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Skating world shocked, affected by Boston bombs

Jahnke, Harris, Young experience it first-hand; Coaches, competitors in disbelief over tragic events

Mark Jahnke never could have imagined what was in store when he began the race.
Mark Jahnke never could have imagined what was in store when he began the race. (courtesy of Mark Jahnke)

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By Sarah S. Brannen, special to icenetwork.com
(04/17/2013) - Among the thousands of runners in the Boston Marathon on April 15 were at least three former skaters: pairs skaters Tyler Harris and Trevor Young and ice dancer Mark Jahnke.

Jahnke, a senior at Harvard, was running to raise funds for the Phillips Brooks House Association, which runs youth education programs in and around Boston. Wearing official bib No. 23775, Jahnke ran as part of a Harvard team representing two charities.

"With Boston, you have to be careful of the pace because of the hills," he told icenetwork.com on Tuesday night. "We conserved energy, and at Heartbreak Hill we were passing people who had passed us. The weather was perfect, the sun was glorious and there were millions of people cheering the entire length of the course. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced before. I saw so many people I knew cheering for me. It was exhilarating."

After Heartbreak Hill, Jahnke had a surge of energy and sprinted through Kenmore Square. The Red Sox had just won their game, and the crowds of fans pouring out of Fenway Park cheered him on. Jahnke ran down Commonwealth Avenue, and as he reached the underpass leading to the final turn for Hereford Street, Boylston Street and the finish, everyone stopped.

"This was at about 3 [p.m.]," Jahnke went on. "Somebody said, 'There was an explosion.' My phone had died, so I asked to borrow someone's phone and sent a text to my mom and dad telling them I was fine. I stopped at 25.7 miles, three blocks away from Boylston Street."

Some people's phones were working, and people read via Twitter that there had been a bomb at the finish line and that the race was stopped. Runners behind the crowd tried to push their way through, not realizing that the whole race had halted.

"Some people were calm, but some people were getting distraught because they had family at the finish," Jahnke said. "And some people were upset because they weren't going to be able to finish."

Jahnke said that the group of halted runners, which swelled to an estimated 2,000 people, included many people who were fundraising, running for charity and in honor of friends. Many of them had never run a marathon before.

"Two really good friends were caught further back," Jahnke said. "They were running because [one of their brothers] had passed away last year, and their dreams are crushed."

The weather, perfect for running, was chilly for the halted runners, clad in skimpy clothes and damp with sweat. Knowing that they were nearly at the finish, many had foregone the last water stops.

"There was no medical attention, and people were collapsing," Jahnke said. "Some people were screaming for a medic. People from houses on Commonwealth Avenue started running down and passing out garbage bags. People would tear holes in them for their heads and arms and put them on. Once we put the garbage bags on, we felt a little warmer. People came down from the houses and passed out bottles of water and cups of water."

Some runners started jumping the barriers and leaving the race route, but Jahnke stayed put, wanting to retrieve his belongings at the end of the race. After more than half an hour, the police opened the barriers and walked the crowd of runners over to Berkeley Street.

"That brought us to the buses, and we got our bags," Jahnke said. "I found one person from my team who confirmed that everyone from my team was safe. I had an extra battery, so I charged my phone and I had 60 text messages. I took 40 minutes just standing there, calling people back.

"My mom got three hours of non-stop calls. We had people calling us from Iran trying to find out if I was OK. My friend in Qatar saw it on the news."

Jahnke finally got a Mylar blanket and some water and protein bars.

"They had made all the sidewalks one way, and I ended up walking all the way to Symphony Hall and then over the bridge to Central Square. There were bomb threats all over the place."

Jahnke ended up walking all the way back to Harvard, on top of the 25.7 miles he had run. He met friends for dinner and finally got back to his dorm at 8 p.m., after leaving at 7 a.m. that morning. In the day since, he has heard stories from his other friends at the race.

"One of my friends was sprinting down Boylston and one bomb blew up in front of her and then one behind her," he said. "Two of the people who were injured were from the Tufts team that we train with."

A day later, he is still coming to terms with the events of the day and his own experiences.

"Some of my friends on the team, we're spending time together, trying to process it. It happened five minutes before we were going to be there, and it could have been us. The marathon is a symbol of overcoming, doing good, positivity -- and then this. We still have to stand by what the marathon represents."

It's still possible to donate to Jahnke's fundraising effort, at crowdrise.com/teamhcmc/fundraiser/markjahnke/.

Harris, who has retired from competitive skating and is currently coaching at the Skating Club of Boston and training for triathlons, was running unofficially as a "bandit" runner.

"We started pretty close to the start line, and we got maybe 15 miles in," he told icenetwork.com. "After that, if you're not registered, you have to get off the course."

Young, now a management consultant for Deloitte, joined the race partway through and finished a few minutes before the bombs went off. He had qualified officially, but registered too late to get a bib. His sister, father and aunt were all running officially, and Young ran the last two thirds of the course with his aunt.

"We ended up passing the finish line and going straight to the hotel, and 10 minutes later the bombs went off," he said. "It was a pretty scary scene. We were getting alerts and updates about more bombs being found, which ended up being false. I have some friends staying at the Lenox Hotel, and that got evacuated. We didn't know whether to stay in our hotel room or leave the city."

Harris and his friends stopped around the 18-mile marker and watched the race for a while.

"The next thing you know, we heard all these sirens and helicopters," he said. "There was a lot of commotion, and word got down the line that cops were stopping the marathon, saying that the race was over. We were like, 'How can that be possible?'"

Like most in the area, Harris is shocked and upset by the tragic event.

"It's traumatic," he said. "[The Marathon] is one of the things that makes us Bostonians who we are; it's one of our traditions. To kill an 8-year-old child, it almost feels like it affects every single person here. It just hurts."

Harris said he will be participating in a "half-iron" in New Hampshire later this year, and that he hopes to do the Ironman event in Lake Placid, N.Y., next year.

"All the members of our team are planning to run in honor of the Boston victims," he said. "If there's a charity event to benefit them, you bet I'll be there."

Young stayed in the city for an extra day, although a big part of the Back Bay was closed off during the ongoing investigation.

"There was not a ton of enjoyment going on," Young said. "Today, we got out and ended up going to Cambridge, visiting Harvard, getting a little further away from the scene. We went back at the end of the day, where it's roped off, and we stopped by the vigil. The church down the street was ringing the bells, there were no cars on the street; it was a pretty somber scene."

Young says he plans to run the marathon, officially, next year.

One of Harrison Choate's friends from high school was running in the race, and he said her younger sister was caught in one of the blasts.

"She was injured by one of the explosions," Choate said on Tuesday. "She spent most of yesterday in critical condition, undergoing surgery to try to save her leg. Thankfully, it looks as though she'll be able to keep her leg -- albeit with severe muscle and bone damage -- so [it's] not as bad as it could have been. I still can't really believe something like this happened in Boston, you know? I'm still in shock."

Ross Miner was meeting with his coaches Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson on Monday at the Skating Club of Boston when the bombings occurred.

"We were sitting there and I got a text message from one of my friends, and then Mark started getting lots of messages, and then I pulled CNN up on my phone," Miner said. "It's definitely a bit jarring. The second bomb went off by the Atlantic Fish Company (a restaurant), and Simon [Shnapir] and Greg Zuerlein and I had been there a week and a half ago. I had parked right by Marathon Sports (the site of the first bomb)."

"I've been at the marathon many times, and it's right down the street from where we live," Mitchell said. "If I go to the marathon, [Boylston Street] is where I watch it from. We came home, and we were watching on TV, and I was like, 'Peter, do you see what time that bomb went off?' Five years ago, to the minute, he was crossing the finish line."

Mitchell and Johansson live in Boston's South End, just a few blocks from the bombing site. Mitchell says the city has been eerie, filled with police cars and ambulances, and helicopters overhead.

"Waking up this morning, you still see the helicopters," he said. "And you can't get home the normal way because the streets are blocked off. It's just so sad. And to see your neighborhood on TV, blown up, it's hard."

"Every radio station was talking about it as I was heading to physical therapy," said Christina Gao, who had friends running in the race. "And we were watching on television at PT. I was in shock all last night. I can't believe something like this would actually happen, that there are people who would do something like this. It was supposed to be a day of celebration."

Former pairs skater and coach Garrett Lucash was in Connecticut on Monday, but his girlfriend, Yumi, was at the finish line at the marathon, sitting in the bleachers when the bombs went off.

"She had a VIP pass because her best friend's husband was in the race," Lucash said. "She saw the explosion and texted me. She took a picture of it, and then I didn't hear from her for a while."

Lucash was concerned at the lack of communication, particularly since Yumi had told him a troubling story:

"She mentioned that in her section, there was an individual trying to get in and security wouldn't let them through," Lucash said.

He said he would let Yumi know that police had asked to see any photos immediately before and after the explosions to help them investigate the incident.

"It seems like New York always bears the brunt of these types of situations," Lucash went on. "By it happening in Boston, it kind of reminds you that this sort of thing can happen anywhere."

Boston University student Gretchen Donlan was studying in the dining hall on Monday.

"'Ice Chips' kind of ate up my weekend," she said. "A group of my friends were heading down to the finish line, and one of my friends had recently been sick, so they stopped at the CVS on Newbury Street. They saw a sea of people running past, and smoke, and they ran all the way back to Kenmore [Square], to the dorm. Everyone was trying to help."

Donlan said that her sister had worked at Jasper White's Summer Shack with Krystle Campbell, who died in the explosion.

Donlan's coach, Bobby Martin, had just returned from Japan, where he coached Marissa Castelli and Shnapir to a joint win in the World Team Trophy.

"I was home with my wife and kids and got a bunch of texts saying, 'Turn on the TV now,'" he said. "My wife's business is on Boylston Street, about three buildings away from where the first explosion was. For many, many years, we've watched the finish of the marathon from there."

As a coach who works with many young athletes, Martin had trouble putting his feelings into words.

"My reaction was about my own children, the concern for the people that were secondarily affected, the people who were watching," he said. "All of us, in some way, are affected; especially the kids.

"It's so tragic and sad, and I think there's a feeling of -- not helplessness, but it mirrors what a lot of us felt at 9/11," he said. "It makes you rethink what we're doing on this planet. In Tokyo, there was a heightened concern about North Korea, and stuff on CNN about missiles being deployed, and I kept saying I wanted to get home. And then I got home and that's where something happened. It kind of shakes you up."