Finish line celebration at Boston Marathon cut short for Hampton grad

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

With one last burst of energy, Megan Hennessey closed her eyes and sprinted toward the finish line. The last thing she saw was the official marathon clock hit 4:09:43.

At 4:09:44, the first of two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon finish line that killed three and injured more than 180.

“At first, we thought it was a firework,” said Hennessey, 23, a Hampton High School graduate. “Then I looked back and all we saw was smoke, and I saw a guy with his legs up in the air.”

Ten seconds after the first explosion, a second blast detonated about 100 yards away.

Hennessey, now a graduate student at Boston College, spent four months training for her first marathon to raise money for the Boston College Campus School, a private school for students ages 3 to 21 with multiple disabilities. She is a teaching assistant at the school while taking graduate special education courses.

“My biggest motivation was my school,” Hennessey said, and she always dreamed of running the Boston Marathon.

More than 300 Boston College students, faculty and alumni trained for the 26.2-mile marathon to raise money for the school. Hennessey wore a shirt for the race that featured photos of the six students in her class.

She struggled at mile 11, suffering from dehydration but friends, family and Boston College colleagues and some of her students encouraged her from miles 17 to 23.

Boston College freshman Brendan Sweeney, a friend, joined Hennessey on her run shortly after she passed the campus. When the pair turned onto Hereford Street just before mile 26, they moved to the far right to see Hennessey's final cheering section of coworkers.

“It was so weird. I got, out of nowhere, all this energy to sprint” for the last couple miles, she said. “If I hadn't sprinted, I would have been right where that bomb went off.”

The force of the explosion pushed Hennessey forward into the runners in front of her. Unsure what had happened, she was able to celebrate her accomplishment “for about 5 seconds” and snap a celebratory photo before the second explosion and race officials' order to evacuate.

Crowds took off and Hennessey, too exhausted to hop the fence, was trapped in the finish line chutes meant to direct runners after the race.

“I was stuck and started sobbing,” she said. “I remember being there and not knowing where to go or what to do.”

About 10 people offered help. One man led her out of the chutes while another retrieved her phone for her from her running belt.

Hennessey tried to reach her boyfriend, Alex Zucco, 27, of Boston, and family members by phone.

Zucco and a friend were on a train heading for the city, when the friend's girlfriend called with news of the bombing. The train stopped and was evacuated five minutes later. They ran downtown, Zucco said.

Zucco and Hennessey met up close to 45 minutes after the bombing and walked several miles to meet Hennessey's family.

Hennessey spent last week recovering from the experience with her family in Hampton. She's tried to avoid the news, and struggles with nightmares.

Hennessey said she finds it difficult to think about those hurt or killed, and wonders what the tragedy will mean for future marathons.

Her finish time was six minutes faster than her goal. “Everyone says I should be so proud. It's hard to think about that. It's tainted,” she said. The Boston College runners had raised more than $64,000, as of race time, for the Campus School.

Mary Alice Hennessey, Megan's mother, said the family has been through a roller coaster of emotions and now is focused on their daughter accomplishing her goal, and being together.

“All I was concerned about was getting to my daughter. Then you get angry. Then you're grateful because it could have been a lot worse,” she said. “We were lucky. I truly believe God was watching out for Megan.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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