Heartbreak on Marathon Monday

Published On April 18, 2013 | By Alice Cook

On Marathon Monday, my daughter Mackenzie and I were on our way out west to look at colleges. I watched a few hours of television coverage in the morning before Mackenzie and I left for Logan airport. I thought to myself, “What a perfect day for a marathon, for both the runners and spectators. Life is good in Boston.”

We arrived at Terminal B with plenty of time to eat lunch at Legal Sea Foods. Watching the coverage again from the restaurant, I told my daughter what a special day this always is for Boston. It was 1:30 p.m. and the winners were in. I saw my former WBZ colleague and friend Steve Burton do a nice interview with American runners Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan. Goucher held her baby son in her arms during the interview, and I thought how impressive it was for someone to get back into elite running form so quickly after becoming a mom.

I watched the credits roll as Channel 4 wrapped up their live coverage with a beautiful musical montage of the day’s race footage. I saw many names scroll by of people I worked with for so many years. I remembered what it took in planning to put together eight hours of live coverage. It takes an army of writers, producers, editors, camera people and reporters to pull it off- both in the field, and back at the station.

The running joke through the years at BZ was that the only way you could get out of working the marathon was to run it.

Alice Cook reporting from the finish line of the 2008 Boston Marathon with Kathryn Switzer and Bob Lobel. (Photo from Alice Cook)

Alice Cook reporting from the finish line of the 2008 Boston Marathon with Kathryn Switzer and Bob Lobel. (Photo from Alice Cook)

So I did, in 1999. I finished in 4:20. With that exception, I covered the race every year between 1986 and 2009 either from the women’s lead truck or the finish line.

At 2:00 p.m. last Monday I asked the waiter at Legal Sea Foods for our check. I then texted a friend I knew was still on the course and said I was looking to seeing him on TV. My daughter and I walked to our gate and boarded flight #1779 to Philadelphia where we would connect to Denver.

At 2:30 I turned off my phone when the captain said it was time. Less than an hour later, as we taxied to our gate in Philadelphia I turned my phone back on. I saw a number of texts waiting, including this one from my sister Julie who lives in Boston.

Bombs exploded at the finish line. Many people hurt. Body limbs on the street.

What followed next was a feeling of nausea and panic. I called Julie who told me to get to the terminal and find a TV. I called my friend Mary O’Connor, who traditionally watched the race from outside the Lennox Hotel where her family owns restaurants.

“Everyone is ok,” Mary said. “They are evacuating the hotel. We are worried about Mike. “Nobody has heard from him.”

Mike Haggerty and another Hingham friend, Kristi Holden, were fine.

At the airport, people were lined up ten deep in front of television monitors watching CNN. I could not believe what I was seeing.

Mackenzie looked at the aerial photos and asked, “Is that blood on the sidewalk?”

A few minutes later I saw an interview with another good friend, WBZ chief photographer Bryan Foley. He was right there when it happened, his camera rolling and his heart breaking.

Eventually my daughter and I boarded our flight to Denver. I spent three hours on in-flight Internet.

I called my husband when we landed. My oldest daughter, who is a student at Emerson College was not near the explosion. The school went into lockdown. A few students were in the area and were treated for minor injuries.

Meanwhile, Mackenzie and I drove an hour through a blizzard after arriving in Denver. We got to our hotel in Boulder at 1:00 a.m. Eastern time. The monitors on every television at the hotel restaurant were showing footage of what happened in Boston 11 hours earlier.

When I finally put my head to my pillow that night I allowed myself to cry. It wasn’t the kind of crying my daughter sleeping in the next bed could hear. I just needed to cry.

I woke up the next morning 3,000 miles from Boston. We spent the day touring schools and meeting people from all over the country. The first question always asked is, “Where are you from?”

When we replied, “Boston,” every single person said, “I am so sorry.”

As I write this I am flying back to Boston.

My heart breaks for the city I call home. Even though I wasn’t born there, everything about Boston is who I am today.

I watched my first Boston Marathon as a freshman at Boston College, and vowed someday I would run it. Through the years, I worked it. I sat on the lead truck and witnessed some of the best drama in sports. It is the without a doubt one of the greatest spectator events as well. From Hopkinton to Wellesley, to Newton, Brookline, Kenmore Square, right down Hereford to Boylston Street, it is all about the people.

Some fly to the finish line and some stagger. Either way, there is always someone there at the end to cheer them on.

The Boston Marathon represents triumph, agony and the celebration of human spirit.

And now Boston will do what is has done before. We will pray for and support the victims and their families, we will stand up to this horror, we will survive and we will always be strong.

Like the Boston Marathon itself, recovering from this attack is a test of will. In the end, it’s always the heart that wins out.

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About The Author

is a veteran television sports reporter and Olympian. Her experience includes 25 years of sports reporting for WBZ-TV, the CBS and former NBC affiliate in Boston. Cook has worked for ESPN, Turner Sports, and WTBS. Cook is a feature writer for She's Game Sports and Boston.com. She is also President and Founder of She's Game Sports LLC.