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Columbus couple leaves bomb scene before blasts

 

Brad Atkins celebrates after finishing the Boston Marathon Monday, about an hour and a half before the blasts.

Brad Atkins celebrates after finishing the Boston Marathon Monday, about an hour and a half before the blasts. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Melissa and Brad Atkins take in some sights of Boston prior to Monday’s Boston Marathon.

Melissa and Brad Atkins take in some sights of Boston prior to Monday’s Boston Marathon.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Carmen K. Sisson

 

It had been a perfect day. That's what Columbus resident and avid runner Brad Atkins couldn't wrap his head around Monday night. Everything was good, everyone was happy, everything was fine, he kept saying. Everything had seemed fine. 

 

He and his wife, Melissa, were safely in their Boston hotel, watching the remainder of the marathon on television, when tragedy marred a day in which it had seemed nothing could go wrong.  

 

If he had crossed the finish line an hour or so later, he said, if they had decided to go with their original plan -- to hang around and watch some of the other runners cross the finish line -- they would have been standing in nearly the exact spot where the explosions ripped through the crowd, killing at least three people and injuring more than 170.  

 

But he was tired after logging the marathon's 26.2 miles in three hours, 11 minutes. By the time he made it from the finish line to Melissa Atkins' side, he was wiped out, ready to walk the three blocks back to their hotel on Stewart and Tremont streets, shower, relax and celebrate the completion of his second Boston Marathon.  

 

"It was a great day, a beautiful day," he said. "The (Boston) Red Sox were playing right down the road, and we hung out there (at the finish line) for a little bit. Thank God we left before the explosions happened." 

 

The couple began running together in 2005, signing up for a local race as little more than a lark with some of their friends. They enjoyed it so much, they decided to do it again. And again. They began with 5Ks and 10Ks, then progressed to half marathons, marathons, triathlons and Iron Man competitions.  

 

They ran in the New York City Marathon in 2009, and he completed his first Boston Marathon in 2010.  

 

Last year, with the support of the Golden Triangle Running and Cycling Club, the couple launched the inaugural Possum Town Triathlon in Columbus.  

 

But there's something special about Boston's esteemed event, he said. With its origins tracing back to 1897, it is the world's oldest annual marathon, drawing more than half a million spectators and more than 20,000 of the top athletes from around the globe.  

 

It is unique in both quality and atmosphere. Runners must qualify, and the competition is fierce. Because the race is held on Patriots' Day, a Massachusetts state holiday commemorating the American Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord, children are out of school and most residents are off work. It's not uncommon to see entire families lining the sidewalks, waving flags and cheering the runners across the finish line.  

 

"To a true marathoner, it's just one of those things you definitely want to run," Atkins said. "You have a lot of people that come out to volunteer. You'll see kids giving out bananas, oranges, water, Gatorade. It's very much a family event." 

 

It was hard to reconcile the scene he had just left with the one unfolding on television. Hungry, and trying to understand what had happened, he and his wife wandered across the street to Panera Bread, where people were saying the explosions had sounded like cannons.  

 

"They were starting to close businesses all around us, and (Melissa) started to get a little freaked out," Atkins said. "We were seeing armored cars with lights flashing, ambulances, fire engines, the FBI, swat teams -- all racing to the scene." 

 

Atkins said the couples' cellphones "blew up."  

 

"Oh, man, I can't tell you how many calls we got. We couldn't answer text messages fast enough," he said. "Melissa and I posted a Facebook message just to let everybody know we were OK." 

 

By nightfall Monday, the streets were mostly empty. Not exactly a ghost town, but so deserted as to be surreal. On a normal marathon night, the restaurants and bars would have been packed with runners celebrating and watching the hockey match-up between the Boston Bruins and the visiting Ottawa Senators,.  

 

Instead, the city was on lockdown, the hockey game canceled.  

 

"Normally after a marathon, you'd be talking about your times, your race, your experience -- it's a fun time," Atkins said. "A marathon's a tough event and you're happy to be done. It's a journey you trained for and completed, but nobody's talking about their times (this year). It's very much a tragedy, a horrible moment. It's sad somebody would do this, because it ruined a good event." 

 

As a parent, he is particularly troubled by the news that one of the fatalities was an eight-year-old boy. His middle son, Colin, is also 8. His daughter, Madison, is 11, and he has a two-year-old son, John Cole.  

 

Though he and Melissa are looking forward to returning to Columbus, they have decided to stick with their original plan and stay in Boston until Wednesday, partially because flights out of the city are jam-packed right now, and partially because they traveled so far that they refuse to be deterred, even by the senselessness of violence. While Melissa is uncertain whether she ever wants to be a spectator again, he said he will race in future Boston Marathons if he has the chance.  

 

"I don't believe you can live in a cave just because these terrorists do this kind of stuff," he said. 

 

 

 

Mississippians in the marathon 

 

According to the Boston Marathon, the following 59 Mississippians had registered for Monday's Boston Marathon. Hometowns were not listed, but three of the participants are known to be area residents. There were no reports of injuries to any of the people on this list as of press time Tuesday. 

 

Robert Anderson 

 

Shannon Anderson 

 

Tracey Ashall 

 

Brad Atkins of Columbus 

 

Mark Barlow 

 

Bret Beauchamp 

 

Joanne Begg 

 

Steve Bramlette 

 

Donna Bruce of West Point 

 

John Chandler 

 

Alden Crawford 

 

Martha Davis 

 

Megan Davis 

 

Ginny Dufrene 

 

Heather Duley 

 

Josh Fawley 

 

Melanie Freeland 

 

Jim George 

 

Paul George 

 

Dale Griffin 

 

Tammy Hanner 

 

Danita Horrie 

 

William House 

 

Tracie Hudson 

 

James Johnson 

 

Roan Johnson 

 

James Jones 

 

Louis Jones 

 

Mary Krapac 

 

Terry Lawhead 

 

Joey Lee 

 

Stephanie Maisel 

 

Miles Martin 

 

Timothy McDaniel 

 

Roger McMillin 

 

Scott McPherson 

 

Jennifer Mire 

 

Jody Ogletree 

 

Gunnar Olson Starkville 

 

C.D. Ord 

 

Stephen Peter 

 

Eric Pearson 

 

William Pfleeger 

 

Pam Schiling 

 

Jane Shettles 

 

Bill Stevens 

 

Ralph Sulser 

 

Misty Thomspon 

 

Rachel Trimm-Scarbrough 

 

Leonard Vergunst 

 

Lawrence Welden 

 

Kristopher Whitten 

 

Danile Wile 

 

Danny Williams 

 

Kenneth Williams 

 

Marie Williams

 

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.

 

 

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