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News Feature

Boston, MA
Originally published in Community News, April 18, 2013
Peninsula first responder and runner share stories of Boston Marathon

Sharlene Grant in the Boston Marathon

Seven-year-old Eve Skoletsky poses for a photo with her mother, Sharlene Grant, who ran in the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15. This picture was taken at Mile 17. Grant was pulled off the course in Mile 21, after two explosions occurred near the finish line.

Photo courtesy of Dave Skoletsky

by Jessica Brophy

As an athletic trainer, East Blue Hill native and George Stevens Academy graduate Stephanie Manyak has volunteered as a medic for the Boston Marathon for six years. Typically, she and other athletic trainers care for runners who, after running more than 26 miles, can have myriad injuries ranging from dehydration or over hydration to heatstroke, sprains, podiatry issues and more.

This year, her role as captain of a medical tent a quarter-mile from the finish line was entirely different.

“I had just returned to our med tent from the first tent right next to the finish line, when we heard a huge crash,” said Manyak. “It felt like thunder, but it was sunny. When we looked, we saw people running away from the finish line.”

Two explosions near the finish line eclipsed what had been a great day with good weather, said Manyak. “We cleared out any runners that were OK and prepared to receive casualties,” said Manyak. Part of her training as an athletic trainer—who respond immediately to athletic injuries—is as a first responder.

“Now, looking back, it was really unsettling,” said Manyak. “But at the time, we just did what we had to do.” As captain of the tent, and the one holding the megaphone, she had to keep her voice steady and not show her fear.

“People asked if they could leave and they were told they couldn’t,” said Manyak. Between that and several unclaimed bags left by runners at the tent—which had to be swept for explosives by Boston police—Manyak said she “felt like nothing was safe.”

While the most seriously injured were taken by ambulance to area hospitals, Manyak said she and others in the medic tent helped triage victims and treat wounds. “In a way, it was the best-case scenario,” said Manyak, referring to the large number of first responders, ambulances and medics already on scene when the explosions occurred.

Manyak said cell phone service was cut, and there was very little information about what was happening.

For Sharlene Grant of Sedgwick, there was even less information available. Grant, who was running in the marathon to raise money for the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress was five miles back from the finish line when the explosions occurred.

Up until that point, the race had been an incredible experience for her, she said. “It was so exciting, the crowds are amazing and really uplifting,” she said. The weather was perfect, she added. Grant said she had run only one other marathon before.

As someone running for charity, she wasn’t timed, and said she’s happy she ran “so slowly.” She met her husband and her daughter, Eve, at mile 17. “I had a sandwich, talked with them for 20 minutes or so,” explained Grant. Grant said she’s glad, now, that she paused with them, as they were only a ten-minute walk away from the finish line to watch her cross when the explosions occurred.

Around Mile 19, Grant said she saw police cars with sirens on and then about a mile later started hearing a buzz among the crowd. In Mile 21, the police and national guardsmen lining the street stopped the runners and said the race was over.

“The American Red Cross was helpful, giving runners blankets because it had gotten cold by then,” said Grant. Kindness also came from Boston residents themselves, as a home nearby opened its doors to runners to come in to get warm. Grant had managed to post a Facebook update that she was OK before her phone went dead, but was able to warm up, watch television coverage of the event and charge her phone in the house.

Grant’s daughter has Down Syndrome, and she felt moved that her race ended on Mile 21, as Down Syndrome is also known as trisomy 21.

“I knew it would be an emotional day,” said Grant. “I just thought it would be tears of joy, not tears of sorrow.”

Despite the terrible turn of events, both Grant and Manyak say they will return to Boston for the event next year.

Manyak said she will volunteer for a seventh year in the med tents, though she’s not sure how the race or its security will change. “It definitely weighs on you, something like this,” she said. “But you see these people that you’ve been [volunteering] with all these years, covered with blood and helping each other, and you think, ‘we’re all in this together.’”

Grant said she would return without hesitation. “Boston is such a resilient city. Nobody’s quitting. Nobody’s giving up.”