Elkins man barely avoids mayhem

Elkins resident Rob Thompson crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon Monday in an unofficial time of 4 hours and 4 minutes – just about two minutes before the first of two explosions erupted near the end of the renowned 26.2-mile race.

“I had just crossed the finish line and within a minute or two, I heard it and I turned around and looked and saw smoke,” Thomas told The Inter-Mountain via phone from Newton, Mass., Monday evening. “They give you water and a PowerBar at the end of the race, and I was proceeding through that area when the second explosion went off.”

At the time, Thompson had no idea that he had narrowly escaped suffering injuries or death in what federal law enforcement agents would later label a terrorist attack.

“I didn’t know what happened exactly,” Thompson said. “Now I’m very thankful that I was where I was. I could have very easily slowed down or stopped and been right in the middle of it.”

Thankfully, Thompson’s wife and daughter – who were waiting for him at the finish line – followed a crowd of fellow fans away from the area of the explosion, reunited with Thompson and then began to look for a way back to their hotel in Newton.

Thompson, who was one of 46 West Virginians to compete in the iconic race, said the entire subway system, known locally as the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority), was shut down in the wake of the explosions.

“A couple really nice ladies who were race volunteers drove us to our hotel,” Thompson said.

“I’m very thankful,” Thompson added. “Tell everyone (in Elkins) I’m fine and thank you for your concern. We’re driving home tomorrow.”

Back in central West Virginia, local runners were in shock.

Matt Lewis, track and field and cross-country coach for Elkins High School, said he’d previously viewed running events such as the Boston race as unlikely targets.

“It certainly makes you think,” Lewis said. “Of all the events and landmarks such as the White House, you never think, ‘Oh, they’re going to target a running event.’ You think more along the lines of a football stadium or a basketball arena. To have it at a running event makes you think, ‘Am I going to take my guys to a meet and have that happen?'”

Sid Gillespie, chief executive officer of the Elkins-Randolph County YMCA, ran the Boston Marathon in 2001 and 2002.

“I was shocked actually,” Gillespie said of the news. “People were calling and texting and asking me if I was running Boston.” He wasn’t, but he does remember the glory of qualifying – but most importantly, completing – the race. It was a glory that was marred by today’s explosive devices, he said.

“It’s probably the most famous, the pinnacle event for marathon runners,” Gillespie said. “It’s terrible – there’s 27,000 people that run and another 13,000 still on the course. As a runner, when you get to that last 500 yards, it’s exciting.”

Parsons native Jessica Gutshall, who is now a Morgantown resident, was outraged by the attack.

“I’ve run several half-marathons, yet to do a full, and I am horrified that this happened!” Gutshall exclaimed in a Facebook post. “How dare someone horrifically sabotage an event that celebrates those runners’ dedication and perseverance to the sport? Qualifying for Boston is an honor that is not easily achieved. Shame on them for tarnishing it. Many prayers go out to those affected.”

West Virginia’s two senators, Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both offered their prayers for the victims of Monday’s explosions.

“I’m deeply saddened about the explosions today during the Boston marathon,” Rockefeller said in a press statement. “Sharon’s and my thoughts and prayers are with the runners, volunteers, spectators, and their families and friends.

“While all the details of the explosions are not yet available, we can be clear that this was an absolutely senseless act, and those behind it will be brought to justice. In the face of such fright, we know that our nation once again comes together to support those in need – whether for those who lost a family member or friend, for those who are injured, or for those in shock from this terrible event. We will always stand together.”

“Gayle and I join all West Virginians and Americans in praying for the victims of the horrific explosions in Boston,” Manchin said in a press release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Boston community, Massachusetts and our nation as we cope with the terrifying incidents at the Boston Marathon.

“Once again, in the midst of chaos in an American city, we saw heroism from our brave first responders and volunteers. We don’t know all the details yet, but it appears this was a senseless act of violence aimed at innocent people who come from all over the world, including dozens from West Virginia, for this special sporting event. We cannot allow cowardice to go unchallenged.” We will not allow it to go unpunished.”

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