Local runners undeterred by memories of bombing
It was a second in time that Scott Bowman probably will remember for life.
It was 2:49:43 p.m., last April 15.
A split second, actually, divided between first hearing the thunderous explosion of a pressure-cooker bomb 10 yards away from him, and then being enveloped by near silence from injuries to his ears.
Bowman was on Boylston Street, downtown Boston.
[PHOTO: Scott Bowman, front left, and Cathy Swauger, front right, will run in this year’s Boston Marathon, where they were spectators last year during the bombing while waiting for spouses John Swauger and Aileen Bowman, running in back. (Teri Enciso/Gazette)]
That second for Bowman also was split between standing outside the Marathon Sports shop with Cathy Swauger as they watched for their spouses to cross the Boston Marathon finish line, and then being thrown to the ground and reading Swauger’s lips telling him they had to get out of there.
On Easter weekend, Bowman will return to Boylston Street with his wife, Aileen, and friends Cathy and John Swauger.
Bowman, 49, of White Township, said he has recovered most of his hearing since the Boston Marathon bombing.
Swauger, of Indiana, fared a little better, experiencing only some persistent ringing in her ears. That has gone away, without requiring medical attention.
But by virtue of Scott Bowman’s visit last year to the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary at the Harvard School of Medicine, where doctors put him on a regimen of steroids to restore his hearing, he is registered as one of 264 surviving casualties of the bombing.
It has qualified him for kid glove treatment by the investigators, prosecutors and marathon organizers.
Regular letters and email messages from the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts keep him up to date on his rights as a crime victim and the proceedings against bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Bowman said he appreciates the invitations, but he has no plans to attend the bombing suspect’s court proceedings. (Dzhokhar is scheduled for a motions hearing next week in federal court and to go on trial Nov. 3.)
The people in charge of the marathon and the victim assistance fund have regularly been in touch, too.
Boston would welcome him back, they tell him.
The return trip is in the works.
Scott Bowman said he decided to go back when the marathon people invited his wife to run again this year. John Swauger also was invited back.
They’re being granted a do-over because the commotion following the bombing kept them from finishing the 2013 race.
But then Scott Bowman also got an invitation to run the marathon without an entry fee or a qualifying time, and that sealed the deal.
Boston has invited all 264 certified victims, each with a guest, to run the marathon on April 21, the Monday after Easter.
Bowman accepted the invitation and has designated Cathy Swauger as his guest, meaning that both couples will run in the classic.
This will be Aileen’s fourth time in the Boston Marathon and John Swauger’s third time. Scott Bowman, who has run 14 marathons over the years, has never run in Boston before now.
For Cathy Swauger, this will be her first marathon of any kind.
SCOTT BOWMAN said not all the 2013 bombing victims accepted the invitations to run this year — some due to their injuries, some because they never were runners anyway.
And some don’t want to set foot in the city ever again, Bowman learned when he phoned in his RSVP a few months ago.
The Boston Athletic Association is the major organizer of the marathon, and decided that those wounded in the bombings should be invited to come back.
The One Fund Boston foundation, which accepted $69 million in contributions and paid out almost $61 million to 232 eligible claims, has handled the victim invitations on behalf of BAA.
“The woman who talked to me said they extended the invitation to all the victims,” Bowman said. “So I said I think I will, since I’m going to be there.
“And she said, ‘Well, you’re one of the few people who said yes.’ She said most of the people had decided not to. ‘Some don’t even want to come back into our city,’ is what she said.”
For Bowman, going back to Boston will bring closure and chance to get some perspective on his proximity to history.
Scott and Cathy believe they were about 30 feet from the point of the explosion, but Bowman wants to pace it off and get a better idea of the distance.
“I know exactly where I was standing, and one of the things I’m going to do when we get up there is measure exactly how far away I was,” Bowman said.
They also will better see how near they were to being critically wounded or killed.
“All I know is we were close enough that it blew us to the ground,” Bowman said. “I’m 185 pounds and it just toppled me. I thought, ‘Why am I falling to the ground? No one is pushing me.’
“It was the force of the thing. And the only thing that kept me from getting hurt was the people beside me. We were crammed in there elbow to elbow.”
Swauger said she glanced around at the moment of the blast.
“I can remember when it went off, it was so loud, and I turned and looked at the Marathon store,” Swauger said. “I just saw the glass (of the front windows) just tumbling to the ground. It just shattered.”
At least 20 people stood between them and the bomb, Bowman guessed.
“You had very little room to wiggle. And that’s why I didn’t get hurt as bad as some of the other people.”
Bowman said he and Cathy Swauger wanted a better view of the finish line, and were one generous spectator away from moving into the area where the most seriously wounded people had been standing.
“Flags were blowing in front of us and some trees were in the way, so I said let’s move over to our right,” Bowman said. “And there was a lady dressed in purple with her little girls, also dressed in purple, standing next to us. The woman said, ‘Well, you can have my spot. My runner is not coming in yet and it sounds like your runners are ready to cross.’
“She gave up her spot and moved the other way toward the finish line. About a minute later is when the blast occurred. Had she not given up her spot, we probably would have moved over right on top of the thing. And I tell people now, that I had a guardian angel that day and she was wearing purple.”
IN THE MESS of people upended by the blast, Scott found himself on top of Cathy, saw police officers rushing by to reach the injured, and was unable to hear the officers telling them to get up and leave. He yelled to Cathy that they had to wait for Aileen, who had yet to cross the finish line, but Cathy convinced him to head toward a staging area where runners were to pick up their belongings.
Meanwhile, Aileen Bowman said, she was about one-half mile from the finish line, heard the two explosions and saw the smoke rising.
And John Swauger was another half-mile behind Aileen Bowman in the race, also out of touch with everyone else.
“The only thing I could think of is that some buildings exploded, like from a gas explosion,” Aileen said.
After running a few more blocks toward the finish line, Aileen Bowman and the runners were told to stop.
“You knew something was serious when they were doing that,” she said. “Then it was silence.”
A few runners who managed to get cellphone connections were told the explosions were at the finish line, and the worrying set in. She knew Scott and Cathy were watching the race from that area.
Aileen Bowman headed to the staging area where she soon spotted Cathy Swauger, recognizing her bright teal jacket in the crowd, and joined her and Scott.
John Swauger, meanwhile, borrowed someone’s cellphone, managed to get a call through to Cathy, and arranged to meet up with her and the Bowmans.
After the Bowmans and Swaugers got back to their hotel rooms, showered and dressed, Scott’s loss of hearing hadn’t improved. Bowman said he didn’t want to get checked, but the others convinced him to go to the hospital at Harvard.
Aileen said they realized the doctors already had to take care of a lot of patients with worse injuries, but ultimately they decided Scott should be checked out before leaving Boston so his condition could be on record for his ear specialist in Pittsburgh.
Being so close to the “ground zero” of the worst terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, hasn’t soured the Bowmans on Boston.
Aileen has a license plate on her car reading “BOSTN 11” in tribute to her first Boston Marathon (in 2011), and has no intention of giving it up.
The experience is like no other, Aileen said — from the starting line in Hopkinton, over three grueling hills between Mile 16 and Mile 21, and past the huge Citgo gas sign that runners consider assurance that they’re “home free,” even though it’s still a mile to the finish line.
Aileen relishes running through some streets where cheering crowds surge in and narrow the runners’ path.
“They don’t care that you’re not the lead runner,” Aileen said. “They’re smacking everybody’s hands and you feel like you’re the best runner in the world right then, at that moment. … They’re cheering for you as loud as they probably cheered for the first runners coming through. It’s just awesome.
“I can’t imagine not running in Boston. You’ve got to feel very fortunate to run the Boston Marathon, and it’s such a thrill to be a part of the most prestigious marathon in the world.”