After months of training, Leo Verde woke up April 15, 2013, in Boston to just the kind of day he’d hoped for. The weather was beautiful and the temperature was in the 40s, lovely cool weather in which to run 26 miles.
“It was always a dream of mine to run Boston,” Baton Rouge resident Verde said of last year’s marathon. “Boston. It’s something about that romanticism about Boston. The history.”
At the age of 49, he knew he was too old to make the qualifying time. So, he raised $35,000 for a local cystic fibrosis organization, getting him into the prestigious race.
“It was a dream come true,” he said.
Although they had trained together, Verde said, this was the first race he would be running without his fiancée, Laure Stoma. Instead, she would wait for him at the finish line.
Verde was aiming for a time of under four hours, and as he turned onto the last street before the finish line, he was close.
“When I made the turn, I saw the first bomb go off.”
The blast was about a half-mile away. Maybe it was a celebration cannon for someone who crossed the finish line, he thought.
“It was such a weird sight, feeling and sound,” he said. “It didn’t sound like a bomb.”
He kept running.
“I didn’t really think anything of it. Then in a 10-second delay, the second bomb went off in front of me,” he said. “Now that one was close.”
Only about 100 yards away, the second bomb sent smoke and heat toward Verde, who stopped in his tracks.
“I knew it was terrorism. I knew it was a bomb.”
For what seemed like an eternity, Verde stood in the enveloping smoke before he just started walking toward the finish line. His run was over.
“I could hear people screaming. People hollering.”
At 1:54 p.m., he crossed the finish line, just four minutes after the bombs had exploded, and he looked for Stoma, who was supposed to be waiting for him.
The blast had thrown barricades into the street and people were scrambling to help those who were injured. Three people died as a result of the bombs.
Still standing at the finish line was Stoma. She was unhurt.
“We embraced for what seemed like an eternity,” Verde said.
He was interviewed by a local television station, and it wasn’t until he watched the broadcast that he could see people being cared for near him. He doesn’t remember seeing any of that at the time.
“Everything was just very surreal,” he said.
What has stuck with him for the past year is what the finish line was not.
“The finish line of a marathon is one of the most incredible areas of sport,” he said. People you would never think would finish a marathon are crossing off the accomplishment and there’s cheering, elation and a general feeling of a community of runners. This was different.
“I remember walking away from the interview, away from the finish line and not seeing a single soul,” he said. “It was deserted. That was one image I’ve played back over and over.”
This year will be different as Verde, this time joined by Stoma, will race again in the Boston Marathon, scheduled for Monday.
“After everything that happened, we swore we would never run another race without each other,” he said.
Every runner who didn’t finish last year was invited back, but Verde again needed to raise money for a charity to get the go-ahead. It was difficult to find a charity since so many people wanted to run the marathon this year, and he got turned down by four or five before the American Liver Foundation agreed. He raised $8,000 for the organization.
Verde said he’s not worried about returning to Boston, but it’s clear in information sent out by race organizers and others that some runners are experiencing anxiety.
Before race day, Verde said, he plans to make an early stop at the finish line location and the two areas where the bombs exploded to pay his respects.
And, as he runs this year’s marathon, he will be carrying the race completion medal he received last year. Having never worn that medal before, he plans to put it around his neck as soon as he crosses the finish line.
“I think it will bring closure to my 2013 experience.”