On April 15th, 2013, Patriots’ Day, the unexpected happened. At the finish line of the Boston Marathon, two bombs went off, leading to a manhunt for the suspects across the city. The chase lasted four days, as the nation watched, ending with one suspect dead and the other captured.
Deerfield Academy’s own Associate Dean of Admissions, David Irwin, found himself near the site of the bombs that day. Mr. Irwin, who also teaches history, ran his first full marathon in Boston this year to raise money for the pediatric cancer patients of Mass General Hospital— where his wife, Science Teacher Mandy Irwin, underwent surgeries last year.
“We wanted to find a way to give back to the hospital,” Mr. Irwin said.
His training started in January for him to be prepared for such a lengthy event. Although he ran two half-marathons before, this was his first time running the full 26.2 miles.
For the Irwins, Marathon Monday started at the crack of dawn.
“We took a bus from Boston and they drove us out to Hopkinton,” Mr. Irwin said. “There was a lot of waiting around for about three hours before we actually ran, because all of the charity runners go at the end.”
Everything was going smoothly until two bombs exploded near the finish line. “I was just getting my stuff,” Mr. Irwin said of his experience upon hearing the eruptions.
“After you finish, they send you through a chute area where they have water and food, and they give you a medal. I was just collecting my bag of personal items when I heard the first bomb go off. I thought, like many others, that it was celebratory—it sounded like a cannon.”
Mr. Irwin soon realized that it was no Patriots’ Day celebration. “When the second one went off, I felt it in my chest, so I knew that it was something serious, but I still didn’t quite know what it was,” he said. “Everyone was panicking around me trying to find out. We weren’t close enough to see what had happened, but we did see all of the smoke rising up. I was probably 300 yards from it.”
As soon as people became aware there was a crisis, panic set in. The scene soon turned chaotic, with everyone desperately trying to contact his or her loved ones.
“Because of the number of people that were on their cell phones,” he said, “it was hard for us to even get text messages through,” Eventually, he was able to reunite with his wife and parents, who were all at the race.
Head of School Margarita Curtis remarked on Deerfield’s security in light of the tragic day.
“Ever since the Sandy Hook events, which I think was another big jolt for us, we have added a security guard to monitor the people who access the school from public roads,” she said. “We want to shy away from armed guards by every building or anything that would create a paranoid culture here. We have increased our security guard presence, particularly on the public roads, and back in the winter, we also invited the chief of police to talk to students at a school meeting about safety measures.”
As far as students’ safety: “We don’t control everything in life, in fact, we control far less than we think,” Dr. Curtis said. “I think the best approach is for all of us to develop a greater degree of attentiveness as individuals, to pay more attention to what is happening in our surroundings, and to report suspicious behavior. We need to develop a level of awareness and consciousness that perhaps was not as critical in the past.”
Heidi Hunt ’15 said, “It’s sad to think that something as empowering as the Boston Marathon was tainted in such a terrible way. However, I think people will be able to overcome this and keep running.”
Despite this horrible tragedy, Mr. Irwin had a positive experience running. “It was exciting,” he said. “I met a lot of great people, and the race itself was really fun. I felt great for about nineteen miles, and the last seven were pretty painful.”
Mr. Irwin again reflected on the bombs that went off after he finished the race. “It was shocking,” he said. “It is still shocking for us. It is sort of surreal to watch the news coverage and think: ‘Wow, we were there.’ I’m sure it hasn’t totally sunk in yet, but it is definitely just surreal.”
“It was an emotional week for us,” Mrs. Irwin added.
Participating in another marathon sometime in the near future still seems possible for Mr. Irwin. “Besides the tragedy of the day, it was an uplifting day to be a part of and [there was] a great sense of accomplishment,” Mr. Irwin said.