As Burholme’s Greta Garecht neared the finish line at last week’s Boston Marathon, her husband, stepmother and infant daughter were watching her race from the nearby bleachers.
“We were screaming at the top of our lungs,” said Don Garecht, the runner’s husband.
Greta was so focused on the 26.2-mile run that she didn’t hear their cheers, nor did she know the trio had made their way to the finish line.
The marathoner collected her medal and grabbed bottled water, protein bars and a cape to keep warm. A few minutes later, she heard an explosion.
“I looked back and saw smoke,” she said.
Greta heard another loud boom seconds later, and figured it was a building collapse or a gas pipe explosion. She saw police vehicles and heard sirens.
Then, she called her dad, who told her that Don, stepmom Eileen Forst and 9-month-old Violet were near the finish line during the explosions. She broke out in tears.
“I panicked. I didn’t know they were right across the street,” she said.
Finally, after a series of text messages and phone calls among Greta and other family members in Boston for the occasion, it turned out that everyone was safe. They agreed to stay off the “T” — the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority — and make the several-mile walk back to their hotel.
As Greta waited for her husband and daughter to arrive, she watched television news footage of what turned out to be an attack by two young men, Chechen Muslims, who’d been living in Massachusetts for more than a decade.
“I got more upset,” she said of watching the TV reports.
Eventually, Don and Violet arrived at the hotel, much to Greta’s relief.
“I gave them the biggest hug ever,” she said.
Greta, 30, a librarian at Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights, N.J., completed the marathon in 4:15.31. That’s not bad considering she is four months pregnant.
Back in 2010, her time was about 4:05. Last November, she finished the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:32.11.
The day started innocently enough for Don and Violet. They saw Greta run past the eight-mile mark of the race before driving back to their hotel, where they left the car and baby stroller. They hopped on the T to get to the finish line.
After watching Greta complete the race, Don began to feed Violet, only to be interrupted by a blast a mere 40 yards away.
“All of a sudden, we heard what sounded like a cannon go off. We felt a vibration and the bleachers shake,” he said.
At first, Don, who is chief deputy commissioner in the office of city elections commissioner Al Schmidt, thought there was some sort of malfunction.
“Ten seconds later, the second one went off,” said Don, estimating that it was a block away from where he was sitting.
The explosions scared Violet.
“I grabbed my daughter as tight as I could. She started crying,” her dad said.
Don and the others were bracing for a third explosion, but it never came.
Still, he and his daughter and Forst made a quick escape.
“We ran four blocks away,” he said.
Don described the scene as “crazy,” and said he was surprised that only three people were killed, in addition to the more than 180 who were hospitalized, some with amputations and other serious injuries. He credited first responders with doing a good job ripping down barricades so people could make a somewhat organized getaway.
“The police and volunteers were incredible,” he said.
Greta and her brother, Curt, have already qualified for next year’s Boston Marathon, and they plan to be there. The 2014 race is set for April 21, the day after Easter.
All hope for a more peaceful marathon after last week’s bittersweet experience.
“I’m really grateful that my wife and baby and rest of the family that were there are OK,” Don said, “but I feel bad for everyone else who was not as lucky.” ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org