After the first bomb detonated at the 2013 Boston Marathon, Fort Mill resident Demi Clark, 41, was one of the last five runners to cross the finish line.
“It went off about 15 yards to my left,” she said.
As she returns to the same course Monday for the 122nd Boston Marathon, many coincidences about that tragic moment continue to run through her mind.
Because she’d raised enough funds for a nonprofit, she’d received VIP tickets for her husband and two daughters, ages 7 and 9, to watch the race from the risers of the public library stand.
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“If they hadn’t been there, they would have been in the public stands where the bomb actually went off,” Clark said.
Another coincidence — she’s left-handed. So she tends to run on the left side. But in the last minute of the race, Clark made a beeline to the right side of the course to wave to her family.
“I’d been running on the left-hand side the entire race,” she said. “Where both bombs detonated.”
Various media outlets have given her photos of those brief moments before and after the bombing. She’s seen the progression – she crosses the finish line and then fights with an official to try to reach her family.
“He was doing his job by not letting me go back on the course,” Clark said. “But I’m pointing at my kids and my husband, and it’s this complete war zone.”
She’d spotted her husband immediately, he held one kid in each arm. She darted toward him, grabbed one of her daughters and they all ran to safety.
“There was just this instinct,” she said. “I didn’t even know that other people went running to where people were hurt.”
After wrestling with PTSD for a year following the bombing, Clark has experienced a steady stream of survivor’s guilt.
“You just keep replaying the tape in your head,” she said. “Here we are, five years later, and I still wake up thinking, ‘what could I have done differently?’”
Clark’s not a first responder, nor is she medically trained. But she considered herself someone who’d run into the face of danger to help others. After years of therapy, she realizes she did what she was supposed to – she protected her family.
“I can’t own, control or affect what happened that day, but I can completely affect the impact that I have with other people now, every day, and not waste a second of it,” she said.
On Monday, she’ll lace up her sneakers to run the race again – but this time for a greater cause. Clark will join 44 runners from four countries and 21 U.S. states to benefit 261 Fearless, a nonprofit founded by Katherine Swtizer that uses running as a vehicle to empower and unite women globally.
In 1967, Switzer became the first registered woman to compete in the Boston Marathon. At that time, the race was considered a male-only event, but using her initials, Switzer obtained an official bib – number 261.
Mid-stride in the competition, an angry race director leapt from the press truck and attempted to pull Switzer from the race without success. Switzer reached the finish line and changed running forever.
“What was a dramatic incident 50 years ago, became instead a defining moment for me and women runners like Demi,” Swtizer said in a press release. “The result is nothing less than a social revolution; there are now more women runners in the U.S. than men, and these women are both fearless and compassionate, wanting to help other women around the world achieve their goals.”
Through the creation of local running clubs, educational opportunities and communication platforms, 261 Fearless creates a global community for women runners to support each other and encourage healthy living and a positive sense of self and fearlessness.
After the Monday’s marathon, Clark plans to undergo coaching training through 261 Fearless to start a running club in underserved areas in York County and Charlotte.
“It’s universal – that’s what I love about running,” Clark said. “Anyone can lace up their shoes, walk out their front door and change their life, change their attitude and change their mindset.”
To donate, visit crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/261fearlessboston2018/demiclark.
Stephanie Jadrnicek: firstname.lastname@example.org