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Sterling Heights, Shelby Township

April 19, 2013

UCS teacher safe after Boston Marathon chaos

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

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UCS teacher safe after Boston Marathon chaos
Nancy Smith, of Shelby Township, stands second to the left with fellow runners at the starting line of the April 15 Boston Marathon. Smith could not complete the race this year due to two bombs that exploded by the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 170.

Having previously completed the Boston Marathon 12 years in a row, Nancy Smith knew the euphoric feeling of crossing the finish line, wearing a medal and celebrating with fellow runners.

But while she couldn’t complete the race’s entire 26.2 miles this year, her consolation prize — her life and safety — was far more valuable.

Smith, 57, of Shelby Township, was one of thousands of racers who attempted to complete the Boston Marathon April 15 before two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 170.

Smith had not reached the finish line when the first bomb detonated a little after four hours and nine minutes into the race. A sacroiliac joint injury slowed her pace throughout the competition, and today she considers herself blessed.

“Typically, my time coming in is a 4:09 or 4:10. My friends say, ‘We thought you were coming in (to finish),’” she said. “Because I was injured this year, I was coming in later than my usual time.

“I just feel like there were angels watching over me.”

On that Monday, it wasn’t until the 22nd mile that Smith began to hear sporadic rumors from other runners about a bomb. She tried to ask people around her what they knew, but most didn’t know anything.

A couple of miles later, she witnessed at least six police motorcycles and four to six unmarked vehicles whiz by. But the runners continued to race on course.

It wasn’t till after the 25th mile that she found police blocking the path with a simple message: “You’re done.”

“Everything was in lockdown,” Smith said.

Upon being forced to quit, Smith had no money with her; it was with her belongings at the finish area. And she couldn’t reach her hotel because it was in a locked-down area.

But she soon met a Boston couple on a bus who invited her to stay with them for a couple of hours so she could eat and visit Facebook. Calling loved ones was virtually impossible at the time — she could only text occasionally, just enough to assure her family and friends that she was safe.

When Smith heard from other runners that she could finally access her hotel that evening, she noticed that an eerie calm had filled the city. But she still did not know the magnitude of the carnage.

The next morning, she watched TV and read The Boston Globe.

“The blood everywhere, the loss of limbs,” Smith said. “That’s when it was just, ‘Oh my God, what have we just experienced?’”

Smith left Boston the day after the attack. Upon contacting other runners, she concluded that she doesn’t know anyone who was injured or killed in the bombings.

Looking back, she remains grateful for the city’s people and their help and hospitality. Even if it meant simple things, like letting a runner buy food, dial a cellphone or step inside for shelter.  

“I truly believe that strangers were my family there,” she said. “They just cared for whoever was in need.”

When Smith isn’t running in marathons, being back home means teaching third-graders at Roberts Elementary School in Shelby Township.

In a statement, Utica Community Schools spokesman Tim McAvoy commented about the bomb attack, though he declined to go into detail on how students in the district were taking the news.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and the city of Boston, and we are thankful that Mrs. Smith is safe and back in the classroom,” he said.

This year’s tragedy isn’t deterring Smith from planning to run in the Boston Marathon again. And if or when she does, she believes it will be more special than ever before.

“It’s more than just finishing,” she said. “It will be finishing and remembering what happened.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.