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Local runners recall 2013 Boston Marathon bombing

Stephen Huba
| Sunday, April 15, 2018, 8:51 p.m.
North Huntingdon native Lauren Frick, shown just moments after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, looks visibly relieved after reuniting with her family.
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North Huntingdon native Lauren Frick, shown just moments after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, looks visibly relieved after reuniting with her family.

Lauren Frick was on the lucky side of the finish line — separated from the Boston Marathon bombing five years ago by a set of bleachers.

Waiting for her nearby was her 7-month-old son, her husband and her mother. Fortunately, her “chronically late” husband was true to form that day and had gotten off at a subway stop farther away from the finish line.

“I was particularly slow that year, but just fast enough. And my family was just late enough to not have time to make it to the race side of the finish line. How lucky was I?” she said.

It took an “epically long” two minutes for her to reunite with them after the bombing. “It felt like forever, 'cause I just didn't know,” she said.

Frick, 36, of Medford, Mass., was one of several Western Pennsylvania natives to be in Boston on April 15, 2013, when two homemade bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three and injuring 264. Authorities soon tied the terrorist attack to two Chechen brothers who followed a radical form of Islam.

None of the Pennsylvanians was injured. But for each one of them, the bombing has cast a long shadow. It has reshaped values and reframed priorities.

“It certainly crystallized for me what's important — finding your family and getting out of there,” Frick said.

A 1999 graduate of Norwin High School, Frick grew up in North Huntingdon and moved to Boston to attend MIT. She has lived there ever since.

The 2013 marathon was her third. She was supposed to run in 2012 but took a deferral because she was pregnant with her first child and it was 92 degrees on race day.

In 2013, she finished in 4 hours, 19 minutes — 40 minutes slower than her previous marathon. About four minutes after she crossed the finish line, the first bomb went off.

Runners thought that perhaps the explosion had something to do with the Patriots' Day celebration, an annual event that commemorates the battles of Lexington and Concord. Then the second bomb went off.

“That's when the chaos broke out,” she said. “I did not see any of the carnage, so to speak. I felt and heard the explosion, but I was not close enough to see its impact.”

Although she doesn't think about it every day, her children regularly ask her about the bombing. She returned as a volunteer in 2014 but does not plan to run in this year's marathon Monday.

Because Medford was the hometown of one of those killed in the bombing, Frick and her children regularly visit a memorial built there in the woman's honor.

Frick said the bombing had the “opposite effect” in that it has brought people together. “The next year, there was a record number of people who wanted to run,” she said.

Jim Wrubel, 44, of Cranberry finished the marathon about an hour before the bombs went off. Although it was a good race for him personally — he finished in 3 hours, 5 minutes — the bombing has left an emotional scar.

“It's always in the back of my mind that a lot of people didn't come away from that,” he said, reflecting on the fifth anniversary.

After he had reunited with his family at the finish line, they boarded the subway and went to the Bell in Hand Tavern.

“By the time we got to the restaurant, it was already on the news and the town was already gripped (with fear),” he said.

Wrubel has returned to the marathon twice since the bombing, his finish time in 2013 having qualified him for the 2014 marathon.

“It was not just for myself. It was important to show that that type of terrorist activity doesn't cow us as Americans,” he said. “My children were 10 and 5 at the time, so I wanted to let them know that we don't hide from these sorts of things.”

Wrubel ran in Sunday's Athens, Ohio, Marathon, in the hopes of qualifying for next year's Boston Marathon.

“Something that comes from competitive running and trying to reach a goal is to never take anything for granted. … Sometimes you just don't know what's going to happen,” he said. “This was the most powerful reminder that you can't take any day for granted, and to cherish everything you've done because you just don't know.”

Kaitlyn Kacsuta, 30, was a third-year law student at Duquesne University when she ran in the 2013 Boston Marathon. She finished in 3 hours, 21 minutes.

Afterward, she walked to an office building to meet a friend from Pittsburgh. While changing inside the building, she heard a sound that turned out to be the first explosion. Her friend ran into the restroom where she was changing and told her there had been a bomb.

“Everyone was just kind of shocked,” she said. “It's like when anything like this happens, you turn on the news and you really can't turn away.”

Kacsuta qualified for the 2014 marathon but pulled out at the last minute because her sister was leaving for Army basic training.

The Pittsburgh woman passed the bar exam and moved to New York City in July 2016 to take a job investigating financial crimes. She now shares New Yorkers' aversion to large crowds.

“I think it would be absolutely true to say that because of (the bombing) I'm more aware of my surroundings,” she said.

At a deeper level, Kacsuta said the bombing affected her career choice after law school. She wanted to work for an employer who valued family and who valued people who value family, she said.

“Often, when you're going to law school, the goal is to get a job with one of those big-time law firms. That day (April 15, 2013), a switch went off and I wanted to work for people who value those other things, too,” she said.

“I'm sure that day had something to do with wanting to relish the times I had outside the everyday grind, spending time with people I care about,” she said.

Although she was not there in 2013, Janetta Thomas, 38, of Indiana said the survivors' indomitable spirit will be her chief inspiration when she runs in the Boston Marathon for the first time Monday.

“Because it was such a horrific thing that happened … those people, the survivors, they managed to live on and do what they love,” she said. “I'm truly inspired by them.”

Thomas, a guidance counselor at Apollo-Ridge High School, qualified for the Boston Marathon after completing the 2017 Erie Marathon in 3 hours, 33 minutes.

She was to fly out of Pittsburgh on Sunday and was scheduled for a 10:50 a.m. Monday start time.

“I think it will be one of the more challenging ones,” said the veteran of several big city marathons.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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