Runners express love for Boston Marathon, describe acts of kindness after disaster

Judy Kniss of Oak Hills, Calif., was .2 miles away from the finish line when the Boston Marathon abruptly ended. A spectator took the shirt off his back to keep her warm. &quotI'll keep it forever," she said.
Kathleen Pierce | Special to the BDN
Judy Kniss of Oak Hills, Calif., was .2 miles away from the finish line when the Boston Marathon abruptly ended. A spectator took the shirt off his back to keep her warm. "I'll keep it forever," she said.
Posted April 16, 2013, at 9:54 p.m.
Free flowers outside Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus in Lowell, Mass., were left by a patron Tuesday morning.
Kathleen Pierce | Special to the BDN
Free flowers outside Brew'd Awakening Coffeehaus in Lowell, Mass., were left by a patron Tuesday morning.
Police were on high alert outside South Station in downtown Boston on Tuesday.
Kathleen Pierce | Special to the BDN
Police were on high alert outside South Station in downtown Boston on Tuesday.
Rachel Reardon, a summer resident of Bridgton, Maine, said she finished the race an hour and a half before the bombs went off. &quotIt's hard to be happy about your accomplishments when you think about the impact," she said.
Kathleen Pierce | Special to the BDN
Rachel Reardon, a summer resident of Bridgton, Maine, said she finished the race an hour and a half before the bombs went off. "It's hard to be happy about your accomplishments when you think about the impact," she said.

BOSTON — On a radiant spring Tuesday, marathoners walking the streets of Boston were not letting Monday’s blasts blacken memories of the most renowned race in the world.

“It’s the dream,” said Yeda Baciglieri of Brazil outside Smith & Wollensky on Congress Street.

The Boston Marathon marked the sixth 26.2-mile race for the 39-year-old, and her first trip to America. Like many advanced athletes who cleared in record time, she didn’t learn about the bombings until well after crossing the finish line.

Though heartsick for the victims, she returns home with momentous memories. “I loved to run this marathon,” she said. “People are cheering everywhere. Every mile is magical.”

Less than 24 hours after the tragedy, marathon magic was still fresh for those who walked away unharmed. Across the city, runners in blue-and-yellow Boston Athletic Association jackets shared tales of kindness, not carnage. Altruism, not cruelty.

Judy Kniss of Oak Hills, Calif., saw selfless acts along the marathon route “everywhere.”

Hers came at mile 26 when she was told to turn back because the race was over.

“They stopped us and I was freezing,” said Kniss.

Seeing her shiver, a spectator took off his jacket and shirt to warm her.

“He asked if I wanted to go to his house to call my family,” she said.

She declined the offer, but took his shirt, which she still has.

“I will keep it forever,” said Kniss, as her eyes welled up.

For runners scrambling to take cover, help came when they needed it most.

After finishing the race and realizing that they were in the middle of a crime scene with no way to get to their hotel outside the city, Rob Vanderwerf and Hannah Fraser of Ontario decided to hitchhike. Sticking their thumbs out on Commonwealth Avenue, a car pulled over immediately.

“I asked if the driver wanted to make some money and take us to Newton,” said Vanderwerf. The driver said, “Get in. I’ll take you there for free.”

Although the couple did not run their personal best on Monday, they said it was an exciting day until it “went downhill.” Vanderwerf, an avid marathoner, was not planning to run the Boston Marathon again, but the terrorist act changed his mind.

“I think I will run it next year to show that I will not be pushed around,” Vanderwerf said

Tana Bowling of Cary, N.C., was not making plans to lace up here again anytime soon.

“This is like the holy grail of running, and the Boston Marathon is forever tarnished,” said Bowling, who lost her subway ticket in the melee and got a free MBTA ride back to her hotel after the race.

Along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a sea of police officers flanked the park all day.

“People are somber,” said Alessandro Bellino, owner of The Coffee Trike, a bike-driven espresso cart near a warren of popular food trucks. He offered free espresso to the dozen cops in his purview.

Random acts of kindness were not restricted to Boston proper or marathoners in the aftermath.

A half-hour north of the city, Lowell resident Anne Ruthmann started the morning off with a trip to the florist. The 34-year-old photographer bought dozens of daisies and roses and dropped them off at the coffee shops she frequents with a sign that read: “Take a flower to give away and make a day. Practice peace.”

It was an attempt to puncture the malaise she was feeling and sensing.

“My natural reaction to any tragic and fear-inducing event is to counteract it with a big act of love,” Ruthmann said. “The hardest thing about a tragedy is not being able to do anything about it.”

Entering Boston’s South Station with a suitcase, Rachel Reardon, who summers in Bridgton, Maine, ran a good race but was unsure how to characterize her mood.

“It was a great marathon crowd,” said Reardon, who finished over an hour before the explosions. “It’s hard to be happy about your accomplishments when you think about the impact. It’s sad to think of so much loss in people’s lives.”

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