The noise is what Amy Bartholomew-Koepp remembers most about April 15, 2013. After completing the 117th Boston Marathon, she was on a massage table near the finish line when jubilant cheers swiftly turned to horrifying screams. In between, the first of two explosions went off on Boylston Street.
Close by was Bartholomew-Koepp’s husband, Bryan Koepp. He was a mere 50 feet from the blast, which damaged his hearing and sent debris flying into the air. Sometimes, even to this day, his ears will ring—providing a stark reminder of the tragedy he witnessed first-hand.
Bryan’s eyes remained fixed on the carnage until the second bomb went off 12 seconds later, at which point evacuations began taking place. His biggest concern, as well as Amy’s, was whether or not the other was OK.
Thankfully, neither sustained any significant injuries; Amy was able to get to her phone and sent Bryan a text message, and the two found each other in about 10 minutes.
Not everyone was so lucky. Three lives were lost on that mild, windy afternoon, and more than 200 were injured. Additionally, a MIT police officer was killed by one of the bombers during the subsequent pursuit.
It was one of the worst tragedies the people of Boston have ever endured, but it also brought the city closer than ever.
“It was a pretty traumatic experience,” Koepp said. “It’s still something that is a little emotional, a little tough to deal with. But nevertheless, going back to be able to run this race will be a wonderful thing in regards to the recovery for that event.”
Indeed, Bryan and Amy have returned to Massachusetts for the 118th Boston Marathon, which will take place Monday — known as Patriot’s Day by the locals, when, in addition to the 26.2 mile trek, the Red Sox play and public schools are closed.
Baseball, racing and a day off from classes. Doesn’t get much more American than that.
But Patriot’s Day 2014 will be about much more than home runs, medals and lazy mornings. Mostly, it will be about honoring the memories and families of Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard and Sean Collier.
Of course, there are some added concerns this year security-wise, especially after a suspicious backpack was left stranded at the finish line last week on the anniversary of the bombing.
Though paranoia will be high, security will be tight. Local and national authorities have spent months planning extra measures to keep everyone safe, and they certainly have the confidence of the public.
Otherwise, there wouldn’t be more than 36,000 people registered for this year’s event — roughly 9,000 above average, according to the Boston Athletic Association (BAA).
“I believe that Boston will be the safest place in the United States on April 21,” Bryan said. “Personally, it’s possible the images [from the bombing] will cross my mind during the race. I think the way to deal with that is to be proactive in regards to closure to the event.”
“Having a good time remembering and celebrating what the event is all about is probably the best therapeutic way to deal with what happened.”
Bryan was a runner in college and is now a financial planning attorney for PNC Bank. He says PNC gave him tremendous support in the months following the marathon, allowing him to return to normalcy at his own pace.
Bryan didn't run last April's marathon, but was determined to do so in 2014. However, in a January race up in Charleston, S.C., he finished several minutes short of the traditional qualifier threshold.
Thus, he had to register for this year’s race in a rather unique way.
An essay contest conducted by the BAA presented him a window to enter. As someone who was so close to the explosions, he had quite a story to tell. The association took notice and dubbed him one of 500 special invitees for Monday’s race.
Amy, who was instrumental in penning that essay, has participated in marathons since the late 90s and has run them competitively for about five years.
However, this one will come with a distinct challenge: she is currently five months pregnant.
Most women would choose not to run for more than three hours while carrying her future child, but doctors have given Amy the green light.
The one concern will be the weather. As long as Boston isn’t too hot, she and Bryan don’t envision the pregnancy causing any problems.
“I’m happy that we’re both going to have the opportunity to run the race together,” Amy said. “It’s going to be a celebration for what’s to come.”
“It’s about remembering the people who weren’t as lucky as I was, and to respect it in the right way” Bryan added. “To me, that’s what this day is about.”