Foot injury may have saved Maine runner from being near explosions

Posted April 15, 2013, at 7:29 p.m.
Last modified April 15, 2013, at 8:32 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Had it not been for a foot injury that forced her to slow her pace, Joanie Rhoda, 59, of the small town of Washington very likely would have been at the Boston Marathon finish line when two explosives went off on Monday.

“All of a sudden, it was like a traffic jam of runners,” Rhoda said during a telephone interview a few hours after the explosions. “I thought it was a bottleneck of runners finishing but then they said, ‘You can’t go any further. Something’s happened.’ And then they said there had been a couple of explosions and you can’t finish.’”

In Boston to cheer for Rhoda were her husband, Paul Rhoda, her daughter Erin Rhoda, editorial editor for the Bangor Daily News, and Erin Rhoda’s fiance, Matthew Stone, a BDN political writer, who were closer to the finish line.

“We were near the finish line when there were two explosions. There was this gray smoke. It just reverberated through you. No one really knew what was going on,” Erin Rhoda said.

“There were lots of police and ambulances and firetrucks and hazardous waste trucks,” she said. “It was a madhouse, people were trying to find their loved ones. People were crying, not knowing what on earth had happened.”

As she walked along the Charles River searching for the hotel that she and those who came to Boston with her were going to be picked up at for their return to Maine, Joanie Rhoda said she was not quite close enough to hear the bombs go off.

“I had no idea [about the bomb explosions] until someone said what happened,” said Rhoda. I was about half a mile from the finish line and if I hadn’t hurt my foot around mile 20 I probably would have been there right when it happened.

“So I ended up running and walking the last 6 miles but my husband said that I was on pace to get to the finish line when the explosions happened,” she said.

“I think it’s horrible. I heard that there were some deaths,” she said.

“I’m in shock right now. Why would someone do something like that? That’s the last thing runners expect,” she said. “They’re so excited to make it into the marathon. It’s a dream for runners to run in Boston and to have this happen?”

It was a tense 20 minutes before the group was reunited with Joanie Rhoda.

“It was a miracle,” Paul Rhoda said. “Actually, Matt found her.” The three were frantically scouring the sidewalks when Stone spotted her.

This year’s Boston Marathon was the third Joanie Rhoda has run. She also ran in 1983 and 1984 — the latter while she was eight months pregnant with her daughter, Erin.

Elana Johnson, a WZON radio announcer from Lincoln, also had a close call — as did her sons and a brother-in-law from Colorado who ran in the marathon.

Johnson was making her way to the finish line — with her sons Richard Clifton Johnson, 18, and 16-year-old Andrew Johnson in tow — when she veered off to stop at a pharmacy.

“As we came out, I heard a boom and within seconds, another boom, and I looked at the boys and said, ‘What the hell is going on?’ And then everyone was running and freaking out,” she said during a telephone interview from her hotel room at the Hilton Boston Downtown/Faneuil Hall, where she and her sons were hunkered down.

“It was pretty much pandemonium. It was surreal,” she said.

Johnson and her sons planned a trip to Boston this week to meet up with her sister and brother-in-law, who was among the runners.

Based on his usual running times, Johnson said, her brother-in-law was on track to be at the finish line when the bombs went off. Instead, he took ill and was forced to drop out.

“I’m not super religious but the way I’m looking at it, God was looking out for us today,” she said.

With cellphone service down for several hours after the explosions, social media saved the day for Johnson, who was able to contact her husband, Richard Johnson, and her parents, all of whom were frantic with worry.

Then she posted a message on her Facebook page to let friends and family know she and the boys were alright.

“Thank God for Facebook,” she said.

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