An exuberant crowd of thousands gathered today along Boylston Street in Boston, cheering their hearts out for the runners nearing the finish line of the 118th Boston Marathon, a race marked this year by heightened security and a resolve not to be deterred by last year’s terror attacks.
As the runners completed the 26.2-mile course, they were greeted by a crowd that lined the sidewalks eight to 10 deep, block after block after block.
When Meb Keflezighi became the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983, staving off a hard-charging Kenyan challenger in the home stretch, Joe Corbitt pumped his arms in the air, shouting for joy.
“It’s a poetic finish,’’ said Corbitt, 49, of Grafton. “Boston’s just crazy. You cannot describe a finish like this. We are Boston Strong!”
Corbitt was at the finish line with his 48-year-old girlfriend, Julie Veno, of Woburn. They weren’t in the city last year when the two terror bombs exploded – it was 10 degrees too cold for them – but they had no doubt that they would be here today.
At 2:49 p.m., the time the bombs exploded on April 15, 2013, the announcer asked for a moment of silence followed by a cheer so loud “they will hear it around the world.” The crowd fell silent as runners streamed by.
Boston Police Commissioner William F. Evans, who ran last year and was chatting with fellow officers, looked out silently at the runners. Then the cheer went up and people raised their arms in celebration.
The announcer said there was a special meaning for those crossing the finish line at 2:49, that they embodied Boston’s resurgence after last year’s attack.
“We won and you won,” he said.
Outside the VIP tent at the finish line, Bill White walked with two canes but still had a smile on his face. White, a Bolton resident, lost his lower right leg in last year’s bombings, and his son, Kevin, suffered head and shrapnel injuries.
Still, White was beaming because his son was running the marathon.
“It’s been a long year,” he said.
White walked in the 1K tribute run operated by the Boston Athletic Association on Saturday. “I didn’t think I could do it,” he said. “It’s the first time I walked that far in a year.”
Three people were killed and more than 260 others were injured when the bombs went off near the finish line at last year’s race. The attack rattled the nation. One suspect is dead and the other is in federal prison, awaiting a trial that could bring him the death penalty.
Elsewhere on Boylston Street, Rudy and Claire Duplissis, of Lewiston, Maine, stationed their lawn chairs at the barricade near the finish line between Old South Church and the Boston Public Library. The couple left their home at 3 a.m. and were in place at 7 a.m. today to watch their daughter run her third Boston Marathon.
“As long as she runs, we’re here,” Claire Duplissis said of her daughter, who soon will turn 40. “She loves this marathon.”
She ran and they watched last year. While they were in the area when the blasts went off, they weren’t injured.
They felt compelled to return this year. “They’re not going to stop us from having fun, not in my country,” Rudy Duplissis said.
And looking around at the growing crowd, his wife said it appeared they didn’t. “It’s great to see the people still out,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
Kevin Brown, who became the unofficial caretaker of the makeshift memorial that grew at the bombing scene, stood at the finish line dressed in his usual American flag jacket and hat, and holding a poster with a yellow and blue ribbon on it.
Brown, 59, of Brockton has spent the last year tending the memories of the bombing – first, maintaining the memorial at Copley Square, then carving crosses, and now portraits, of the victims.
“It would be nice if Americans, men and women, win this year,” he said before Keflighizi had won. “It would be the best marathon ever.”
Brown began caring for the Copley memorial last year after his mother died, and he said the experience of spending so long at the heart of the city’s tragedy and recovery has changed him. People come up to him and thank him for what he’s done, he said.
“I’ll never leave it behind,” he said. “I still have a year of carving to do.”
Jacqueline Berryman of Kentucky, waiting for daughter Lori Tomichek of New Hampshire to run past the 26-mile mark, said she could feel the energy when a wheelchair racer, clearly struggling, cranked slowly by — and the crowd roared encouragement.
“The spirit is here,” she said. “They’re not giving up. It seems like when they say ‘Boston Strong,’ they mean it.”
Outside the offices of the Michienzie and Sawin law firm, 20-month-old Helen was sucking on her pacifier as she sat in her stroller moments after a police officer had inspected it.
Security had tagged it with a bright green sticker. Her mother, Jen LaCroix, said she did not mind so much.
“Better than last year when we were running away,’’ LaCroix said.
She and her daughter were mere feet away from the one of the two explosions, and were saved only because they ran inside before the bomb went off.
She and her husband, Franziskus Lepionka, an attorney at the firm, had returned to cheer on the runners — but also to face their fears.
“We’re trying to get over it,” LaCroix said. “It feels weird. I feel like people are trying to keep up their spirits, but my stomach is in knots.”
Hours before the first runners were expected to arrive, the Poitras family of Dracut had staked out a place at the finish line.
“We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,’’ said Michael Poitras, 53, who sported the trademark blue and yellow colors of the marathon in his freshly-painted blue mohawk haircut and his blue-and-yellow mustache. “We’ve been waiting all year.’’
The elder Poitras said he has brought his sons — Andrew, 21, and Nicholas, 23 — to the marathon since “they were little guys. And last year was the first time they missed it.’’
The bombings last year near the finish line moved the Poitras family deeply. Six weeks after the bombings, Andrew joined the Army National Guard and Nicholas decided to become an EMT; he graduates next month.
Today, standing just feet from where the first bomb went off, Andrew said he was reminded of why he serves.
“It makes me want to give back,’’ he said.
Also standing near the finish line this morning were Yun Bouquet of Maryland and her daughter, Josephine, 22, a recent Boston College graduate.
They quietly wept, with their arms around each other.
Josephine ran the marathon last year but was stopped about a mile before the finish after the bombs went off. Her mother was watching near Copley Square and heard the bombs go off.
They both said they wanted to come back as spectators this year but were surprised to find themselves overwhelmed with emotion.
“Just being around it all again,” Josephine said. “It’s a lot of mixed emotion. A lot of me is sad just because of everything that happened last year. ... But also to see all these people coming together, the community coming together.”
At the Forum Restaurant, which was shattered by the explosion and then shuttered for months for repairs, Joe Andruzzi said staffers were focused on the return of the race, not last year’s pain.
“Today is all about being upbeat and positive,’’ said Andruzzi, a former New England Patriots lineman whose foundation, which helps families battling cancer, was hosting a fundraiser today at the restaurant.
“Taking a negative and making it positive is tough at times. We are trying to keep smiles on everyone’s faces. Knowing what happened last year, it’s going to be tough,” he said.
Chris Loper, the general manager of the Forum restaurant, was at work last April 15.
“Today is amazing,’’ said the 41-year-old Loper. “It’s all we hoped it would be. It just shows how close we’ve gotten over the last year and we all want to be here together.”
Loper said many of the employees who no longer work there still come back to the restaurant because of their shared experience. And Erinn Fleming, event and marketing coordinator, is running this year’s race.
“No one knows outside these walls what happened last year, but these people do,’’ he said. “Some came here to get closure; some came to celebrate.”