Boston terror hits close to home

Two Valley marathon runners share their experiences

The bomb blasts Monday in Boston that killed three people and injured scores hit close to home for St. Croix Valley residents who participated in the Boston Marathon.

Runners Chris Hesse-Withbroe of Lake Elmo and Leah Pustovar of Stillwater were at the marathon when the bombs exploded near the race finish line Monday afternoon.

The first blast rocked the race shortly after Pustovar, a two-time Boston Marathon runner, crossed the finish line.

“I had just finished the race, I was getting to the finishers tent and getting my finishers medal and warm-ups when it happened,” she said. “I saw both explosions happen and the other runners and I knew that something was wrong. We just didn’t know what it was.”

Pustovar said she saw a huge gray cloud of smoke over the race, and as she was trying to get ahold of her family, first responders jumped into action breaking down barriers and she saw many police cars and ambulances go by. She said it took about 10 minutes for responders to rush in after the blasts.

Hesse-Withbroe, a three-time Boston Marathon participant, finished the race about 30 minutes before the blasts occurred and was celebrating a block away from the finish line when she heard the explosions.

“We were celebrating with thousands of people and then we heard the explosion and it was immediately silent. We knew something really bad had happened and I started hollering for my 16-year-old son. I knew he was nearby.” Hesse-Withbroe said. “As we were trying to figure out what happened a runner came up with tears in her eyes and told us that there was a bomb and we needed to get away from the finish line area.”

In the chaos after the blasts, both women turned to their cell phones and social media. Pustovar used her phone to track down her family who had been cheering for her right across the street from where one of the blasts occurred.

“We found each other through text messages mostly. They ended up shutting down the cell service. But I was able to get a call through, before they did that, to my dad.” Pustovar said. “I was so relieved when he answered.”

Hesse-Withbroe took to Twitter and her cell phone to ask people watching the news in Minnesota which way she and her son should go. One friend led them safely away from the danger via twitter.

“We didn’t really understand the extent of it,” Pustovar said. “When we were walking back to our hotel we heard from another runner through  a text message that the race had been diverted and there were massive injuries.”

The latest counts, according to media reports Tuesday night, indicated that 176 people were injured, with 17 listed in critical condition. Thankfully for Pustovar and Hesse-Withbroe, everyone they traveled with to Boston was unhurt.

“We got lucky,” Pustovar said.

Hesse-Withbroe said as she and her son were walking back to their hotel, they walked near the command center and saw dozens of ambulances lined up to transport victims to hospitals.

Although Hesse-Withbroe and her son wanted to get back to their hotel right away, they waited until Boston Police Department bomb-sniffing dogs had been through the area.

“We had to take a circuitous route to The Sheraton (hotel) and when we got there, there were military members in their full combat gear with M-16s and they were still out there today (Tuesday),” Hesse-Withbroe said.

Both women were struck by how willing people were to help them.

“I was born and raised in Boston and I was so proud of my city,” Hesse-Withbroe said. “It was really amazing to see the city come together. To watch them run towards the injured with no concern for themselves or their safety and to see the resolve of runners to come back next year is just amazing.”

When asked if they’d run the marathon again both Pustovar and Hesse-Withbroe said they would.