Michigan marathoner returns to Boston 1 year later

Stephanie Bland had just a 10th of a mile to go when bombs exploded

By Roger Weber - Reporter

OXFORD, Mich. - A number keeps coming back to Stephanie Bland: 26.1.

She was a 10th of a mile from finishing the 2013 Boston Marathon.

"Going into the finish I was so excited to see my son and my family," she said.

Her husband Brandon and their son Brady, who was just 3 months old at the time, were there as she rounded the corner onto Boylston Street. She stopped briefly for a photo, then kept running.

When the first bomb went off, Stephanie thought it was part of the celebration at the finish line. Then, the second bomb exploded behind her.

"I saw smoke and I heard people screaming, and the cops came out in the streets and started drawing their guns and everyone said, 'Get down, get down!'" she said.

She had to find her family.

"I sprinted back toward where they were and I went right by the second bombing, where it happened, and I saw the most horrifying pictures that will never leave my mind," she said.

She still was afraid after returning home to Oxford, Mich.

"Until they caught them, I didn't leave the house. I was so scared. I made my husband stay with me. I locked every door," she said.

But she started running again. She did a marathon in Traverse City. She drew inspiration from the Boston victims and all who helped them.

"I love the city. I am so proud to be part of such a community," she said.

She and her family will be back in Boston on Monday.

"I know physically I can get through anything. If I push myself I know I can do it. But mentally is gonna be the hard part for me because turning that corner and seeing what has happened before, in my mind, I just know that's going to be a big struggle for me."

Stephanie will get a new tattoo on Monday with the date of the tragedy, the distance she covered -- 26.1 miles -- and the words "be not afraid."

She wrote the below story immediately when she returned from Boston last year:

I've never been so excited, so nervous, so overwhelmed to run the Boston Marathon after having my baby 3 ½ months earlier. I was so proud that I could share this experience with my mom, dad, husband and my beautiful baby boy, Brady. I just kept thinking that one day he will look back at say "wow, my mom ran the Boston Marathon and I was there!" The race was everything to me and more. Words cannot even describe the emotions I felt when running through each town with the cheers of the crowd on both sides of the race. Everyone was so happy, screaming and shouting with joy that we were running this remarkable race. High fives, signs and people handing out water, Gatorade, oranges, popsicles just to help us was wonderful. Each mile that I passed the more excited and accomplished I felt. I was one step closer to the finish line and one step closer to seeing my family that was just as excited as I was. I hit mile 25 and knew, this is it, and I am almost there. I felt the crowds yell even louder and the excitement among the other athletes grow stronger. I rounded the corner and heard, "YAH STEPH!!" I turned to my right and there they were my family. With all the pain I felt in my legs, I sprinted to my family and gave hugs and kisses and looked over at my baby boy who looked peaceful as an angel. They told me to keep going and we will meet you at the finish line, you can do this! I CAN do this I thought, I only have .2 of a mile left, that's it, .2. What could happen in .2 of a mile? I could see the finish, I got this. As I started to run all of the pain that I felt throughout the run was fading away, I had felt accomplished, I was going to finish this race, and no one is stopping me. It took me time after time trying to qualify, I had a baby, I trained, I worked hard, and this was my time. Then, as I drew closer to the finish I heard a big boom and saw smoke rising over the buildings to the left. I stopped and starred trying to figure out what it was. Was it fireworks? Before I could figure out what it was I heard a big boom behind me and when I looked I saw the same thing, smoke rising over the buildings. These were explosions. There was something going on, something not right. Before I could think, I heard screams and people falling to the ground. I was trapped in the middle of two bombs that had just gone off. For a moment, I didn't move. I thought this is it, I'm going to die. Another bomb is going to go off and I have nowhere to go. How could my son be without his mother? How could the love of my life of 8 years go on without me? How could my family just lose their daughter doing what she loves? I snapped out of these negative thoughts and thought run, you need to find your family now, what if they are harmed? I started running in the opposite direction of the finish line and the images I saw will haunt me forever. Everyone was screaming and shouting, "get down, go that way, run this way!" I saw blood covering the streets, I saw people without their limbs, I saw people hurting, I saw scared people screaming, and I saw my life flash before my eyes. As I sprinted down the street I saw someone familiar coming towards me and it was my dad. He was screaming and crying and yelling my name as loud as he could. I ran into his arms and he just grabbed me and held me and told me everything was okay. I kept screaming, "Where is my baby? Where is everyone? Is everyone okay? Please tell me they are okay!?" He grabbed me with tears coming down his face and said, "Everyone is okay, stay with me, we will be okay." I held on to my dad and didn't want to let him go. The next thing I knew my husband was running towards me to make sure we were okay. He told me we needed to get out of there right away. We ran straight towards our hotel to get inside were we would be safe. I saw my mom protecting my precious, innocent baby. My innocent baby who was 3 ½ months had to be a part of something so horrible, so awful, so life changing. My baby who instead of saying one day that he was able to see his mom run the Boston Marathon he will say I was 200 feet away from the bombings at the Boston Marathon. How can an experience that is supposed to be so wonderful turn so awful? How can one minute I be so excited, so overjoyed turn into fear for my life and my family's life? How can someone or something somewhere hurt so many people in such a joyful place? People work so hard to get to this one moment in time and before their eyes their memories will now be nightmare. I have to say one thing; I will look at my life differently. I will tell my family I love them every day and I will hold my son tighter at night. I will thank god for every morning I wake up and enjoy every day he gives me. I will pray for hope and love for the victims in this tragedy. I will pray that each victim can be emotionally and physically healed. I will pray for the families whom have lost their loved ones. The Boston Marathon has changed many lives and as opened my eyes, but I will run the Boston Marathon again, I will run to show my love and support. You may have hurt me, but you have not broken me. You may have scared me, but I will not live in fear.

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