Erica Nash got her finish line after all. When the Nash family arrived at their Bellevue home just after midnight last Friday morning, they didn’t expect a dozen friends to be there waiting in the dark with a surprise: The finish line Nash wasn’t able to cross four days earlier in Boston.
“I finished 25.7 miles of the marathon,” Nash said. “That’ll have to do.”
More than a week later, the final mile of her race is still a bit cloudy.
“The last thing I remember seeing in my head was the ‘One mile to go’ sign,” she said.
She was trying to figure out how to maneuver the last downhill on Beacon Avenue, one of the main arteries through Brookline and into Boston, when “I saw one runner down on the side of the road, and then all of a sudden everybody was stopped,” she said.
She heard ambulances, then realized the runners had been barricaded. Ripples came through the crowd about a bomb threat. Then about a bomb. She had her phone, so she tried to call her husband. He and their two kids were supposed to be somewhere near the finish line. But the city had shut down the cell phone network to avoid a possible remote detonation.
She tried texting.
“Nothing would go through, then all of a sudden they would go through, but they were coming out of sequence,” she said.
That confused things further. Her husband had just parked at Copley Square, near the finish line in Boston’s Back Bay. They explosions went off while the Nashes were in the elevator.
“The first thing they saw were a roll of sheets, Mylar blankets, rolling down the sidewalk,” Nash said. “A swarm of police officers came and were yelling, ‘Get back, get back!’ and shoved them all into the Westin, where they were held for a few hours.”
Meanwhile, on the course, things were getting complicated. Nash has cerebral palsy, and what had been a very warm day became cooler as the sun disappeared from between the buildings on Beacon Ave. She knew she needed to warm up and relax her muscles. She was sitting against a wrought-iron fence and decided it would be a good idea to get to a friend’s home in Brookline, which was very close by.
“Because I have CP I know that my muscles tend to spasm and whatnot, and I stood up, and I was like, ‘Okay, I just need to settle in and let my muscles reengage and I’ll be fine,’” she said. “Within 15 seconds I was vomiting and started to collapse.”
Help was swift and immediate. She kept hearing she was turning blue, but she tried to refuse treatment, even after EMTs put her into an ambulance. She wasn’t one of the injured.
“They needed to get to the other people because they were bleeding,” she remembers yelling at them.
Triage at Massachusetts General Hospital could not have been better.
“They were really prepared,” Nash said. Each patient had “a team of four to six people, the doctor for each team indicated who he was, everyone was color coded by what team they were…. They clearly had drilled for this. They knew what they were doing.”
The next several hours, however, became difficult. Nash’s legs began to convulse — and kept convulsing for seven or eight hours.
“They wouldn’t stop moving,” she said. “My achilles and all the muscles around my tibia, it just felt like they were going to rip from the bone.”
Nash spent two days in the hospital. She is using a walker because she hasn’t been able to put weight on her feet. After the long flight to SeaTac, when the family arrived home to their surprise greeting, “it seemed to take forever to get from the door to the finish line,” Nash said.
Also awaiting them was a redecorated living room.
“There were hundreds of cards and emails and gifts for us from everybody in the Jewish community. It was really amazing,” she said. “We’re very lucky. I don’t know what people without this kind of community would do.”
Recovery appears like it will be a slow process for the entire family. They stayed with Nash’s in-laws in the Boston suburb of Newton, and she said her 11-year-old daughter Hannah was scared to leave the house.
On the night of the attack, “she would not go back to Boston,” Nash said. “She didn’t want [my husband] to go back. She felt like that guy, or guys, they’re still out there and she didn’t think it was safe.”
In the time since, Hannah has taken on what Nash called an “ultimate caretaker” role, and exhibited other signs of anxiety.
It took a little longer for 7-year-old Jonah to process what he had been through, but earlier this week he curled up in his mother’s lap for several hours and lay quietly.
“He said he didn’t really know what to say,” Nash said. “He didn’t know how to explain it.”
Her husband, she said, was also reluctant to return to work, because he was afraid he’d continually start crying in his office.
At this point, she said, “we’re trying to integrate normal back into our lives.”
Once her muscles heal, Nash will get back on the road. When she was a child, her parents were told that because of her cerebral palsy she’d never walk. Having completed two marathons — in Birch Bay, near the Canadian border, and in Jerusalem — and, of course, almost a third, Nash’s accomplishments go beyond the normal boundaries most people push against to complete such a tough race. After this year’s Boston Marathon, she had planned to retire to half-marathons, but now she may go back for one more.
“I started with a group of people who, like me, had different challenges, and I kind of want to know if they’re okay,” she said. “I’d like to see them at the start line again.”