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For eight Newtown runners, a tragedy compounded

For eight people from Newtown, Conn., who ran the Boston Marathon on Monday, what started as an effort to raise scholarship money and help their community heal turned into something sadder than they could have imagined.

“I had many people cheering, ‘Go Newtown!’ ” along the route, said Dr. David Oelberg, one of the informal organizers of the NewtownSTRONG team, which dedicated each mile to one of the 20 children and six adults killed in last December’s shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“That helped us; it made us feel good for what we were doing. And it was one of those beautiful Patriots Days in Boston that could not have started any better and could not have finished any worse.”


Oelberg, 49, and most of the other Newtown runners had finished the race before the explosions. All were unharmed.

The loose-knit group’s members by and large had plans to run the Marathon before the Newtown tragedy, he said. A few are close to families directly affected, he added, but none had lost a family member themselves.

They got in touch with one another only after a writer from a running magazine started contacting them for a story. They decided they should band together, and then connected with a local businessman raising funds for scholarships for relatives of the children who died.

Marathon organizers held a moment of silence for Newtown at the starting line and honored them with the 26th-mile marker.

For Oelberg, a physician who did his medical specialty training in Boston, it was his 15th marathon and his fourth in Boston.

“Turning down Boylston — that’s one of the most pleasurable visions of my life, to see that finish line and the cheering crowds. And now, I don’t know,” he said Tuesday. “It’s just sort of stained my impression.’’


Oelberg is saddened that the Newtown tragedy and the Boston Marathon are now linked in a way; that Monday’s tragedy reopened wounds. But he also said donations were pouring in to the scholarship fund Tuesday as news spread about the Newtown runners.

And later Tuesday, another Newtown runner, Dr. Laura Nowacki, said the group already is planning to dedicate a 5K race in Newtown this summer to Boston’s victims. Nowacki’s daughter, a student at Sandy Hook, had been in the VIP grandstands only a half-hour before the explosions across the street.

Thomas Abrams may have been the only Newtown runner still on the course when the bombs went off. He and about 100 other runners were diverted to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola at Boston College, on the Newton-Boston line.

The kindness and professionalism of the Boston Athletic Association, authorities, and volunteers deeply impressed Abrams. BC students and neighbors came offering help; others arrived with pizzas or cafeteria trays of baked ziti.

Abrams ran without a cellphone, or his glasses, so he couldn’t even see well enough to text. One young woman sent his wife a text, and another later helped him call his wife to say he was OK.

The 58-year-old, who works for Superfeet, an orthotics company, took pains to say he doesn’t claim a special connection to the Newtown tragedy, even though his wife knew some of the victims and his daughter went to school with shooter Adam Lanza.

Abrams, who was running his fifth Boston Marathon, said he will not be deterred from returning.


“I guarantee you I’ll be at the start line in Hopkinton next year,” he said.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@