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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Couple to return to Boston after a marathon of indecision

Vicki Miller, approaching the Boston Marathon finish line a year ago today, ducked between two parked trucks and waited for a third explosion.

Or, she wondered, maybe gunshots would be fired. She simply didn’t know.

Her husband, Tom, two blocks away when the bombs detonated, said he felt the power, and he pushed down hard on his chest with both hands to emphasize the point.

The Durham couple, married for 37 years and running since college, shared their stories at a question-and-answer forum last month in Concord.

Vicki and Tom have run 34 marathons each. They’ll run again Monday, but that decision was a long time coming.

“We were not going to run,” said Vicki, a nurse. “It’s like a funeral when you get that fear in your belly. But people are working so hard to make this one better. All I have is fear, so my legs can’t whine.”

But her mind can flash back.

She and Tom were staying at the Lennox Hotel that night. They came down on a chartered bus, with the rest of their group from the Winner’s Circle Running Club.

Tom, a computer engineer at the University of New Hampshire, finished 20 minutes ahead of his wife and was in the Copley Square area, waiting for Vicki to share stories from the city’s greatest one-day athletic tradition.

Bomb No. 1 went off at 2:50 p.m.

“I could see a firebomb, and I could see smoke,” Tom said. “And I could feel it.”

That’s when Tom pushed on his chest.

Vicki saw and felt more.

She was in front of Lord and Taylor, mile 26.1, when the first bomb exploded near the finish line. “It was so loud I knew it was a bomb,” she said, “and it made me sick.”

Vicki remembers hearing a “whoosh” and seeing debris sweep across Boylston Street, assuming now it was the BB-like pellets and nails, plus material from the pressure cooker and metal container that held the stuff.

The second bomb went off 12 seconds later, this time behind Vicki. She looked away from the central blast area, saying she couldn’t handle the gruesome injuries that were evident all over the street. The smell is still with her, though, and she recalls seeing people behind barricades, their eyes “as big as softballs.”

That’s when she tucked herself between those two trucks, certain a third bomb lay in the area somewhere. She singled out a voice, the one yelling something about shots fired.

Was she visible to the shooter, an easy, crouching target?

“I believed any shooters could still see me, so I wanted to hide myself better,” Vicki said. “I started to crawl under the truck thinking I would get behind the tire, and if there was room, I would crawl up into the axle.”

By this point, Tom had no idea what had happened, of course, but he certainly worried that his wife was hurt.

He called the Lennox, looking for fellow members of his running club, who were also staying at the hotel.

That’s when he learned Vicki was okay. They had seen her on live TV, at the finish line, about the time of lost innocence.

Meanwhile, Vicki peeked out from under the truck. She saw an ambulance fighting the crowd, its siren used as a horn to move people aside.

“People seemed calm,” she said.

She crawled out, back onto Boylston, cold, scared and alone, her feet aching, her mind racing. She met members of her running club, who had been evacuated from the Lennox and were waiting for her on the sidewalk.

The best in people came out that day, she recalled. Homes were opened for blankets, food and water. Cookies were served outside. Churches gave runners a place to stay until buses came to take them to meeting points elsewhere in the city.

And, as we’ve seen, spectators ran into the blast area, climbing over a landscape of twisted metal barricades, to comfort the injured, cover their wounds, carry them to safety.

In the days and months after the tragedy, which killed three people, including a little boy, Vicki and Tom thought they were done with the event.

“I was determined never to run Boston again,” Vicki said.

But she will. So will Tom.

Yes, sirens still make Vicki jump, and she may never fully clear her mind of what she saw on Boylston Street that day.

But she heard about the 100,000 yellow daffodils, planted along the route, from Hopkinton to Boston. And friends from her running club are going back.

“So many people are working so hard to get this showcased as it should be,” Vicki said. “I see it. My friends are all in.

“My husband and I are safe,” She continued. “The marathon will be remarkable.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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