Escanaba woman near explosions

By John Vrancic

For The Daily News

ESCANABA – A decision to hold back during the 117th Annual Boston Marathon may have turned out to be a blessing for an Escanaba woman Monday.

Kaylyn Bernard was just .6-mile from the finish of the 26.2-mile race when a pair of bombs exploded in downtown Boston, killing at least three people and wounding more than 130.

“I was just sick to my stomach,” said Bernard, who went to Boston with a qualifying time of three hours, 31 minutes, 55 seconds. “It happened just about the time I was about to finish. Everyone stopped what they were doing and there was silence. They were blocking off the street (heading into the finish) and getting people off to safe area. We weren’t able to finish.”

Bernard, hindered by an ankle injury, was clocked at 4:52:37 at 40 kilometers (nearly 25 miles) on Monday.

“I listened to my body and decided to go with it,” she said. “I purposely went slow because of my ankle. I’m just glad I didn’t try to pick it up in the end. I might have been finishing when the bombs went off.”

At least five other packages of suspicious nature were discovered and destroyed by various law enforcement agencies.

“They found three more bombs right by me that didn’t go off,” Bernard said during a telephone interview from her hotel room in Waltham, Mass., Monday night. “I just couldn’t believe it. I’m still in shock. I went from a runner’s high to such a low. I’m so upset for the families who are suffering and the eight-year-old boy who was killed waiting for his mom and dad to finish.”

The sound of bombs is something Bernard says she’s all too familiar with.

“This brings back lot of horrible memories from war,” added Bernard, who served in Iraq in 2006. “I saw so much of that over there. It was just like a flashback. It was so scary. People didn’t know where to go. I was so upset because I couldn’t get a hold of my mom (Jayne Szukalowski). I was concerned for her safety. Thank God she was okay. We were scared for our lives.

“I don’t understand why anybody would want to do that. What was their purpose? Why would they want to hurt innocent people?”

A short time later, Bernard and Szukalowski took a taxi back to their hotel room, approximately a half-hour from downtown Boston.

“They weren’t letting runners back in their hotels (in Boston),” said Bernard. “They also closed the bus stations and shortly after they closed the roads. We were lucky to get back to our room. We just wanted to go somewhere we would feel safe.”

Aside from the tragic events Monday afternoon, the marathon was a positive experience overall for Bernard, a certified personal trainer at Anytime Fitness in Escanaba.

“It was a wonderful experience up to that point,” she said. “We got a chance to see National Geographics Wicked Tuna’s cast in Glouchester, Mass. on Sunday, and the expo on Saturday (during the packet pick-up) was beautiful. The sad part is I bought my mom (Jayne Szukalowski) a ticket for the post-marathon party, and everybody wasn’t able to attend that (due to the explosions in downtown Boston during the marathon).”

Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia was the overall winner, covering the 26.2-mile course in two hours, 10.22 seconds, just .05 second ahead of Kenya’s Micah Kogo.

Tracy Lokken of Marquette won the men’s age 45-49 division and placed 31st overall at 2:22:27.

Bill Sved of Marquette was clocked in 3:48:21, with Rich Anderson, also of Marquette, at 3:55.

Rita Jeptoo of Kenya earned the women’s title in 2:26:25, with runner-up Meseret Hailu at 2:26:58. Katie Clark of Escanaba finished in 3:54:59.

Bernard, who qualified at 3:31:55 in Seattle in October 2011, was battling an ankle injury and came through the 40-kilometer (25-mile) checkpoint at 4:52:37 on Monday. She was unable to complete the course due to the explosions near the finish line, which killed at least three people and injured more than 130.

“I won’t let that stop me from going back out there,” said Bernard. “It’s unfortunate, but you can’t let that from your dreams and passion. I broke my left arm in a snowboarding injury at Marquette Mountain in 2003 when I was 16 years old. That didn’t stop me from snowboarding either.”

Bernard said she enjoyed the camaraderie among the field of more than 23,000 runners and many thousands of fans who lined the entire course.

“The runners were friendly,” she added. “At the starting line (in Hopkinton, Mass.), I met a married couple from Argentina and they were just the nicest people. The crowds were just so supportive. There were people handing out kleenex, oranges and water (among other things). I just couldn’t believe how many people were on the course. I was talking to other runners and texting my mom. I just wanted to live the moment and embrace the experience. I made it this far, and I was just going to do it. The start was also so well organized. They had wonderful volunteers.”

Heartbreak Hill, a series of hills from Mile 16-21, didn’t pose much of a problem for Bernard.

“That was fine,” she said. “Going up wasn’t the problem, but going down was hard on the ankles. It also felt much warmer than it was (54 degrees). We were all on a runner’s high when we went around that corner (at 25 1/2 miles).

“This really taught me a lesson what running is all about. I think this was an eye-opener. I saw so many other people who were running with injuries. I felt honored to be there.”

Bernard and Szukalowski are expected to return to Delta County today.

“It was good to be a part of that,” said Bernard. “Nobody is going to forget this day. We were like one big family.”

(John Vrancic is with the Escanaba Daily Press)