Boston University Students Remember Last Year’s Marathon, Look Forward

By Samantha Mellman

BU News Service

As runners lined up today for the 2014 Boston Marathon, stories of last year’s race continued to emerge from participants and spectators who experienced and survived the bomb-scarred event. These are the stories of two Boston University graduates, runner Azeem Khan and spectator Montserrat Bravo.

Months before the 2013 Boston Marathon, Khan thought to himself: This may be my last year living in Boston and my last opportunity to run in the marathon. At 25 years old, Khan spent six years at BU earning a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2010 and a master’s degree in medical sciences in 2012. He began training in December 2012 for the 2013 Boston Marathon. As his first-ever marathon, he knew well in advance that he would not be able to qualify for the race, so instead he ran for the American Liver Foundation. He set a goal of $4,500 in donations and met it before race day.

Montserrat Bravo, a 2013 BU graduate, lived in the same dormitory on 81 Bay State Road with Khan during her junior year of college and his second year as a graduate student. Bravo and her friends woke up early on marathon day to try and get close to the finish line to watch Khan finish the race.

“We were excited and really wanted to be there for him,” said Bravo.

Khan created a Facebook page as a time capsule for friends and family to get updates on his training and fundraising up to the marathon. He decided for race day he wanted to have his cellphone on him to allow anyone to call or text him words of encouragement while he was running.

“While I was running the race I received 20 to 30 phone calls,” said Khan. “When I got to mile 23 near Coolidge Corner my phone started buzzing off the hook.”

Bravo and her friends were near Boylston and Exeter streets trying to get closer to the finish line, but the sidewalks were crowded with onlookers. A security guard told them that they couldn’t go into the VIP area. Moments later the first bomb exploded near the finish line.

“At first I just thought something in a kitchen had exploded since there are many restaurants there. My other friend thought it had been fireworks,” said Bravo. “Then we heard the second explosion and we saw the smoke and heard people screaming.”

Bravo said all she could think about was 9/11. She and her friends began speed-walking toward Huntington Avenue back to Kenmore Square.

“I started getting text messages and then phone calls from friends hysterical asking, ‘Are you okay, are you okay?’ and ‘Please don’t go to the finish line,’” said Khan. “I had no idea what anyone was talking about, because everyone around me throughout the entire race had been completely fine.”

Khan said he might have been one of the first runners in his area to know about the mayhem that was unfolding on Boylston Street. Within 10 to 12 minutes of hearing the news he said the entire mood changed. By mile 24, as he approached Kenmore Square, the police and military quarantined the area and told the runners that the race was over.

Khan’s belongings, including his cell phone charger, were waiting for him in a bag at the finish line. At mile 24, before cell phone services were cut off, Khan sent a Facebook post saying he was okay. He immediately began searching for his brother Ahmad, who was supposed to be waiting for him at the finish line.

“Runners were on the sidewalk crying and trying to console each other because they couldn’t reach their families, who were waiting for them at the finish line,” said Khan.

As he walked through the crowd, people brought their radios and televisions to the sidewalks to see what was happening in Copley Square. Khan was able to reunite with his brother and they went straight to a friend’s house for the rest of the day.

“It was one of the most interesting days of my life,” said Khan. “The only thing I thought that was kind of dumb, was that I was angry I didn’t finish. I raised $4,500 for this charity, I trained for months and months, I was two miles away from finishing the race, and I didn’t get to finish.”

Khan was emotionally shocked and took the rest of the week off from work. While spending time with friends they all tried to wrap their heads around what had occurred.

Khan received phone calls and Facebook messages from radio and television shows to appear as the voice of a Muslim who ran the race. He had no idea how they got his contact information and was bombarded by different media in the following weeks. He wrote a commentary for the Huffington Post from the perspective of a Pakistani Muslim on his thoughts from running the marathon to the city’s lockdown.

Khan will be returning to the Boston Marathon this year not as a runner, but to support a friend who ran with him last year. Khan said he ran the first 17 miles of the race with him, but he was slowing him down by one to two minutes each mile. Khan didn’t want to leave him behind and stayed with him.

“Around mile 17, he said, ‘I need to take a full-on break. You should go on ahead without me,’” said Khan. After the bombs went off, Khan realized that staying with his friend had an unintended benefit. “If you add up all the time he slowed me down for the amount of miles he slowed me down, [when the bombs went off] I would’ve been at the finish line or much closer or just crossed it.”