By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
For first-time Boston Marathon runner and Middlebury resident Andy Williams and his family, the phrase “skirting disaster” has taken on a whole new meaning following the horrific bombings that left three people dead and scores more wounded near the finish line of the historic marathon early Monday afternoon.
Williams, a Health teacher at Northridge High School and longtime running enthusiast, arrived with his family in Boston Saturday evening ready to realize one of his biggest dreams — running in the world-famous Boston Marathon.
“Andy had been training all winter for this,” said Andy’s mother, Jean, also of Middlebury, “We wanted to see him run, so we just decided to take a trip out there to cheer him on.”
As race day arrived early Monday morning, Jean said she couldn’t help but be enthralled by the overwhelming sense of camaraderie and joy that seemed to permeate the entire city.
“The people of Boston take such pride in this race,” Jean said. “This was the 117th running of the Boston Marathon, and everybody was just so supportive, everybody was so happy and congratulatory. We were just very impressed with the kindness there.”
With the men’s race set to kick off promptly at 10 a.m., Andy quickly made his way to the starting line with the first wave of what would eventually total 27,000 runners in the men’s division as his family hitched a ride with a cousin of Jean's husband, Dave, to snag a good cheering spot.
About two and a half hours and 26.2 miles later, Andy crossed the finish line on Boylston Street to the cheers of more than 500,000 spectators, the 68th man to finish the marathon with a personal best time of two hours and 28 minutes.
“The overall experience is just pretty incredible,” Andy said Tuesday of his marathon run. “I’ve run a couple other marathons before, but there is so much rich tradition with the Boston Marathon. It’s essentially the same course that’s been run over the past 117 years, you’re running through several small towns and villages along the way, you have all the local people coming out to support you, and just constant fanfare and excitement. You just can’t find that experience anywhere else.”
Andy’s impressive finish time may very well have kept him and his family out of harms way. The two violent explosions wouldn’t occur for more than an hour and a half.
“We were right there at the finish line when Andy finished,” Jean said. “The crowd was about four or five people deep all around us at that point, there were people everywhere, and what we realized later was that right there, right where we were standing as we watched him come in, that’s where the second bomb went off about an hour and a half later.”
Having headed back to Dave’s cousin’s house shortly after Andy’s finish to relax and grab a bite to eat, Jean said it wasn’t until the group switched on the television to catch up on the remainder of the race that they realized something had gone terribly wrong.
“We had gotten back to my husband’s cousin’s house and turned on the TV and thought, ‘What is this?”, Jean said. “After that, everything seemed to happen at once. There were so many ambulances going, we heard a lot of sirens, and there were SWAT trucks going into town. We actually got in touch with someone who was downtown when it happened, and they said right after the first blast, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. People just stopped, because nobody knew what it was. Then the panic set in, and people began to run.”
Looking back on the situation, Jean said it is still hard to grasp how close she and her family came to disaster.
“It is such a surreal feeling knowing that it could have been us,” Jean said, pausing for a moment before continuing. “We feel very fortunate that we weren’t there when it happened, but our hearts go out to those who were there. It was such an innocent day, such a wonderful, wholesome time, so many children and families... Our hearts just go out to them.”
Even faced with such a harrowing experience, Andy said he isn’t about to let this tragedy dampen his outlook on life or his love of the sport.
“It’s not going to deter me from my desire to do things like this in the future,” Andy said. “You can’t live in fear because of something like this. There is so much positive out there, it’s just an incredible shame that something like this had to happen in such a positive environment. ... If you let it get to you, that kind of means they win in the end.”