Freelance Journalist/Writer
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Local runners in Boston Marathon bombing

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Appeared in Easy Reader News, 2013 |

 by Rachel Reeves and Esther Kang

More than 30 South Bay runners were at the Boston Marathon Monday morning when chaos struck the finish line.

A Hollywood Riviera man, John Odom, was only 20 feet away from the first of the two bombs that ripped through the dense gathering of runners and spectators. At press time Tuesday, Odom was still fighting for his life after enduring a second day of surgery.

Brad Angle and his wife, Nancy Jo Rettig, were more fortunate. Barely.

Angle, a Redondo Beach resident, updated his Facebook page via his BlackBerry smartphone on Monday with a brief but reassuring message: “I’m fine. Other than marathon pain.”

His wife, Nancy Jo Rettig, updated hers, too: “At Boston marathon. Was 2 blocks from explosions. We are ok but evacuated city limits. Others in shock. Walked 8 miles back. Thx for checkin in on us. Others not so lucky.”

Rettig spoke to Easy Reader Tuesday from the DetroitAirport, where she was waiting for her connecting flight home.

She said she and Angle traveled with about 20 people from all over the country who knew each other through runnersworld.com.

“They’ve been excited about this for years and my husband finally qualified last year to run Boston, so my job was to take pictures of as many of them as I could,” Rettig explained.

“There was one last guy [in the group running] – his wife and myself were at mile 25 and he was running late, which was really disappointing to him but I thank him for that because had he run his normal time, we would’ve walked right into the finish line at the exact time the bomb exploded.

“Thankfully he wasn’t running his best that day.”

Rettig remembers hearing “thunderingly loud” explosions, but in that moment she couldn’t make out what they were.

“In your head, you’re thinking, okay it’s a cannon or it’s something stupid for the event, or some accident. By the second one, you’re like, no, some fool set this,” she said.

To her right was a “panic-stricken” police officer,” who hurdled over the barrier separating spectators from runners, screaming: “Shut it down! Stop the race! Stop the race!”

Then a 10-foot light pole exploded and “we all just kind of froze,” Rettig recalls.

“I remember seeing this woman walking in circles, just lost. She was from Canada and sat down, saying ‘I saw it all, I saw it all,’ and apparently she saw the explosion and the blood and the limbs, and she was just horrified. Everywhere you looked, you saw people just breaking down, on their knees, crying, trying to find people,” she said.

With train and bus services down, Rettig and her group of friends – their team name was The Loopsters – walked for three hours to reach the houseboat where they were staying.

“I can’t speak for everybody but a common fear was, ‘This is bad enough but it’s gonna get worse. What’s next?’ One explosion you might be able to explain, two puts you on red alert, three and four makes you wanna crawl into a hole,” she said.

Odom, chairman of the board of Rancho Dominguez-based Murray Co., was standing right by the finish line.

Odom’s son Don was quoted on a CBS News television report as saying medical personnel took his father to BostonMedicalCenter.

“I helped carry him to the ambulance,” he said. “He couldn’t walk, and he was really cold. We tried to keep talking to him to keep him alert. It is just unbelievable that this would happen at an event like this.”

His brother-in-law, Doug Nicol, told the Daily Breeze Tuesday that Odom was only two weeks from retirement. Nicol, who also works at Murray Co., said that Odom had apparently suffered a severed artery.

“His legs were blown apart…his heart took a big hit because of the loss of blood,” he said.  “It just sucks.”

Odom survived his first operation Monday.

“He’s stable, Critical 24 hours, lot’s blood loss, they worked hard on him four hours 20 doctors and three surgeons,” his son wrote via text message.  “He needs good mojo tonight.”

Tuesday, Don Odom reported in an email that his father had suffered “complications” and was in surgery again.

Odom, in his mid-60s, was a spectator watching his daughter Nicole Reis, wife of New England Revolution goalie Matt Reis, run the marathon. Nicole was part of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation’s team, which was running to raise money for the Myra Kraft Community MVP Awards in honor of the late wife of Patriots and Revolution owner Robert Kraft.

Another Redondo Beach man, Darrel Folkert, was also struck by the explosion. He was in Boston to cheer on his wife, Jacqueline Bost, a 42-year-old runner who heads ChristianRunners LA Chapter in Marina Del Rey.

No information was immediately available at press time, but Folkert was reportedly flying back to California Tuesday.

Altogether, the Boston Marathon official website lists nine registered runners from Redondo Beach. Three – Brad Angle, 51, Paul Cooney, 36, and Jimmy Wills, 31, – finished the race. Two others, Bost and Erin Beresini, ran but did not finish before the bombs exploded.

Redondo Beach residents Arthur Cookson, 60, Tony Donagrechia, 56, Christina Hambel-Rusin, 33, and Fabian Hernandez, 33, registered for the marathon, according to the official website, but as of press time it was unclear whether they ran.

Cooney updated his Facebook on Monday from his mobile phone: “In Boston. All is good, I am safe,” he wrote. “Thanks for everyone checking in. This is a terrible tragedy on such a great day. Lets all say a prayer for those who were hurt.”

Beresini, a 29-year-old Redondo Beach based freelance writer, was just 0.3 miles from the finish line when tragedy exploded.

The Outside magazine columnist wrote for the magazine, “I was limping along the last mile of the course when police motorcycles zoomed east on the westbound lane of Commonwealth Avenue. I looked at the woman next to me and said that there must be a runner down. After a few more steps, we came to a small crowd of runners who had been stopped on Commonwealth just before the Massachusetts Avenue overpass.

“Nobody knew what was going on. Perhaps someone had had a heart attack – but there were too many cop cars flying by to care for just one person. The runners carrying smartphones quickly spread the word that there was an explosion at the finish line,” she wrote.

Beresini, who has been married to Wills for five years, is an accomplished triathlete like her husband. Wills finished the Boston Marathon in 2012 so she wanted to put it on her list as well.

“My goal was to finish Boston and not have to run another marathon because I’d rather do it at the end of an Ironman (triathlon) because it hurts less and you don’t go as fast,” Beresini told the Easy Reader. “But this makes me want to run more marathons. It would be a giant F-you to those A-holes.”

Bereseni said she entered the race injured which is why she was slow and had not crossed the finish line before the bombs exploded.

Health permitting, Beresini and Wills plan to compete in the Redondo Beach Triathlon on Sunday, June 9. While still engaged, the couple won the male and female divisions in the 2007 event.

Hermosa Beach resident and Mira Costa High cross-country coach Renee Williams-Smith finished the marathon about 20 minutes before the bombs went off, and was headed back to her hotel when she heard the explosion.

“There was a loud boom and we were going, ‘Gosh, that was a weird sound,’ and then when I tried to get back into my hotel it was blocked off. I had no idea,” she said.

“…It was just the unknowing. We were being evacuated and moved around and it was chaos because we didn’t know what to expect.”

Williams-Smith said she was struck by the outpouring of support from both Bostonians who took her in when she couldn’t access her hotel room, and from friends and family back home who flooded her inbox with messages. They represented glimmers of hope in the midst of tragedy, she said.

“It was just sad, so sad. Everybody in Boston looks forward to this. It was packed with people and everybody was happy and excited about the marathon, and this was just so tragic. We were just in tears,” she said.

Mel McPherson, who is from Redondo Beach but moved to Boston in January, works in the PrudentialBuilding but had the day of the marathon off work.

“They’re considering it a crime scene…so we don’t even know when we’re allowed to go back to work at this point,” she said over the phone.

She was in the city Monday but left just half an hour before the bombs exploded.

“This honestly is my worst fear. People have always said the building I work in is a terrorist target so every time there’s a fire drill or something, people legitimately freak out. It’s not like how we handle things in L.A.,” she said. “It’s scary.”

Of the 15 Manhattan Beach residents registered for the Boston Marathon, nine so far have confirmed safe, according to various sources.

Chuck Kaminski, 57, said he had thought it was a beautiful day for the Boston marathon, one of his favorite races. He crossed the finish line an hour and a half before the explosion. His wife, Wanda, former co-executive director of the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation, watched him finish the race from a spot they later learned was just across the street from the bomb.

After he finished the race, the couple returned to their hotel, about four blocks from the site, and got ready for lunch. As they were heading out the door, they heard an explosion. Moments later, they heard a second.

“We heard this big boom twice, and that was what was suspicious,” Chuck Kaminski said. “We looked out the window, and we don’t have a clear shot of the finish line, but Wanda saw people running away from the area and there was smoke everywhere.”

The couple returned back to their hotel room and was “glued to the TV for a couple of hours,” he said. They heard sirens all evening, he said.

Kaminski said a friend had passed through the finish line just three minutes before the bomb went off. “We’re just very fortunate that we weren’t at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.

He described the vicinity of the explosions as being flocked by police, members of the National Guard and the media.

“No one in the city is smiling. Everybody is resolute,” Kaminski said. “There’s a certain stillness. It’s just very quiet, not at all like it usually is here after the marathon.”

Fitness coach and personal trainer Laurie Peterson, 50, told the Easy Reader via email that she had already crossed the finish line when she heard the explosion.

“Finished, heard it, heard second [wave of] people screaming,” Peterson wrote. “Not knowing, I got my bag and they made us run out. I waited in the park for two hours to find my friends.”

With sirens blaring and public transportation shut down, she said “it took forever” to return home. Peterson said she spent all of Tuesday stranded at the airport due to the American Airlines system outage. Around 3 p.m. PST, she said her plane was finally preparing for take off.

Jason Argent, 40, finished the marathon and confirmed he was uninjured via Google Person Finder: “We are fine and safe at our hotel,” he wrote.

Bill Crader, 37, also finished the race and was last heard from at his hotel, where he told a friend he was safe.

Christopher Bennett, 38, stayed in Manhattan Beach and didn’t run the marathon. He wrote on Google Person Finder that he “is safe but very sad.”

Silvia Flint, 49, did not finish the race and is safe, according to her daughter’s Facebook post.

Atlee Murphy, 23, crossed the finish line and confirmed via Facebook that she is safe.

Dan Racone, 57, told the Beach Reporter that he had crossed the finish line just 20 minutes before the explosion and learned what was happening at the hotel on the news.

Tami Shalvarjian, 48, finished the race and confirmed she is safe, per family and friends.

“Barefoot runner” Patrick Sweeney, 34, of Manhattan Beach, assured friends on his Facebook page that he also was okay. “I am fine and so are my friends. I’m in a car on my way out of town. Thank you for all your concerns. It means a lot to me,” he wrote. Last year Sweeney set a Guinness World Record by running 87.36 miles over 24 hours barefoot in the soft sand between the Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach piers. In 2010 he won the Manhattan Beach 10K, wearing huarache sandals.

Rachel Ragona, the personal training and fitness coordinator at the Beach Cities Health District, had registered to run the marathon, but did not got to Boston because scheduling conflicts required her to stay home to watch her 21-month-old baby.

“When I heard about the blasts, all I could think of was how close my family and I all came to being out there. I can’t imagine how I’d have felt if my family had been hurt. And as a runner, I could only feel heartbreak for the unsuspecting athletes and spectators for whom celebration turned into chaos in mere seconds.

“I just cannot understand why a person or people would want to damage so many innocent lives on a day that’s supposed to represent all that’s good about the human spirit.

“The Boston Marathon, will be forever changed. However, I am confident that I’m not alone in saying that I’m more determined than ever to run the race next year. We will run to show our resilience, our solidarity as a nation, and to honor the victims of this year’s tragedy.”

The statuses of Manhattan Beach residents Thuy Le, 41, Kevin Lohner, 38, Rita Walsh, 54, and Robyn Younie, 41, were unavailable at press time.  ER