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Ligonier runners share thoughts about Boston Marathon tragedy

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

When Flight 93 went down on Sept. 11, 2001, Jackie and Andy Horvath were one mile away at their home in Indian Lake.

“I felt the earth shake when the plane went down. Corrugated plane card-boardy wall insulation fluttered down like confetti into our yard,” said Jackie Horvath. “However, I must say that what happened in Boston last Monday has made an even bigger impression on me than the events of 9/11.”

No stranger to marathon competitions, Horvath of Ligonier finished in the top 500 women at her most recent Boston Marathon in 2011.

“As a runner, the course at Boston is hallowed ground. Boston is the Super Bowl of running,” Horvath said. “To qualify to run there is the achievement of a lifetime for most runners, and I am crushed/broken-hearted by such a pointless act that will result in future Boston races laden with new and burdensome restrictions for the runners, their families and fans.”

Next April, at age 50, Horvath will be running in the Boston Marathon.

“That is my response as an American to what has happened,” she said. “I always run my best when I run for others. My fall marathon, and especially next April's run in Boston, will be extremely emotional for me as I dedicate my efforts to all of those individuals and families who have had their lives negatively and needlessly affected by the animals that perpetrated this tragedy.”

On Monday, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, was charged in his hospital room with using a weapon of mass destruction to kill. He was accused of joining with his older brother, Tamerlan — now dead — in setting off the pressure-cooker bombs that killed three people and wounded more than 200 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last week.

Jeremiah Wagner, 35, of Ligonier was one of the marathon runners who crossed the finish line just minutes before the blasts.

It was Wagner's fourth marathon run and his first Boston Marathon. The Ligonier Valley YMCA senior program director traveled to Boston with his wife Jacquelyn and children Dylan, 7, and Lacey, 4 for the race and a family vacation.

Wagner remembers starting the race with a moment of silence for the victims of the Sandyhook tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

“By the end of the day, we had our own tragedy to think about,” he said.

As Wagner crossed the finish line, about one hour before the bombings, he was experiencing dehydration and severe muscle cramps. He called his wife and asked her and the children to meet him at the medical tent located only 100 yards from the finish line. While he recovered, they returned to the family waiting area about 1 12 blocks away.

Wagner said he left the tent less than 5 to 15 minutes before the explosion. Shortly, that same tent was filled with bombing victims.

“Just as I reached my family and hugged them, we heard the first explosion,” he said.

As the family made its way to the subway and hotel room, Wagner said there was a sense of panic all around them.

“At first, it got very quiet, then everyone realized something very bad happened,” he said. “We heard about what was happening from the people we passed by.”

Wagner gives much credit to the runners who switched from running mode to lifesaving mode to care for the victims.

He said he will not let this experience deter his plans to run in a marathon again.

“You can't let something like this stop you from leading your life,” he said. “You can't let it keep you from a sporting event or running a marathon.”

He will be competing in a marathon in Columbus, Ohio on Oct. 20.

Just before the race, Wagner said he had to opportunity to meet up with another Ligonier marathon runner, Valerie Christoff, in the hospitality area at the start line.

Christoff, 42, finished the race and was about three blocks away when the first bomb exploded.

“I hadn't yet found my husband. He was waiting for me when he heard the blast,” said Christoff. “We headed to the hotel and spent the evening responding to texts and phone calls and letting people know we were OK.”

Christoff, an instructional technology teacher in Somerset, said she would much rather talk about the race conditions and how she fared in the race.

“At the end of the day, people were hurting and I couldn't fix any of that,” she said. “I ached for those who lost lives, limbs and loved ones like the rest of the country.”

She said the Boston Marathon is a great race with fantastic fans.

“Some day that will be the story again,” Christoff said. “That will be a much better story than the one being written this year.”