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A harrowing Boston Marathon experience only strengthens her resolve

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Rochester Business Journal
April 18, 2014

As Kathleen Champagne made the turn down Boylston Street and bounded toward the Boston Marathon finish line last April, she felt as if she were running on air. The Rochester runner clearly was energized by the cheers of the thousands of spectators who packed the sidewalks and temporary bleachers. Upon completing the 26.2-mile course in three hours and 54 minutes, Champagne smiled broadly.

“I was feeling a tremendous high,” she said. “It had been a fantastic race.”

Shortly after receiving her participation medal, the 51-year-old strolled back to the finish-line area in hopes of hooking up with a friend who had started after she had. Champagne waited there for about 15 minutes, but the wind and cold were making her shiver, so she began walking back toward a designated meeting area. She had trekked about a block when she heard an explosion.

“It was very unnerving, and I said to some people next to me that it sounded like a bomb had gone off,” she recalled. “They scoffed and laughed. One of them said, ‘Come on, now, it’s Patriots Day. It’s probably just a cannon.’ I said, ‘This is my third Boston Marathon, and I don’t recall any cannons being fired before.’ And as soon as I said that—boom!—the second explosion occurred, and it was so loud it hurt my ears.”

Champagne and everyone around her began running again—this time out of fear. Police and other first responders arrived quickly and pushed her and others into nearby buildings. “It was total chaos,” she said. “None of us knew what was going on. There was a lot of screaming and crying. I remember comments like, ‘Johnny’s dead. A bomb just went off.’ Or, ‘So-and-so’s been shot.’ People were worried about their loved ones who had been watching the marathon near the finish line, where the explosions occurred. It was terrifying.”

Once inside, Champagne immediately tried calling her husband back in Rochester, but her phone did not work. She borrowed one from a stranger and was able to get through to her husband, who later tracked down their daughter. “My daughter had accompanied me to my first Boston Marathon (in 2011) and she was really bummed that she couldn’t be at last year’s race because she had classes (at St. John Fisher College),” Champagne said. “In hindsight, I was never so happy to be alone in Boston because if she and my husband had come, we might have been lingering at that finish line.”

Champagne and the scores of others who had been forced into an office building lobby were able to watch television coverage of the bombings unfold. After being sequestered for several hours, they finally were allowed to leave. She had a flight out of Logan Airport the next morning, but when a fellow runner from Rochester offered a ride back to the Flower City, she quickly accepted. “We all just wanted to get out of there as fast as we could and get back home to our loved ones,” Champagne said. “I figured if I waited until the next morning the airport might be shut down.”

During the next several days, Champagne and the rest of us would learn the harrowing details behind the bombings—how this act of terrorism had been the work of two demented brothers and how three people, including an 8-year-old boy, had been killed and 260 others had been injured, several of them critically. We watched, transfixed, the manhunt that ensued. Beantown became a ghost town until the terrorists were caught. In the weeks, months and year that followed, we also would witness the resolve and the courage of the survivors, the first responders and the residents of Boston. “Boston Strong” became a mantra adopted by people across the country and throughout the world.

And those who had been emotionally scarred by the experience also would show their resolve. Champagne’s first reaction was: “I’m never going to run Boston again.” But after a few days she changed her mind completely. She decided she was going to run it again, no matter what.

“My attitude is that we can’t allow acts by terrorists or lunatics stop us from doing the things that make us feel we are alive,” she said. “Yes, the world is a scarier place than it used to be and everything changed once 9/11 happened. But that just means we all have to be more vigilant, and things have to be done differently to keep things safe. But you can’t stop living. You have to move forward.”

Champagne, a member of the Brooks Fleet Feet race team, will be one of scores of Rochester runners participating in Monday’s 118th Boston Marathon. Her attitude is shared by many. A record number of runners is expected to participate, and officials anticipate about a million spectators, nearly double what the marathon usually draws.

“I can’t tell you the number of runners I’ve heard from who hadn’t done Boston for a while but have said they just have to do it this year as a show of support,” Champagne said. “That makes me feel good, that so many have adopted that spirit.”

Security will be greatly enhanced. Hundreds of police officers and members of the National Guard have been added. There will be metal detectors that spectators and runners will need to pass through, and there will be restrictions on bags and purses. “That’s a small price to pay for safety,” Champagne said. “Everybody will be on board with that. I don’t have any fears at all. I think this will be the safest place to run a race ever.”

The veteran of 17 marathons said she has never been more excited about running a race.

“It’s going to be very emotional, for me, and for others, especially when you come down Boylston this time,” she said. “I can’t wait.”

Award-winning sports columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak is in his 41st year as a journalist.

4/18/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

What You're Saying 

Max Robertson at 4:13:27 PM on 4/24/2014
This story brought back so many memories.
My Dad grew up in Norwood (just outside of Boston)
and ran in 14 Boston Marathons. It was his favorite race.
This year, one of my former students, Jeff Eggleston,
ran a 2 hr. 11 min. and 57 seconds and finishe...  Read More >

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