A Grueling Race, Horrific Day And 5 Tales From Connecticut

The Courant caught up with five people with Connecticut ties who vow to return this year to help restore and celebrate the great race's tradition.

They are mad. Defiant. Hopeful. Healing.

They are the runners of the Boston Marathon, 36,000 Boston Strong. They are the volunteers. The spectators. The first responders and medical people. The photographers, the race officials and timers.

They are returning to the Boston Marathon, a year after two bombs went off near the finish line, killing three, wounding 260 and scarring countless others.

Thom Abrams, who lives in Newtown and ran for the Newtown Strong team, saw the good last year when he was stranded at a church near Boston College and people brought the runners food and comfort.

A stranger helped a worried and despairing Quinnipiac professor, Jeff Martin, find his pregnant wife after the race.

At the time, Martin and his family lived in Newton, Mass., and had to endure the aftermath of the bombings — the lockdown of the nearby cities and the manhunt for the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, bringing on more stress.

"I have a hard time watching the coverage," Martin said. "I still struggle. I was in a dark place after the race."

Timer Charlie Olbrias of Willimantic, at the 30K mark, drove stranded runners to a nearby train station and helped comfort runners who were in shock.

Photographer Steve McLaughlin of Torrington gave his fleece jacket to a runner who was cold.

Dean Festa of Montville, who goes every year to watch the race, said one of his friends gave a runner his shirt.

So out of the bad, there was good. And that's what draws people back. The five people here will be returning to Boston Monday, to confront their demons, to take back the race, and to claim all that is good, for them, about the Boston Marathon.

"Boston, it was a necessity to go back," Festa said. "You're not going to be intimidated out of it. It's just that now you look at a backpack and think of something that can harm you. It's crazy. All those symbolic things that had to do with the tragedy. They set you off."

Jeff Martin, Runner

Jeff Martin kept leaving messages for his wife on her cellphone. She didn't pick up. Cold, exhausted from running 26.2 miles, and in shock, Martin was in despair.

It was a couple hours after Martin, who now lives in Hamden and is an assistant professor of biomedical science at Quinnipiac University, had finished his first Boston Marathon in just under four hours.

His wife, seven months pregnant with their first child, was supposed to be at the finish line, along with his parents, watching Martin cross an item off his bucket list.

When he finished, Martin grabbed a bag of food, got some water and then heard the first explosion. He turned around and saw a plume of white smoke. He thought it was a broken steam pipe. Then he heard the second one and knew something was wrong.

"I tried to get back to the finish line," he said. "The volunteers were pushing us away. We're supposed to meet at the family meeting area. I ran another mile and a half to the meeting area. Nobody told me where to go. I thought, 'I'm going to wait there. That's the plan.' I didn't have any [extra] clothes. No phone. Just the heat shield they gave me. It was so windy. I stood there freezing. I think I was in shock. I didn't touch the water or food.

"A dozen or so runners did the same thing I did. One by one, I watched them reunited with their families."

Somebody finally helped Martin, bringing him to a restaurant nearby and they tried to contact his wife. Still no answer.