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MailTribune.com
  • Back to Boston

    A year after bombing, Southern Oregon marathon runners return to compete in prestigious race
  • Michael Nabielski was just two turns from the finish of last year's Boston Marathon when the sea of runners in front of him abruptly began to ebb.
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  • Michael Nabielski was just two turns from the finish of last year's Boston Marathon when the sea of runners in front of him abruptly began to ebb.
    It's not uncommon for a few runners along the sides to falter, but the whole field doesn't just stop less than a mile from the end of a race.
    "It just didn't make sense," says Nabielski, 66, of Ashland. "They were just stopping. We didn't know what was happening. Then someone said something happened at the finish line. We knew something bad happened, but we didn't know what."
    Soon the world learned that two backpack bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line, killing three people, wounding more than 260 others and shaking the country when one of its iconic public sporting events was rocked by terror.
    In the ensuing days, the Boston Strong theme echoed outward from Fenway Park as a combination of mourning the tragedy and celebrating the city's reaction played out and sport collided with international terrorism.
    Nabielski will be back in Beantown on Monday for the first Boston Marathon since the attack, and he's ready for a sea of emotions as the city and the sport move to put the past behind them.
    "I think people are going to be so excited," Nabielski says. "I can see all the little kids along the streets with big smiles on their faces.
    "It'll be high-fiving for 26 miles," he says.
    Nabielski will be joined at Monday's 118th annual event by a suite of Southern Oregon marathoners who will be among the 36,000 entrants running 26.2 miles through the streets of Boston — not in fear but to celebrate their sport in one of its most hallowed venues.
    Of the dozen Jackson County runners who participated in last year's event, half of them will return for this year's race, and they will be joined by at least four other locals who did not run in the 2013 race but are registered for Monday's event.
    Medford defense lawyer Justin Rosas was driving back to his hotel last year when the bombs shook the road beneath him. The ensuing chaos and suffering forever changed the complexion of the day and the ensuing memories.
    "It was supposed to be the most important running day of my life," says Rosas, 32. "I want to make memories of Boston that aren't tragic.
    "It's a runners' thing," Rosas says. "There's a lot of wanting to reclaim last year."
    Among local runners, Dana Pabst of Jacksonville might have been the closest to the carnage. She ran past the blast site less than 10 minutes before the explosion and was standing about 200 yards away, waiting in line to get her backpack, when the first bomb went off.
    Her 47-year-old body already in near-shock from running 26 miles, Pabst wandered the Boston streets with her mother, eventually taking refuge in a McDonald's. She was numb at the time, but the gravity of what happened — and what nearly happened — sank in later that day.
    She waffled for months about returning, but she's in Boston today focusing on Monday, not last year.
    "There's a certain anxiety of going back to where something really bad happened," Pabst says. "I think it's something I never would have understood if I didn't go through it."
    When Pabst returns to Southern Oregon this time, she wants to wear her Boston Marathon shirt proudly and have people ask her about running, not surviving.
    "People think Boston and bombs, but that's not what it is," Pabst says. "Let's just get it back to what it's supposed to be."
    The Boston Athletic Association is certainly trying. The race's organizers are welcoming back runners like Nabielski who did not get to finish by offering them free registration and waiving the run-time qualification for this year.
    Nabielski also recalls wandering the streets last year, getting bits and pieces of information from Bostonians following the government-ordered shutdown of cellphone use due to the fear that phones could be used to ignite other bombs.
    Residents came out of their homes with water and food for runners, even lending them blankets or sweatshirts as respite from the cold, Nabielski says. Their warmth, he says, was encouraging.
    Nabielski and his wife, Kathe, are driving from Wisconsin to Boston today and expect a wonderful run.
    "I think people are going to be excited," says Nabielski, who also ran the race in 2009. "There will be a lot more people, and a lot more logistics."
    He will not run in fear.
    "To me, it's not an issue," Nabielski says. "I'm not going to stop doing what I do — traveling, living — just because something might happen. We can't live our lives that way."
    Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.
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