For Salida’s Vicky King, there was no choice.
Nothing would keep her away from Monday’s 118th Boston Marathon. Not the bombs exploding near the finish line last year. Not the fact that she was stopped by the chaos just short of Boylston Street and the straightaway to the finish. Not the reality that members of her family, waiting for her at race’s end, saw too much tragedy at close range.
No, King – like many first responders – has elected to step toward the danger. The Salida resident is one of about 36,000 runners – 9,000 more than last year – who’ve chosen to be not Boston Strong but America Strong.
“I’ve been in a lot of contact with the wounded survivors who told me the best way to honor them is to come back,” King said. “I’m not going to be afraid and let the terrorists win.”
King, 57, had planned Boston to be her final marathon last year. She’s a graduate of Hilmar High, a self-employed massage therapist and former aerobics instructor, and her goals were etched in stone. Even a sore groin, which prompted her to run and walk at intervals, was only a distraction. A woman from Argentina named Paola assisted her as she prepared to turn from Hereford Street to Boylston, a scant 4/10s of a mile from the finish line.
King, who is hearing impaired, did not hear the bombs that killed three and injured more than 200. There was too much noise, too much cheering, too much headwind and far too much delirious joy swirling in her brain. All she saw was a policeman imploring the runners to stop. None of it made sense.
“The officer said, ‘Stop, turn around and go back from where you came,’” she said. “I remember the look on his face. He was serious. Something bad is going on. A fellow runner started to cry and said, ‘I have family at the finish line.”
So did King. Awaiting her was son Brian and his girlfriend, who were across the street from the first bomb. King watched many emergency vehicles whiz by her and, about 30 minutes after she was stopped, she found out what happened. Worse, she had no contact with her family for the longest two hours and 45 minutes of her life. One can only imagine her tears of relief when she discovered everyone was OK.
It comes as no surprise that her return to Boston will be intensely personal. She’s not alone.
Modesto’s Toxie Burriss, married last weekend, will incorporate the race as part of his honeymoon. His only other experience in Boston, in 2007, was marred by terrible weather. Burriss also likes his timing for other reasons.
“You can’t keep that stuff (terrorism) from enjoying your life. Life is too short to let other people influence what you do,” he said. “Americans can’t let terrorists affect the way we live.”
The Boston Marathon has been stamped with the Boston brand for many years. It’s always staged on Patriots Day, which also celebrates the first battles of the Revolutionary War. For participants – apart from the grueling preparation and physical toll – it’s more a spiritual experience than a race.
Alex Shoob of Modesto, who was only three-tenths of a mile from the end before he was stopped, is back. So are Karen Lozano of Modesto, Janice Kesterson of Oakdale and others. For all of them, this is unfinished business.
King will run for her husband Dennis, who surprised Vicky last Christmas with a 26.2-mile sticker for the family vehicle. She also be thinking of their two grown children and especially Brian, who has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the tragedy.
“He’s the one who saw the most,” King said. “I will wear his name on my body.”
King feels she also owes something to the people of Boston, from supporters along the roadside to residents who helped everyone in need. She shivered from the cold after last year’s race until a woman, who King believes was homeless, gave her the hoodie she was wearing.
“She said, ‘I’ll be fine. God will take care of me,’” King said. “All I could do was give her a hug.”
No doubt King is ready for Monday, her sixth and last marathon. She’s healthy, for starters, and she’s prepared for the mental strain, the constant companion of every marathon runner. Though all those who were stopped were invited back, she still qualified in competition this year.
Only one pre-race task is left.
“I’m going to face Boylston Street right after we unpack. I need to see that street and where I was,” King said. “I don’t want to see it for the first time when I’m running.”