During the Marathon Bombing, He Ran to Help — Today, He’s Running Again

On race day, one writer thanks hero Carlos Arredondo for helping to ease pain for Boston — 'we were a part of the collateral damage'

by Deirdre Reilly | Updated 16 Apr 2018 at 9:17 AM

I turned on the television five years ago to watch the Boston Marathon — something I do every year, in my home just a few miles outside that great city. I like to hear the stories of inspiration and physical dedication that always surface around this world-renowned race. Not a runner myself, I admire what it takes to prep for a 26.2-mile trek around Boston.

The day of the 2013 marathon bombing, my son Matt, then 23, went off to work as usual, his office close to the finish line. His girlfriend was going downtown to cheer on the runners with friends, and she hoped to make her way to the finish line. “Tell Alexa to have fun and be careful,” I said, a normal signoff from a mother to a son.

All hell broke loose hours just hours later, at 2:49 p.m. I watched in horror as smoke and noise and utter chaos descended on the marathon finish line, and the television coverage scrambled to keep up with the unfolding act of terror. I dialed my cellphone with trembling fingers and got Matt on the line. He said he was fine — but couldn’t reach Alexa.

I sank into our couch and began praying, disconnecting the call after Matt promised to call back with any information. I could hear the panic in his voice, and my eyes filled with tears — the first of many that week. I waited for news of Alexa.

A hero soon emerged on television screens around the nation — a man in a cowboy hat who raced into the chaos, helping as many of the wounded as he could. When the first explosion occurred, Carlos Arredondo, then 52, had been handing out American flags to marathon runners, something he had done since his son Alexander, a Marine, was killed in Iraq in 2004. (The Arredondos tragically lost another son, Brian, to suicide several years later, on the last day of the Iraq War.)

Arredondo dragged victims to safety, racing among the bodies to do his own brand of triage, wrapping limbs and comforting those who just moments ago had been laughing and cheering together — and now lay on the pavement minus their limbs, blood covering everything.

Arredondo has been at the finish line each year since the bombing, handing out flags. Today –– five years later, in 2018 –– Arredondo, originally from Costa Rica, will be back at the race, but this time with a number on his back.

He is running the Boston Marathon at 57 years old. He thinks about what it will feel like to cross the finish line.

"When we approach that area, it's very emotional, just being there, but doing this myself for the first time, it's emotional just to think about the other side of that terrible tragedy," he told Boston television station WHDH.com. "The runners — I'm going to be a runner this time."

That famous cowboy hat will also be back, much to the delight of Boston Marathon fans. "The cowboy hat, definitely going to bring one — in my pocket, you never know," he said.

Arredondo told WHDH he will be running to raise funds for his family's Arredondo Family Foundation, which focuses on military suicides.

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As for my son Matt's girlfriend Alexa? She had been making her way to the finish line with friends when they saw smoke and policemen yelled for them to turn and start running. So they did, unaware of the exact nature of the chaos just yards away. "It was just surreal," she said. "We just took off running, not knowing if another blast would happen."

When I finally spoke to her, I broke down crying, realizing just how important she had become not just to Matt, but to our whole family. The marathon bombing — and "Boston Strong" — is something we will always share with her. It's a bond of appreciation and the blessing of safety after deep uncertainty and fear.

I would like to thank Carlos Arredondo, who has known so much tragedy, for running the race. It moves all of us in the Boston area closer to complete healing.

There are ripple waves to a terror attack. Not only are victims and first responders affected long term, but so are those within easy radius of the event. We were a part of the collateral damage that day.

I would like to thank Carlos Arredondo, who has known so much tragedy, for running the race. It moves all of us in the Boston area closer to complete healing after that bombing five years ago, and allows us to focus on all the rich and varied stories of survival and triumph that come from the Boston Marathon bombing. He runs for all of us.

As poet David Ian Baker wrote in his poem "Running": "A brisk pace makes my heart beat so fast / the thrill of the run means I feel no pain / With every step onward, strong as the last / the thrill of the run means I feel no pain …"

Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor at LifeZette.

(photo credit, homepage image: Carlos Arredondo / Facebook; photo credit, article image: YouTube)

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