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Two runners offer perspectives on Boston Marathon tragedy

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Worthington resident Melissa Kemp in Boston following the marathon.

Worthington resident Melissa Kemp had been looking forward to the Boston Marathon for months.

An avid runner for the past eight years, the 26-year-old second-grade teacher at Buffalo Elementary School in the Freeport Area School District had completed three marathons since 2010. Still, she said she was eager to take her first shot at the 26.2 mile race through Boston — the oldest annual marathon in the world.

“I was very excited about it,” said Kemp. “I qualified (for the Boston Marathon) at the Erie Marathon at Presque Isle in September, and I'd been training for it since January.”

Kemp and her boyfriend, Talan Conjack of Freeport, who accompanied her for support, traveled to Boston for Monday's race, and both were delighted when Kemp crossed the finish line after 1 p.m. in 3 hours, 19 minutes — only three minutes off her personal best.

“It was an amazing feeling,” said Kemp. “The weather was so beautiful and everything was so organized. It was such a great experience.”

After posing for a few photos near Copley Square, Kemp and Conjack took a subway to their hotel on the other side of the Boston Harbor and about three miles from the course.

That's when everything changed.

Shortly before 3 p.m. and unbeknownst to the couple, two bombs tore through crowds near the finish line along Boylston Street, killing three people and wounding more than 170.

“We found out about it when we started getting text messages from friends,” said Kemp.

“I was very upset. We had been right there where it happened a little while before. Those spectators out there are there to cheer you on and they were amazing throughout the whole race. It's so sad to think people were hurt while cheering for members of their family.”

It's a scenario that Dr. Rod Groomes, another local resident who was registered for the marathon, said he's thankful he skirted. Director of the emergency department at ACMH Hospital and a runner for more than 40 years, Groomes qualified for the Boston Marathon during last April's Athens Marathon in Athens, Ohio, and longed to participate in the legendary race.

“Both of my daughters live in Boston, so I thought I should try to run the marathon,” said Groomes. “In September, I was still on schedule to train for it, but I developed foot problems and had to stop running around November.”

Instead of making the trip, Groomes stayed home and spent Monday working the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift at ACMH, where he learned of the bombings like most everyone else.

“Someone was watching it on CNN,” he said. “At first, it didn't register. It was hard to tell from the footage whether there was anybody (near the explosions) or how much damage was done. But then we found out more. The Boston Marathon is a world-famous race. It just boggles the mind that anyone would do something like this at that event.”

Groomes said if he had run in the race, his normal pace would have had him finishing right around the time the bombs were detonated.

“My girlfriend and daughter would probably have been right around the finish line waiting for me,” he said. “There are different starting times, and I don't know exactly when I would have been running, but I just have to thank my lucky stars I didn't go. I don't know how anyone could ever recover from something like that. It's bad enough watching it on TV.”

Even as someone who's worked in and around emergency rooms for decades, Groomes said he can't imagine what it must have been like for medical personnel at the site and nearby hospitals.

“I've occasionally seen victims of bad car accidents where we've had one or two people at a time,” he said. “But to think of all those people injured and maimed by those bombs, it's unimaginable. For those hospital workers, it must have been like being in Afghanistan.”

Although Groomes and Kemp were horrified by the tragic events that unfolded in Boston, both said it wouldn't keep them from running the marathon in the future.

“I don't think anyone will let this stop them,” said Groomes.

“The purpose of terrorism is to disrupt people's lives, so we can't let it scare us. All we can do is maintain and carry on.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or

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