Meridian Star

April 17, 2013

Marathon sobering for Meridian physician

By Ida Brown / ibrown@themeridianstar.com
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     Fifteen minutes after making his best time ever in his years of running the Boston Marathon, Meridian physician Eric Pearson's moments of joy and triumph were short-lived and replaced with sadness and fears of imminent danger.

    "It was loud and you could feel it vibrate the ground," Pearson said in reference to the two blasts at Monday's marathon, which killed at least three people – including an 8-year-old child – and injured more than 100.

    The bombs exploded near the marathon's finish line. According to national news reports, almost three-quarters of the 23,000 runners who participated in the race had already crossed the finish line when a bomb, apparently placed in a nearby garbage can, exploded.

    It was Pearson's fourth year to compete in one of the world's oldest annual marathons. And the day started out perfectly, he said.

    "The day was absolutely beautiful, the most perfect running day – it was in the low 50s, partly sunny," he said.

    After making his best running time, just under 3 1/2 hours, Pearson and his wife, Rebecca, headed back to their hotel, which was a little more than 2 blocks away from the marathon site. Then, the noise and confusion began.

    "It was like 'What was that?' and then my wife said, 'Was than an explosion?,'" he said. "After that, it was non-stop sirens and pandemonium from people trying to get out of the area."

    The area where the explosion occurred was blocked off, so Pearson was unable to return to offer medical assistance.

    'The medical camp was probably 25 yards from the finish line, so that was very, very close fortunately," he said.

    It was also fortunate that the couple left the area soon after Pearson completed his run.

    "My wife was waiting for me where the first explosion occurred," he said. "We met in the family area, so she moved away from there."

    While the couple remained inside their hotel room, armed troops were positioned outside the building. Cell phone service was disconnected, making it impossible for them to connect with family and friends.

    "We knew everyone was concerned. As soon as they cut it back on, we called to let them know we were okay," he said.

    Among those concerned about the couple's demise was fellow running enthusiast Felicia Boston Brown.

    "I was really devastated. I got teary-eyed because there were people at the marathon who I knew, such as Dr. Pearson, who I contacted immediately after it happened. And there were others I knew of from the local running clubs," she said.

    Brown, who had planned to participate in the marathon but didn't qualify because of an injury, said the tragedy especially hit home because of the time the explosions occurred.

    "My goal was to finish it (marathon) at under four hours or right at four hours. I thought, had I been there I would have been right there in the area where the explosions occurred," she said. "I thought, 'That could have been me!'"

    Brown has run the New York and Chicago marathons, and said she has often thought about the possibility of such devastating events, particularly because of their large venues.

    "When you have that many people in an area, especially after 911, you're a soft target," she said. "You think that, but you hope it never happens. Still, you have to always be mindful of those things."

    Dr. Mark Elliott, who has competed in the Boston Marathon and attended the event the last three consecutive years, was equally concerned about the well-being of local runners at this year's race. The race's tragic outcome also hit close to home for him.

    "I have a 6-year-old son and my first reaction was that it could have just as easily have been me and my family. We've stood right in that exact spot where the explosion occurred," Elliott said. "I was really glad that we decided not to do it this year."

    Pearson, Brown and Elliott expressed sorrow for those who lost their lives and sustained injuries at this year's Boston Marathon.

    "Our hearts and prayers go out to those who were killed and injured. It is just an awful, sobering event," Pearson said.

    "I just can't wrap my head around what kind of person would do that," Elliott said. "They didn't even really target the runners, it was the families of the runners and the spectators who were injured."

    "I feel bad for those killed and injured, but I'm so happy for those who weren't – especially our local runners," Brown said.

    And all three are determined to compete in future Boston Marathon events.

    "This kind of makes me want to do one just to say to whoever did this, 'We're not going to let you stop us from doing what we want to do," Elliott said.

    "I'm not going to allow this to stop me," Pearson said. "My time this year qualified me for next year's marathon, so I plan to be there."

    "It's not going to deter me. I'm going to continue training and I still plan to run Boston; that's a goal of mine," Brown said. "We can't live in a bubble; what's meant to be is going to be, regardless."