For two years, Kris Biagiotti had trained for the Boston Marathon. It would be harder for her than most of the runners: She was going to push her 18-year-old severely disabled daughter, Kayla, in a wheelchair. They would be the first mother-daughter wheelchair team in its 117-year history.
Biagiotti, 46, was most worried about holding onto the wheelchair on the downhills. “I’m 135 pounds; Kayla and the chair are 145 pounds,” she said Tuesday.
It turns out, the downhills were the least of her worries.
Just as the pair passed in front of the VIP stands near the finish, the first bomb went off. A video of Biagiotti, in a long-sleeved yellow jersey, with two burly guys in white T-shirts next to the wheelchair has been played repeatedly on television.
Confused, they kept heading toward the finish, among the last recorded runners to cross. Their time: 5 hours 32 minutes.
Those two burly guys? The one on the left side of the wheelchair is her fiancée, Brian Bridges. The one on the right is Rick Biagiotti, Kayla’s uncle. The plan had been for the men to jump in at the corner of Hereford and Boylston streets, and help Kris and Kayla get through the crowd at the finish.
Instead, Bridges took some shrapnel to his head, with lacerations to his ear.
“If he hadn’t been standing where he was at the time, Kayla would have gotten it right in the face,” said Kris Biagiotti, speaking from her Mendon home. “He thought his ear was gone. He grabbed the stroller, held his arm up in a protective motion, and we ran.’’
Kayla has been disabled since birth because of mitochondrial disease, which leaves her body unable to convert food to energy. Her heart and brain were affected, and she has never walked or talked. She lives at home with her mother, who works for EMC Corp. in Hopkinton. In 2005, Kayla’s father died of a heart attack at age 42.
Bob Biagiotti had done dozens of 5K races with his daughter. And the Boston Marathon has long been Kayla’s favorite, her mother said, since she has been a “patient partner” at Boston Children’s Hospital, which pairs runners with patients. The Biagiottis’ Marathon run raised nearly $17,500 for the hospital, thanks to donations by Credit Unions Kids at Heart.
“Kayla has been treated there for 18 years,” said Kris Biagiotti. “It’s our way of saying thank you.”
Marathon day, long awaited, had started so perfectly. Kayla doesn’t tolerate heat well, and the temperature was just right. There was a lot of cheering along the way for “The K Girls,” as they were called. “There was so much adrenaline, and people were so pumped up,” said Biagiotti. “The crowd almost literally carried me to Boston.”
Best of all, she got to start in Hopkinton with her longtime heroes, Dick and Rick Hoyt, the father-son wheelchair team in their 31st Boston Marathon. “Dick has been so supportive of us,” she said.
At the starting line, Hoyt gave the mother-daughter team a big hug and kiss and wished them well. The Hoyts would be stopped a mile from the finish because of the bombs.
After he jumped in, Bridges held up Kayla’s hand so she could wave to the crowd. That’s when the bomb went off.
“It was something you can’t believe,” said Bridges, 47, who sells heavy construction equipment. “I thought at first it might have been a large gas explosion. I’m 230 pounds, and the force of it knocked me sideways.”
At the finish, former New England Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi was there. A big supporter of Credit Unions Kids at Heart and of Boston Children’s Hospital, he had been tracking the Biagiottis’ progress all day.
As the wheelchair crossed the line, Andruzzi grabbed Kayla and Rick Biagiotti, and took them through the medical tent to a quieter place behind it.
Meanwhile, Kris Biagiotti and Bridges stayed in the medical tent, where workers cleaned his lacerations. “We were one of the first groups in there,” she said. “It was the people behind us who were the worst.
“We saw a girl with a missing foot, a guy with his leg ripped open, another girl who looked like she had puncture wounds all over her lower body.
“Brian was still bleeding, but there were people in the tent who needed help worse than he did,” she said.
They also saw people who ripped their shirts off to make tourniquets, who helped comfort and carry the injured.
Monday night, Biagiotti took Bridges to Milford Regional Medical Center, where doctors cleaned out shrapnel and glass, and stitched up cuts to his ear. “In the grand scheme of things, it was very minor,” she said.
Bridges said yesterday that he still felt dizzy. “Probably the shock and after-shock,” he said. “But we’re thinking about the people who have passed away, or are injured. People are going to be recovering from this for a long time, in all sorts of ways.”
As for Biagiotti, would she consider running the Marathon again? “That’s a hard one to answer right now,” Kris said. “I don’t know if the Boston Marathon will ever be the same.”