Stalker. A cross-country runner at Clarkston High School in the 1960's, he had taken up running again about 12 years ago for his health.
"I know that running burns calories the fastest," he said.
"The Boston Marathon is the 'holy grail' for all runners," Ivan said. "I am sickened to the core that someone would bring such horror to this event and subsequently to all running events."
"It's not what I expected from my first Boston Marathon," Stalker said. "I'm sad for all families affected by it."
Races all over the country this year will remember and raise funds for victims, Ivan said.
"Please go to a local race and contribute to any charity that will be supporting the victims of this tragedy," she said.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.