By Shira Springer
Standing at the starting line in Hopkinton, Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray received the shocking news about two bombings on Boylston Street. He was moments away from running the historic 26.2 mile course, as he does every year long after the final wave of runners departs. At first, there was disbelief. McGillivray asked, “Is this credible information?” Then, there was shock. “Can this really be happening?’’ he wondered. He thought of his family, his wife and two young children, cheering runners from the grandstands just in front of the finish line. He had left them there less than hour earlier.
McGillivray raced back to Boylston Street, trying to contact his family along the way. He did. Then, he shifted back from nervous husband and father back to race director.
“I thought, ‘How can I help?’ said McGillivray. “It was getting back to knowing you need to have your game face on.”
Speaking publically for the first time since the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, McGillivray and B.A.A. executive director Tom Grilk discussed their initial reactions to the bombing, what they did in the immediate aftermath and what happened in the days and weeks that followed. Both men said they were impressed by the preparedness of race staff, volunteers and public safety officials. And they recalled the constant communication and focus needed to take care of 27,000 runners.
It is too soon to know what the future holds for the race, but McGillivray and Grilk believe a stronger Boston and Boston Marathon will emerge from the attack. With everyone from President Barack Obama on down suggesting next year’s race be the biggest ever, they are considering the possibility. But McGillivray and Grilk said it is too soon to tackle the logistics of the 118th Boston Marathon when they haven’t fully processed what happened this year.
“Time will tell,” said McGillivray. “I can’t sit here and speculate what the future is going to bring. But initially, my first reaction was that this is a game changer. Now, I feel it’s a game changer in a positive way. What I’ve seen in the last two weeks in terms of the support, the running industry at large totally supporting Boston and supporting running, has been overwhelmingly comforting and inspirational. Sometimes out of bad comes good. That’s what I’m seeing now. I think we’ll be stronger for it.”
The reality and scope of what happened struck McGillivray when he returned to the finish area.
“When I approached the secured area on Boylston Street,” said McGillivray. “I saw that it was almost totally evacuated. Looking at the street, seeing our equipment throughout the roadway, that’s when the magnitude of it hit me.”
And on a personal level, he wondered, how it would impact his young children who witnessed the bombing, but walked away unharmed.
“Initially, the reaction was by the younger one was concern about his father and whether his father should continue to do this,” said McGillivray. “Now, just in two weeks, he’s been so supportive. Initially, he didn’t want me to do this. Now, he wants to help me do this. He’s had a complete 180. That’s what I mean about the bad turning to good. Even in my 7-year-old, I see it.”
After his ride from the start to the finish, McGillivray immediately went to the medical tent. There were still bombing victims inside when he arrived.
“It was overwhelming,” said McGillivray. “But at the same time, I felt I had a job to do and I went to do it. What struck me more than anything was the preparedness of our medical team, that they were handling the situation given their level of expertise. My reaction was, ‘All right, I’m better outside the medical tent working with my team, making sure that the runners were being able to retrieve their bags, try to hook them up with their families. That was my immediate area of responsibility.”
McGillivray and Grilk monitored the evolving post-bombing situation and worked through the night on logistics, reuniting runners with their belongings and with their families. Whenever and wherever a runner-related need arose, they tried to address it. Locked down in the Copley Plaza hotel, Grilk was huddled with several senior managers from John Hancock, helping coordinate action from a hotel suite.
“One of the things that struck me was the focus everyone had on taking care of runners,” said Grilk. “We kept asking, ‘Is everything being done?’… It was very task focused, which sounds cold-blooded. But at the time, that was what was needed to help runners, to make sure there were people there to do it.”
McGillivray and Grilk know that the Boston Marathon will forever be associated with the bombing. They don’t see the tragedy as an attack on the Marathon or the larger running community.
“I look at the attack as an attack on Boston, an attack on all of us,” said Grilk. “The most important legacy impact of that is the strength, the unity of the reaction of everybody in Boston. Someone in the Globe wrote of this as erasing the scars of the 1970’s, the racial strife of the time. This attack on the city, as horrible as it was, shows the strength of the people who live here. They have resilience.”
There is no timetable yet for the size of the 2014 Boston Marathon or how the B.A.A. will deal with marathoners who didn’t finish, whether they will be given entry into next year’s race or have their times extrapolated for 26.2 miles. McGillivray and Grilk did say that they expect the registration schedule to remain the same with the race opening to qualifiers in mid-September.