A Year Later: Runners ready to go back to Boston race

Published on Saturday, 12 April 2014 23:08 - Written by Alexandra Dal sports@tylerpaper.com

Christy Richbourg completed her first Boston Marathon only a few minutes before she heard the explosion.

“The race was run on Patriot’s Day,” Ms. Richbourg said. “So when I heard the first boom, I thought, ‘Oh, they shoot off cannons!’ You know? ‘Woo hoo!’”

As she made her way down the street past the finish line to collect her checked bag and phone in the midst of the revelers, three blocks from the finish line, she heard another blast.

“The second one went off, and you could kind of look around, and look from people’s faces, and you knew something was wrong,” Ms. Richbourg said.

Two homemade bombs went off near the home stretch at the 2013 Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, killing three and injuring 264 others.

Dr. Cathy Feiseler was still on the course, a mile away when another runner received a cellphone call saying that a pipe bomb had gone off.

“You think somebody’s just making noise or something like that,” Dr. Feiseler said. “Then all of the sudden you see all of the police cars and other vehicles flying past to the finish line and tons of helicopters over the finish line area, which is not a normal occurrence.

“The whole town got shut up for a number of hours afterward, and I just kept watching those videos of all the horrific things that happened.”

The events shook a city and embroiled the nation in a four-day manhunt for the perpetrators, taking the lives of two more, including one of the accused.

Two Chechen brothers are accused of carrying out the attacks. The oldest died in a police chase days later while his brother has pleaded not guilty to 30 federal charges, including using a weapon of mass destruction.

Ms. Richbourg and Dr. Feiseler will return to Boston, along with five fellow Tylerites, for the 118th running of the 26.2-mile trek along with more than 36,000 entrants on April 21.

“I didn’t really realize the magnitude of what was happening,” Ms. Richbourg said of last year’s race. “We saw pictures later.”

Ms. Richbourg completed the marathon with a personal-best time, 15 minutes before the first bomb went off. Her parents, sister and husband attempted to meet her at the finish but were unable to get through the crowds and turned back. They were a block away at the time of the bombings.

“I was just lucky that they didn’t happen to be in the line of the disaster,” Ms. Richbourg said.

Her sister, Shawna Tankersley, assisted strangers on the street attempting to find loved ones who were thought to be near the finish at the time of the attacks.

“My sister’s face was plastered all over (the news),” Ms. Richbourg said of a well-circulated AP photo. “She’s standing there with her arm around this girl, both of them just have wide eyes, one of them’s crying (with) a cellphone to her ear. It was just the epitome of that day.”

Ms. Richbourg’s family will once again be on the sidelines cheering for her next week.

“They had to go back this year,” she said. “It touched our lives, but I don’t want to take that back this year. I want to go back with celebration in mind and the fact that we’re gonna take back what they took away from us last year.”

Dr. Feiseler, saddled with a hamstring injury, said she’s doubtful she’ll run, but may decide at the last minute to compete.

“It will be hobbling more than running if I do so,” she chuckled. “I haven’t been able to do much because of this injury. I may just get inspired enough to try to limp through 26 miles.”

She has participated in the marathon 15 times previously and estimated she’s completed 35 or 40 since her first in 1989. (“I really have never counted.”)

She counts qualifying for the Boston Marathon as one of the top athletic achievements in her life, saying “probably the only thing that supersedes that was the first time I ever finished a 100-mile race.”

Regardless of her injury, Dr. Feiseler, the director of sports medicine in the Trinity Mother Frances Health System, plans to travel to Boston to speak at an annual medical conference and will be on the sidelines in support.

“Certainly it was a time of great sadness,” Dr. Feiseler said, “but there’s a resounding ‘We will be back, we will be stronger, we will grow from this’ sensation. It’s gonna be an incredible event this year.”

Dr. John Camp, an orthopedic surgeon for Azalea Orthopedics and member of the East Texas Striders since its inception, has competed in Boston four times. This will be the 52-year-old’s 20th marathon. He began long-distance running 11 years ago, attempting his first marathon to raise money for lymphoma research.

“It’s a meditative time,” he said of the sport. “It’s a good stress reliever.”

Camp mentioned Houston-born former U.S. Navy Seal and author Marcus Luttrell as an inspiration. Luttrell received a Purple Heart in 2005 after suffering broken bones, shrapnel and gunshot wounds. Crawling seven miles to evade capture, he was his team’s lone survivor following Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan.

He said he thinks of Luttrell’s perseverance during tough distance runs.

“How he survived is just unbelievable,” Camp said. “If he can do that, (then) I can run a marathon.”

Camp was a few miles from the course during the bombings. He had taken the subway back to his hotel to change for friend and fellow East Texas Strider Harold Wilson’s medal ceremony when he received a text message about the first explosion. Wilson had placed first in his age group, but the ceremony never took place.

The 80-year-old Wilson was the only contestant of his age to cross the finish line before the explosions and was close enough to see the smoke from the blasts. He began running in his mid-50s, shedding pounds and lowering his dangerously high cholesterol in the process, and has completed the marathon seven times previously.

Camp praised Wilson, calling him a “world class athlete.”

“He’s a freak of nature to be able to run the way he does,” Camp said. “He just has a drive that you just don’t see in people that age. He’s really, really driven to perform.

“From his neck down, he’s like a 20 year old. He’s ripped, he has no body fat.”

Now 81, Wilson said this year will be his last at Boston.

“I don’t want the terrorists to defeat me,” he told the Tyler Paper last week. “I’ll go back one more time.”

Could anything convince him to take another shot?

“He says if he decides he can run it at 90, maybe,” his wife, Fay, said with a laugh.

Fellow Boston Marathon competitor and Tyler native Seth Cooke, 33, expressed admiration for Wilson, calling him inspiring.

A self-identified “late bloomer,” Cooke caught the running bug 8 years ago after competing in the Tyler Race for the Cure with coworkers.

“I showed up and I got beat by a guy that was like, 42, and I’m like, ‘Oh no, this is never gonna happen again,’” Cooke said. “So I started training up a little bit and one thing led to the next, from a 5K to a 10K, half marathon, marathon.”

Today, Cooke is a seasoned triathlete. Last September, he competed in the Ironman World Championships, perhaps the most grueling physical competition. An Ironman race consists of a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon. Simply finishing an Ironman is a massive accomplishment.

Is this a piece of cake in comparison?

“It’s definitely a lot easier,” he said.

This will be his first year attending the marathon and he’ll be sporting red, white and blue in what he expects to be a patriotic, emotional day.

“Being with 30,000 other runners, that’s gonna be amazing,” Cooke said. “Definitely going to be a great year to be there, with everything that happened.”

Cooke’s friend and training partner, Clay Emge, is registered for the event but is unable to attend, citing scheduling conflicts with his triathlon training. In September, Emge finished first in the 25 to 29 age division at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

“I hate to miss it because it’s gonna be real special this year, especially after what happened last year,” Emge said. “It’s a prestigious marathon to begin with; it’s every runner’s dream to go there.

“It can’t get much more special this year to be there to show people that you’re not afraid.”

Ms. Richbourg, a 46-year-old stay-at-home mom, began her venture into running 14 years ago.

“I worked for Brookshire Grocery Co., and it started as an incentive to get healthy.

“They offered us $50 if you could cover a certain number of miles and I started walking, and then I realized, ‘Oh, you could get this done a lot faster if you would start running.’”

After several months of running, Ms. Richbourg entered her first 5K, the German Fun Run in Muenster, an event her father ran in annually.

“I thought it would be fun to do a father-daughter race,” she said. “I raced that one race and I was hooked.”

Nearly a decade and a half later, Ms. Richbourg has entered the Fun Run every year since, completed four marathons, is a member of the East Texas Triathletes and practices Taekwondo with her 7- and 10-year-old sons.

Ms. Richbourg also is a regular with the East Texas Striders, a running group. Nearly all of the Tylerites registered for the marathon this year have ties to the group, which was founded in 2009. After a decade of running solo, Ms. Richbourg was hesitant, but began running with the Striders at the urging of a neighbor.

“I finally just bit the bullet,” Ms. Richbourg said, admitting she thought she wouldn’t be fast enough to keep up. “Once I did I wished I would have done it 10 years earlier. If you love running and you love people, you can join and it becomes kind of a social outlet as well as an avenue for exercise and endorphins.

“There are days when it’s really nice to hit the pavement by yourself — you, yourself, your brain and God.”

She said she never thought she’d be doing marathons, much less the oldest and most prestigious in the world.

“Over 14 years I’ve learned: never say never,” Ms. Richbourg said. “When I first started with the group, they were talking marathons and I was like, ‘No! I’ll never do a marathon!’ And this year, Boston will be my fifth.”

Ms. Richbourg has a tradition of posting on Facebook before each marathon and asking family and friends to make various requests for prayers that she reflects upon as she runs.

“I shoot to get 26 of them, and I give everybody a mile,” she said.

She said this year she’ll dedicate at least one mile to each of those who lost their lives last year and their families.

“(I’ll) just kind of think about them and ask God ... to give peace to those families or quality of life that they have to look forward to and for the repose of the souls of those that passed,” she said.

Ms. Richbourg said the prayers, along with mantras (“Strong and smooth, strong and smooth”) help her stay focused along the journey.

“You go through some emotional highs and lows and some physical highs and lows throughout the 26 miles.” she said. “You’ll have some ‘woo hoo’ moments where everything’s feeling really, really great and then you’ll have some moments where you’re thinking ‘Oh my gosh, why did I ever do this? Can I really finish this?’

“I try to prepare myself mentally for most of those moments and kind of be ready to address it. Once it hits, you’ve gotta have a way to get through it. You just kinda keep on truckin’ and hope your body can make it through it.”

The marathoner also credits the supportive crowd with keeping her motivated, particularly in the heavily attended Boston and New York City marathons.

“(It) really, really helps, especially if you have a name on your bib or on your shirt somewhere,” she said. “They will holler for you and cheer for you like you’re their best friend and have been all their life. And it’s that encouraging just kinda keeps you going.”

For Ms. Richbourg, this marathon isn’t about her, but about the lives that were lost last year and appreciating being able to enjoy another day of what you love to do.

Ms. Richbourg noted that she thinks it’s no coincidence the marathon is the day after Easter this year, the latest date for the race since 2008.

“Easter is all about repentance and forgiveness and I really want to focus on not allowing the evil to come back,” she said. “I want to focus on not letting that (evil) become part of this year.”

“I hope that the young gentleman who let that evil into his heart and caused the disaster, I honestly pray that he will realize he had done wrong and ask for God’s forgiveness.”

Ms. Richbourg said we should celebrate the lives that were saved.

“I would like to make this year all about the moment,” she said. “I think we need to enjoy the moment.

“Embrace the families that were left behind from the three that suffered death from what happened and enjoy and embrace with your family and friends doing what I love to do — run!”