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April 24, 2013

Southfield psychologist committed to running after marathon tragedy

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

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Southfield psychologist committed to running after marathon tragedy
Linda Forsberg, clinical psychologist in Southfield, poses at the Boston Marathon this year. It was Forsberg’s 18th marathon, though her first in Boston. She and her two children were unharmed during the explosions.

SOUTHFIELD — It wasn’t her first marathon. In fact, it was her 18th, but it was her first time at the Boston Marathon, and she wanted to soak up every minute of it.

“Boston is a pretty big deal. You have to qualify for it. It’s kind of like the Mount Everest for runners to get into. It was extremely exciting going,” Southfield Police and public safety psychologist Linda Forsberg said. “I wasn’t worried about running as fast as my qualifying race, I was just enjoying the race. It was an achievement just to be there.”

Forsberg, 65, was among the runners midway through the course at the Boston Marathon April 15 when a series of bombs reportedly killed three and injured scores of runners and loved ones at the finish line.

“I thought I was having a pretty good race. … I got to 25.6 miles — the total is 26.2 — just a half a mile from the finish line, and some guy was just like, ‘Oh, the race is canceled,’” Forsberg said. “My first thought was, ‘This guys is nuts.’”

Then she noticed that the runners suddenly weren’t going the same way. People were just milling around. Rumors of explosions were among the murmurs from runners gathered in the area, but it was all speculation.

“Even though we were so close to the finish line, just half a mile away, we just knew they were not allowing anyone to go there because that’s where this ‘terrible thing’ had just happened.” 

According to results published on www.baa.org, Forsberg, who had bib number 21059, ran an average speed of 5.3 mph for her check-in points. The site lists splits for each runner’s 5k, up to 40k, as well as the half-marathon split time; she reached the halfway point at 2:23 p.m., results show.

The first explosion occurred around 2:50 p.m., according to the press statement issued from the Boston Police Department, on the north side of Boylston Street, just before the finish line. It is being reported that the second explosion went off about 10 seconds after the first, approximately 550 feet apart.

At 2:50 p.m. Forsberg had just reached the 35k point, just over four hours and seven minutes into her run.

“By the end of a race, you’re depleted. By that time, you’re tired, you’re ready to just fall into someone’s arms. That’s what I was feeling,” Forsberg explained, adding that hypothermia was beginning to set in and she was shivering, looking for one of the blankets and bottles of water that were usually provided.

Finally, her mind began to clear and she realized that, while she was far from the finish line when tragedy struck, the last time she saw her two children — a daughter who flew in from California and a son who accompanied her from Ann Arbor — they were headed to the finish line to await her completion of the race.

“All of a sudden, all I could think was, where are my children? I was afraid my kids were going to be at the finish line,” Forsberg said, noting the chaos around her of sirens, emergency vehicles passing by and complete confusion. “I didn’t even have my cellphone with me, but at that time, no calls were going through.”

Forsberg, like many other runners, found herself in the Back Bay neighborhood with very kind residents helping direct the disorganized band of runners looking for answers, she said.

One family let her come in, rest, gather around the TV to watch developing reports of what was happening, and let her use the phone to reach her kids.

Somehow, she found out, her kids had decided at the last minute to check in at one more split to snap a photo of their mom in the Boston Marathon — a decision that may have saved their lives.

“They had gone to mile 16 to snap a picture, then mile 21, and I saw them there. They said they were going straight to the finish line, and if they had, they very possibly could have been there at the time of the explosion,” Forsberg said. “But they were being watched by angels, like many people, and my kids, they just decided not to go.”

All three of them were able to leave Boston unharmed, but certainly not unshaken.

“It was eerie, surreal. You could see the devastation in people’s faces, and it was horrific,” Forsberg said. “All of us were so very vulnerable, and it’s very hard to process.”

A runner of 15 years, Forsberg began the race feeling glad to be part of a tradition and what is usually a very happy occasion marked by incredible resilience and accomplishment. This year, all that changed for Boston and for the runners, she noted.

“Normally, at the end, you’re just elated. You get your medal;  you’re celebrating. But of course, it wasn’t that at the end this year,” she said. “But the running community, we are a very strong community and there is a sense of solidarity throughout the country and world. I will definitely be running again. I am absolutely going forward.”

Forsberg returned to her practice of more than 23 years on Wednesday, she said, adding that she felt “very emotional, but very blessed.”

The evening after the attack, the Boston Athletic Association released a statement saying, “Today is a sad day for the city of Boston, for the running community and for all those who were here to enjoy the 117th running of the Boston Marathon. What was intended to be a day of joy and celebration quickly became a day in which running a marathon was of little importance.”

At press time, there were more than 180 victims reported in the tragedy. On April 22, 19-year-old bomb suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was charged with using a weapon of mass destruction from a hospital room after a showdown with police days prior. His 26-year-old brother, the suspected accomplice, died earlier in the week after a gun battle with police.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.