Impacted Elkhart area runners reflect on Boston Marathon bombings, and look ahead

Area runners recount how their 2013 Boston Marathon experience affected them as runners and as people. 

Posted on April 19, 2014 at 12:15 a.m.

It was Andy Williams' Boston Marathon baptismal, and it turned into the former Northridge High School standout's most successful day of marathon running ever. Anywhere.

He was clocked at 2 hours, 28 minutes, 29 seconds -- a personal best by about five minutes. He hoped "tentatively" to finish in the top 100. Instead, he roared to 68th, putting him in about the top fourth of the top 1 percent.

Not that any of it seemed to matter after one unforgettable moment.

For countless thousands, the focus on that April day shifted abruptly, explosively.

Williams, who also finished first among roughly 300 competitors from Indiana, was already a couple hours removed from the scene when the Boston Marathon bombings rang out near the finish line one year ago.

The explosions killed three spectators and injured 264 people, many of them seriously, many of them losing limbs.

Williams' lack of proximity doesn't mean he wasn't impacted, though.

"A friend I was running with (ex-Manchester College teammate Kyle Pletcher of Walkerton) and I were staying with a cousin of mine out in Boston who lives there. I had said goodbye to my family, and I was back at my cousin's just watching race coverage on TV, and we saw the whole thing," Williams said.

"It was weird thinking we were right there less than two hours before that," Williams reflected this week. "My family had been out there watching the race. They were extremely close to where the bombs went off two hours before that. It was a very scary feeling, a very surreal feeling."

A feeling, nevertheless, that is not stopping Williams and three of his family members, all of Middlebury, from heading back to Boston this year.

Dad Dave, mom Jean and brother Don will each make the return trip to watch Andy race again on Monday, April 21.

Andy Williams, 26 and a teacher at Northridge Middle School, views the journey in both practical and philosophical terms.

"Honestly, I think it would be on anybody's mind that there could always be (a copycat incident)," the practical side of Williams acknowledged, "but statistically, you're a lot more likely to get injured in a car accident on your way to the race. All in all, I'm not really worried about it."

The philosophical side of Williams added, "I feel it's pretty important for people to do the things they love without living in fear."

He's not alone among area runners who feel that way.

A year ago, longtime distance runner Loretta LeCount of Elkhart competed in the Boston Marathon for the first time.

She headed there anticipating it would be her last time as well.

Because of the bombings, however, she resolved to return this year.

And she did indeed get as far as officially entering, though now a hip flexor will stop her from competing on Monday.

"I've tried to get through it," LeCount, 56, said this week of her nagging injury. "I could still go there and walk, but I made the decision not to go. It's unfortunate, because at my age I don't know if I'll get another chance. It was difficult."

LeCount's finishing time of 4:04:02 officially, and about 4:07 on the scoreboard clock, put her about a scant three minutes in front of the two explosions on Boylston Street a year ago.

"I think these events in some way would make people feel more likely to run it," LeCount projected in an Elkhart Truth story last year, "because you wouldn't want the evil decisions of a few people to cause everyone to lose out. You have to move forward."

LeCount's projection has proved spot on. In response to increased demand, race officials expanded the field for the 118th running of the world's most famous marathon from the 27,000 of recent years to 36,000.

That includes several-thousand slots that were reserved for runners unable to finish last year's race due to the bombings.

Elkhart's Bekah Shenk, 28, did finish last year, in 3:34:43, and did want to return this year.

But the Elkhart substitute teacher, who is also the girls cross country head coach and a girls track assistant coach at Elkhart Central, said this week that she made a job-related decision not to go. She's hopeful of making it another year.

Regardless, while she won't be in Boston on Monday, Shenk says Boston is now in her.

"Week after week, month after month, I keep making connections because of that day," Shenk said. "People see me wearing my marathon jacket and want to know where I was when it happened, so I've made a lot of connections with people. I see it as people caring about each other and just wanting to come together, and that's been a really positive thing that has come out of it for me."


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