Published 11:30 am Monday, April 21, 2014

Vicksburg resident Beth Krapac holds her medal for completing the 2013 Boston Marathon. Krapac was set to run this year's race today. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Vicksburg resident Beth Krapac holds her medal for completing the 2013 Boston Marathon. Krapac was set to run this year’s race today. (Ernest Bowker/The Vicksburg Post)

Krapac returns to Boston one year after bombings

In the predawn darkness of the Vicksburg National Military Park, Beth Krapac could clearly see the little girl’s face.

The two don’t know each other. Their one and only interaction was a friendly exchange of smiles and the passing of a water bottle on a sunny day in Boston one year ago last week.

The image, though, drives Krapac to run longer and harder. Her goal on each and every training run was to return to Boston and, hopefully, see that little girl’s smile and thousands more like it.

Every step for the past year has gotten the 49-year-old Vicksburg resident closer to the prize, and today she hopes to grasp it.

Krapac will line up in the chute today to run her second Boston Marathon. The first was last year, when a terrorist’s bomb killed three people, injured dozens more, and cast a shadow over one of America’s most beloved sporting events.

Krapac isn’t out to win a trophy. Her mission is to help bring the magic and fun back to the race.

“I wanted to go back there because I feel like I owe Boston. I owe the people of Boston my support,” Krapac said. “That’s what makes us great. We can have parades and inaugural events and not let a few bad people ruin it for everybody.”

Krapac is far from the super-fast elite runners competing for prize money and a place in the marathon’s storied history. A recreational runner who has completed more than a dozen marathons, Krapac crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 51 minutes last year.

Less than 20 minutes later, as she was receiving her medal a couple of blocks from the finish line, two bombs allegedly planted by Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev exploded.

“I was close enough to see the clock and the black smoke, and feel the ground roll,” Krapac said. “Black smoke was everywhere, and the clock had stopped. The clock never stops in a marathon. It was stopped at 4:09:43. I’ll never forget 4:09:43. It’s burned into my brain.”

The following hours were chaotic. Krapac wasn’t injured, but she was hustled back toward her hotel and ordered to stay in her room for several hours. Once hotel guests were allowed to leave their rooms, they were still confined to the hotel alongside police officers in body armor.

Krapac flew home the next morning. As the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers ensued in the following days, Krapac’s focus was squarely on the dead and wounded.

“I think I must have been in shock. I wanted to know more about the people that were injured than the people who did it,” she said. “I don’t hate those people (the Tsarnaevs). I just don’t understand them.”

An avid runner who covers as much as 75 miles per week while training, Krapac soon returned to her hobby. Although she didn’t suffer any physical injuries, the effects of the bombing lingered in her psyche.

“I was in the park and they shot a cannon, and I nearly jumped under my car,” she said with a chuckle, a second before quietly adding, “It’s messed me up.”

Running, however, helped Krapac deal with the psychological trauma in a number of ways.

First, she said, it has made her realize how precious every day can be. Her marathon time in Boston was among her best, and happened when she realized midway through the race that she was on a good pace.

That made her deviate from her original plan of taking it a bit slower and soaking up the atmosphere of the race. Had she followed that plan, she could well have been closer to the finish line when the bombs went off.

“Every day. I think about it every day,” Krapac said. “One of the reasons I got up at 3:30 and ran 10 to 14 miles before work was because of that day. I am so blessed to be capable of doing that. I don’t want to waste a minute of my life any more.”

The other positive effect, Krapac said, has been a burning desire to help Boston heal. The first anniversary of the bombings, and the first marathon after them, is a milestone event in the city’s healing process.

The phrase “Boston Strong” was coined in the days after the bombings, and became synonomous with the city’s unity and strength as it shook off the shock of the tragedy.

In Vicksburg, 1,500 miles away, Krapac said she’s developed a connection to Boston and its citizens through the events of April 15, 2013.

The smiling child at the water stop has become her focal point. It’s one of many faces Krapac sees in her mind when she runs, and the one that’s become the symbol of her personal quest to return to Boston as the city celebrates its triumph over tragedy.

“Every time I run long in this park, I cried through parts of it and I think of all those people who were out there cheering,” Krapac said. “By us coming back, if that would help them feel more secure, to feel the American dream again, that’s what I need to do.”

A record field of nearly 36,000 runners were set to line up today for the 118th Boston Marathon.

Krapac was among them. Her time last year automatically qualified her for this year’s run. While she’d like to post another solid time, her primary goal is to run the slightly slower pace she intended in her last attempt and soak up the smiles of the thousands of Boston residents who line the marathon’s route.

“Last time I was just so glad to be there, and to be a part of something and that I made it. Then when the bombs went off, I thought, ‘You can’t let it be like this,’” Krapac said. “I feel like this race is for them. I will dedicate this race in my heart to the people that passed and were injured. I just want to be there. I don’t really care about the time.”

Krapac added that she isn’t concerned about another terrorist attack. She expects tight security and thousands of vigilant runners and spectators to keep anyone from attempting another attack.

“I think on Patriots’ Day, that is going to be the safest place in America to be,” she said. “We’ll be looking out for each other. I’m going to run my race, and high-five everyone I see, and joke, and have a good time.”

Krapac’s bigger concern, she admitted, is her own emotions. For months after last year’s marathon, she said she cried during her training runs as thoughts of that day flooded her mind.

Today, when she lines up in the chute to set off on the arduous 26.2-mile journey through Boston’s streets, the tears are likely to come flooding back.

This time, though, they won’t all be tears of sadness. They’ll stem from a mix of patriotism, memories, and the pride of triumphing over adversity that thousands of others alongside her will share.

“I truly worry I’m going to cry every single step of the marathon,” Krapac said. “Not a sad cry. It’s a blessed feeling to be part of something so historical. The race itself is like that. It’s emotional.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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