Friday, April 26, 2013

[444] Professor at Boston Marathon: ‘I just stopped and started crying’

MTSU accounting professor Dr. Paula Thomas was about five miles from her goal of conquering the Boston Marathon when Monday’s explosions struck near the finish line.

Even though she was too far away to be hurt physically, the emotional impact was immediate once she learned what had happened.

“It just made me nauseous, and I just stopped and started crying,” Thomas said by phone just after 5 p.m. CDT Monday from her Boston hotel room. “It’s just so tragic.”

It certainly wasn’t the experience Thomas expected for her first Boston Marathon, which was rocked by the twin explosions about four hours into the race.

Thankfully, Thomas was only at mile 21 of the 26.2-mile race when the blasts struck. Running with her was oldest daughter Kate, 28, a Michigan State University graduate student. Having run many half-marathons with her mom in the past, Kate traveled to Boston to run the second half of the marathon.

Back on the MTSU campus, Thomas’ husband, management professor Earl Thomas, hadn’t yet spoken to his wife when reached early Monday afternoon, but had gotten updates from his daughter.

“She was obviously emotionally shaken,” Thomas said of his wife. “I feel better now that I know she’s physically OK and I’m looking forward to speaking with her.”

Though they were kept away from the explosion area, Paula Thomas said she and her daughter could tell something was wrong because there were more police than usual on the scene. She was accustomed to seeing emergency medical personnel at the event in previous visits as a volunteer, but Monday brought in what looked like “undercover officers.”

Thomas didn’t officially finish because the race was eventually canceled. At first, race officials indicated that the finish line was diverted to an alternate place, but at mile 24, police said the race was canceled as it became evident that injuries were serious and rising.

“I’m very grateful that we were safe and OK, but just horrified that others were not.”

Since she had to get back to her hotel anyway, Thomas said she kept running until she completed the 26.2 miles.

“You have to persevere. Of course, it’s not about the race at that point,” she said. “It’s about going on and doing what you came to do in spite of the circumstances.”

Her hotel was located roughly two blocks from the finish line and she and her daughter had to wait about a half hour for clearance after the race. At first, hotel personnel demanded IDs to be allowed to enter — which most runners didn’t have on them after finishing a marathon — but the runners were eventually able to use their room keys and names to confirm reservations.

Thomas had made dinner reservations at a favorite seafood restaurant, but settled in for a night of room service after heightened security resulted in a lockdown of the area.

“We were told if we leave we can’t get back in,” she said.

Her flight back to Tennessee is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but she was uncertain whether it would be canceled because of security concerns. She looks forward to returning home to her husband, who had discussed coming on the trip, but decided against it.

“He would have been at that finish line,” she said. “That’s just … there’s no words for what’s happened.”

— Jimmy Hart (

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