First-time marathoner waits as mother, friend, recover
On her first trip to Boston 11 years ago, Rebecca Roche got as far as Storrow Drive on the way from the airport before deciding she would move here.
And there was no question when Roche laced up her running shoes for her first marathon on Monday – her first Boston Marathon, raising money for the New England Aquarium – that her parents would be there, driving 960 miles from northwest Indiana.
But instead of sending them off on a return to Indiana today, Roche remains with her parents at Tufts Medical Center after a harrowing 24 hours, as Beth Roche, 60, recovers from surgery for a shattered knee cap and other injuries sustained from the bomb blast, the shrapnel, and the force of hitting the pavement, Rebecca Roche said. Along with her mother, Roche's friend and physical therapist, Lee Ann Yanni, 31, suffered a compound tibia fracture and is also recovering at Tufts.
"They have a little bit of a long road to recovery, but we're thankful they have limbs and are alive," said Roche, who, a day after the blasts, is able to talk about what happened but won't watch video footage being replayed on TV. "I can't watch the news [anymore]. I've seen my mom on a stretcher on the news too many times. I've seen first responders caring for Lee Ann on the news too many times."
Monday morning, Roche's dad, Ken — who arrived in Boston already with a broken ankle — parked himself in the bleachers at the finish line, all crutches, camera, and proud smile. Beth Roche took the Green Line to mile 17 in Newton – "Go, Becky, go!" she cried, "we love you!" – and raced back to the finish, waiting on the other side of Boylston Street, in front of Marathon Sports.
Sun-baked, depleted, but above all elated, Roche made eye contact with her mom and strode across the finish line. The 33-year-old pharmacist and Kenmore Square resident had just collected a Mylar warming blanket a half block past the finish when a sound like canon fire rang out behind her, the blast's shockwaves palpable on her back. Turning, she saw the cloud, heard the screams.
"I knew my family was right there," said Roche, who tried to sprint back but was blocked by police. Displaced, head swimming, she collected her phone – its battery dead — from one of the Hopkinton-to-Boston runners' buses and began wandering the Back Bay. "Someone at Ben and Jerry's on Newbury Street saw me outside looking lost, and they pulled me inside and let me charge my phone."
Roche reached her boyfriend, John Silvia, who was huddled with her father, Ken Roche. Ken had been trying Beth's cell over and over, getting only voicemail, knowing only that his wife had been taken by ambulance from the other side of the street and the barricades, an impassable 50-foot gulf of chaos and debris, blood, dust, and shattered glass.
Nearly an hour later, gathered on a Commonwealth Avenue bench, they were all still searching for answers, news arriving in infrequent fragments. Rebecca Roche, who worked at multiple area hospitals before joining Vertex Pharmaceuticals, received word from a former colleague that her mother was at Tufts Medical Center, no other details yet available.
A friend collected the anxious group at 4:30 p.m., Roche still in runner's togs. What should have been a 1 ½ mile ride to the hospital became a three-hour ordeal, out, back, out, around, circumnavigating congestion and barriers, learning on arrival that her mother and Yanni were in surgery.
Both victims had remained conscious at the blast site. Yanni's husband, Nicholas, 32, told reporters at a press conference that his wife, cool-headed, asked him to wrap her leg and directed him to the hollowed-out store beside them, where he pulled shirts from a shelf to fashion a makeshift tourniquet.
Yanni could be hospitalized for a week, Roche said. Beth Roche, 60, might be discharged in three or four days, her daughter said.
Monday's attack shattered a storybook run-up to the Marathon for Roche, who had wanted to join her brother (Chicago 2002) and mother (Chicago, last year) as marathoners but had been cautioned against distance running after a high school cheerleading accident left her with six screws, a pin, and a metal plate in her rebuilt left ankle. Just four years ago a mere six-mile run caused that ankle to swell up so big that an orthopedic surgeon warned, "you should not and will not run a marathon, if you ever want to walk again," Roche recalled. "That pretty much got me on fire."
Searching for a charity team as a way into the race – those who reach fundraising minimums do not need to record qualifying times – Roche chose the New England Aquarium group, meeting the marathon minimum ($4,000) and nearly reaching her $5,000 personal goal to help underwrite marine education programs for urban schools and community centers.
Roche's parents arrived Saturday. Sunday night they went to the North End to carbo-load. Monday, the weather was perfect. "I just really wanted to achieve the goal, the dream, that I had set out to achieve," said Roche, who crossed the finish line at about the 4:09 mark, recording a personal 3:59.52 based on her starting time.
"I just ran hard and felt happy to have finished," said Roche, whose brother arrived today – the day her parents were supposed to return to Indiana – and will help their parents drive back after Beth Roche is released.
Though rattled, Rebecca is already thinking about future Marathon Mondays.
"I love Boston," she said. "I won't be leaving New England any time soon."