Troy educator, residents stayed safe during Boston Marathon
By Terry Oparka
Posted April 24, 2013
Hamilton Elementary School Principal Pam Mathers said she couldn’t bring herself to watch the news the morning of April 19 as police conducted a manhunt for the suspected terrorist in the Boston Marathon bombing. She was a half-mile away from the finish line at the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off — literally minutes from harm’s way.
She’s been running since 2006. The Boston Marathon was her third marathon. She ran the Toronto Marathon in 2009 and the Detroit Free Press Marathon in 2011, scoring a time qualifying her for the Boston Marathon, but the 2012 event was filled, so she signed up for the 2013 Boston Marathon.
She recounted what happened on race day.
“I had passed the 25 marker. I was feeling pretty good and keeping a pretty good pace,” she said. “Then I saw runners slowing down, and figured they’d hit the (runner’s) wall. Then I saw this wall of runners stopped.”
She explained that most runners didn’t carry cellphones, and those who did couldn’t make outgoing calls anyway. Her friends, who were a quarter of a mile away from the finish line, heard the explosions and smelled the gunpowder.
People told the runners to leave and go home, but most runners waited for police to arrive on the scene to leave.
“We thought, ‘We haven’t finished the race,’” she said.
Mathers’ friends found her by searching the crowd for the green Michigan State University Spartan hat she wore that day.
She and her friends walked three miles back to their hotel, which Mathers said was frightening with all the emergency vehicles speeding down streets they had to cross. When she got back to her phone, Mathers found 15 text messages from friends and loved ones. Since she still couldn’t call out, she texted that she was safe, and her family posted that on Facebook.
“I don’t do Facebook,” Mathers explained.
“When we got back to the hotel, that’s when it sunk in,” she said.
Mathers and her friends flew home from Boston on April 16, and she was back on the job at Hamilton Elementary April 17.
When she got there, her secretary asked her if she had her running shoes with her.
“I keep a pair in my office,” Mathers said. “She clued me in then that there would be a finish line.”
Mathers crossed the finish line the students had made for her at the school amid cheers from teachers and students. She also received a medal.
“That medal means more to me than all the others I have,” she said. “This one was handed with love.”
For Boston Marathon runner and Troy resident Craig Barton and his wife, Kathy, their story of the tragedy is — they have no story.
Barton finished the marathon, his 14th overall, about 20 minutes before the blasts.
“Our story is not exciting. We were about three and a half blocks away,” he said. “It was amazingly loud. It sounded like a cannon. We didn’t know what was going on.”
He said his wife had just gotten off the subway when the bombs went off. She completed the Boston 5k the day before the marathon. The couple had parked their car in Newton, about seven miles west of downtown Boston, and took the subway into the city, which was closed after the blasts.
“We were in Starbucks figuring out what to do. Tons of us were stuck downtown,” he said. Cellphones didn’t work because of the number of people trying to make calls. “So we posted on Facebook we were OK.”
They walked to a shopping area nearby to catch a cab to Newton and drove home to Troy the day after the marathon. He and his wife went to their gym the Thursday following the marathon, and their friends there were very glad to see them.
Barton said he’s looking forward to re-qualifying and returning to Boston.
Mathers said she planned to run the weekend of April 20-21 and do a 10-mile run for charity April 27. “The students just lift you up,” she said of crossing the finish line at the school. “It’s very warming.”
About the author
Staff Writer Terry Oparka covers Troy and the Troy School District for the Troy Times. Oparka has worked for C & G Newspapers since 2000 and attended Oakland University and Macomb Community College. Oparka has won an award from the Michigan Press Association and four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, Detroit Chapter.
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