It wasn’t the loud bang that scared Kelli-an Lawrance as she stood in line at a Boston Starbucks last week.
It was the math the Brock professor did after learning the noise she heard while making her way back to her hotel after crossing the Boston Marathon finish line was a bomb.
Once news of the terror attacks began to sink in, Lawrence calculated the race time of a friend and running mate, and realized she would have reached the finish line just as the two blasts happened that killed three people and wounded more than 200.
Phone calls to find answers proved futile, given cellphone networks were strained and jammed.
“By then, I was so afraid,” said Lawrance, an associate professor in Community Health Sciences. “I was so frantic.”
Finding little information on the ground in Boston, Lawrance began calling her friends and family in Canada, desperate for news that would put her mind at ease.
She finally got it. Her friend Mariellen was safe.
“I don’t even know how it happened because it was all a big blur,” Lawrance recalled. “For those 30 minutes, I was just terrified as soon as I figured out she crossed (the finish line) at the same time.
“That was really horrific,” she added. “I’ve never been through anything as terrible as that. It may have been more than 30 minutes but you have no concept of time.”
Lawrance did develop a concept of a city on lockdown. With her hotel’s kitchen overwhelmed and eventually closed, she headed out in search of food. She couldn’t go 20 metres, once she was allowed to leave her hotel, without being questioned by police or military personnel. Suddenly the simple ceased to exist.
Military Hummers and police cars blocking roads and parked three deep replaced the usual hustle and bustle of the busy city. Police tape and flashing lights became part of the scenery.
“In this completely surreal landscape, you can only imagine how delighted I was to find a small shop selling pre-made, gourmet meals, the kind you take home and re-heat,” Lawrance wrote in an email to friends and family, letting them know she was safe. “No matter that I couldn’t heat up my meal, it was one of the best in-room dining experiences I’ve ever had.”
The next day, runners gathered together and shared their stories and support for each other, Lawrance said.
“Everyone had their own unique story to tell,” she said. “It was so interesting to hear all the different little bits so you knew all that was going on.”
Lawrance, who has run Boston twice, plans to return next year after clocking her personal best time in a marathon of 3:43. She’ll do it as much for herself as a show of solidarity and support for a city reeling from the horror of the bombings.
“I will absolutely run again,” she said. “It doesn’t make me feel any different. Runners… really support each other.”
Still, in the days since her return to Brock and her home in Burlington, Lawrance has been working through what happened. Though she was never in harm’s way, she wasn’t unscathed by the bombings.
“It’s a very disturbing feeling,” Lawrance said. “Normally, you finish an event like this and it’s all celebration and happiness and a sense of achievement at accomplishing this goal. But with the event, there’s this weird feeling that you shouldn’t be celebrating this accomplishment or you don’t want to.
“Here is this event that’s joyous, healthy,” she added. “Families are coming out to see their loved ones accomplish a goal. To take that away is unspeakable.”