BRATTLEBORO -- Maggie Lapan's first Boston Marathon was in 2012, and it was one of the hottest days in the event's history.
The Brattleboro native returned to the starting line on April 15 of the following year in hopes of having a "normal Boston Marathon" and, for a while, was well on her way to getting it. She made it to Mile 17, when she decided to put in her headphones to listen to music for the first time in the race. She was getting ready to make a turn when a little girl ran in front of her, forcing her to remove her headphones.
"She said, 'You have to stop. There's bombs at the finish line,'" Lapan recalled. "I just thought, 'You can't be serious.' At that point, people didn't really know what was going on.
Lapan, a 2004 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School, told the Reformer she had to keep running to find her father, who had planned to race backward from Mile 26 to Mile 21 and rendezvous with his daughter before the two ran the final five miles together. She said she kept running and was soon told to get off the course immediately. She unable to access Facebook on her phone to inform people she was all right and boarded a bus to Boston College Law School before eventually finding her father, who was unharmed.
The world now knows the bombs that little girl was referring to were explosions that killed three and wounded more than 200 others near the finish line on Boylston Street. The bombing consisted of two exploding pressure cookers apparently placed into garbage cans, presumably as part of an anti-American terrorist attack. Brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev soon became the target of the FBI and authorities began a citywide manhunt that stopped Boston in its tracks and paralyzed the city with fear. After the suspects allegedly murdered Massachusetts Institute of Technology Police Officer Sean Collier, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shoot-out with police, but his brother was captured alive in Watertown, Mass. -- where Lapan lives.
"That was an interesting week," she recalled. "I didn't feel like I was in harm's way, but I was in the neighborhood he was found in."
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now awaiting trial.
Lapan, 28, plans to race again on Monday and hopes to raise more money for charity. She has generated $13,000 for the Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP) over the past two years and aims to reach the $20,000 mark this year. But this year is different. She believes she is competing for, literally, hundreds of others that cannot, one year after a senseless attack gripped the nation.
"I feel like I'm running on behalf of other runners," she said. "I'm running in honor of anyone who would ever want to cross the finish line."
Lapan also said she is returning to the marathon with the Marathon Coalition, the same team of charity runners who took part last year. She looks forward to reuniting with her teammates at the finish line this year, something she was robbed of in 2013.
Lapan and her father weren't the only local parent-child duo whose world was rocked when those pressure cookers exploded. Nancy and Caroline Heydinger also participated in the 117th installment of the oldest marathon in the United States. Nancy told the Reformer she had crossed the finish line and was wrapped in a mylar blanket (to reduce heat loss in a runner's body) and was getting some water and a commemorative medal when she heard the first explosion.
"So many people around me, where I was, were thinking, 'Did a cannon go off?'" she said. "That's the point when I ran to try to find (my daughter) Caroline (who had finished 40 minutes earlier)."
Nancy Heydinger said she was fortunate to have designated an emergency meet-up spot with her daughter, who was there waiting for her a few blocks away from the finish line.
"And she said, 'Mom, you finished in under four hours!' And I said, 'We've got to get out of here. There's a bomb,'" she told the Reformer. Nancy said she couldn't make any calls on her cell phone, but she and Caroline updated their Facebook status to let everyone know they were OK.
That was Nancy's 25th marathon and she intended it to be her final one. But in the spirit of perseverance, she decided to train for the upcoming race but will not be able to compete because did not finish high enough in her age bracket. She said this week, however, that she plans to watch the event on television.
Caroline, on the other hand, is still struggling with the experience, her mother said.
"She did not think we were going to get out," Nancy recalled.
The attack hit especially close to home because it was one of the only years Caroline's father and siblings didn't accompany the pair to Boston. And, Nancy said, they typically rooted on the runners while standing at the exact spot the pressure cookers were placed. There was little time to process the tragedy, as Caroline soon had to head home to Washington, D.C., where she works at Georgetown University. Nancy told the Reformer she marveled at the how the crisis management team handled the situation and how Bostonians rallied together in the days following the attack.
"I was so proud of the city of Boston and (the marathon) is just an amazing event. I just see the event going on stronger than ever," she said. "Boston showed us a new definition of 'strong.'"
Brattleboro resident Bob Parks and his family also had a traumatizing experience last year. He had finished the event and soaked in the experience when he started wending his way through the mass of people along Boylston Street, trying to find his wife, Eileen, and their two children. Parks was seconds away from finding them when the bombs exploded a couple of hundred feet away, forcing him to locate his wife through a haze of black smoke. The children, 12 and 10 at the time, were safe inside a Lord & Taylor clothing store and their parents grabbed them and ran to the T station, where they took the train to Alewife and then drove to his Bob Parks' parents' house in Worcester, Mass.
He said his biggest priority was getting his kids out of danger and doesn't remember much more about the situation.
"I just saw the smoke and lots of debris flying through the air and I didn't know which way was up," he said.
Parks, 43, said he will run in this year's marathon, though his family will not join him. Though the event conjures up plenty of bad vibes, he said it is too special an occasion to be scared away.
"I'm a really enthusiastic runner. The Boston Marathon is such a big event that I think it helps inspire. It's kind of amazing. It's a big show," he said. "If you're football fan, do you ever have one time a year where you get to be on the same football field as Tom Brady? ... I am able to see my heroes running beside me, at least at the beginning of the race."
He, like Nancy Heydinger, was running in part to promote a running group (Going Far Running). Heydinger is the executive director of Girls on the Run Vermont.
Timothy Copeland, of West Chesterfield, N.H., has four marathons under his belt but has yet to add the one in Boston to his résumé. He plans to change that on Monday.
"I guess just knowing it's sort of the granddaddy of marathons and just qualifying for it is an accomplishment in and of itself (is the reason I'm running)," he told the Reformer. "It had been a goal of mine to qualify before the attack, but obviously it happened and it was a profound event. It has made me feel like getting a chance to compete in it would be more meaningful this year because of what happened last year."
Copeland, 44, hopes to finish in roughly three hours. He said he will head to Boston on Saturday to get his race bib and will drive straight home before going back on Sunday afternoon to stay with friends who live in Hopkinton, Mass., where the marathon starts.
The 188th Boston Marathon is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Monday.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.