Olathe runners stunned by marathon blasts

Two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via website Getty Images)

Two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via website Getty Images)

Several Olatheans were among the 27,000 runners from more than 90 countries in Boston for the Annual Boston Marathon and were shocked by the two explosions that killed three and injured more than 130.

There were participant Patrick Wackerla along with his wife Jennifer, a student teacher at Mission Trail Middle School, runner and Mission Trail School teacher Stacey Sperry, and 1998 Olathe North High School graduate Matt Gronniger, who now lives in San Francisco.

Read the account of an Olathe family relaxing in a restaurant just above where the explosions took place.

Jennifer Wackerla stood at the 25-mile marker of the race, about a block away from the finish line, and then made her way to the family waiting area after watching Patrick run past.

“He ran a 3:30:00, it was his second time in the Boston Marathon,” she said. “He ran last year in that terrible heat and I was so elated when I saw him; he was so excited and we were on cloud 9, honestly. He did great and I was so excited that I got to see him this year; it’s hard as a spectator to see one runner in a whole bunch of runners.”

After the two found each other in the family area, they went to the nearest train station and went back to their hotel.

“It took about 20 minutes,” she said. “We got back to the room, turned on the television to watch the race and see where people were finishing and then we saw the finish line and found out about the bombs. It must have happened about the time we got on the train.

“All I wanted to do was be back in Kansas with my kids.”

She called the school where they attend and she said school officials were discreet in getting messages to her children.

“You don’t know what kids have with cellphone access and what they might hear, so I called the school to let them know we were OK,” Jennifer said. “We called the neighbor to let them know we were fine and then I talked to my kids.

“They know we’re fine, but it’s hard; we feel trapped; we don’t know if we’ll be able to fly out tomorrow.”

She said the explosions were a terrible tragedy.

“I’m in complete disbelief,” she said. “When 9-11 hit, you’re in Kansas, the middle of the Midwest and so far removed from it. Being so close, an hour away from bombs going off — it’s just unreal.

“I can’t wait to get home.”

Although she didn’t hear the explosion, Stacey Sperry said she and her friend were still in the area when it happened.

“We heard all of the firetrucks, ambulances and cops rushing to something,” she said. “My friend asked if this was normal. I didn’t think so but I had never ran a Boston Marathon or something this large before so I had no idea. Then, all of a sudden, helpers with wheelchairs started running and I thought that was strange. When we got to our car and turned on the radio, that’s when we heard about the bombs.”

That’s when Stacey said she was struck with the reality of the tragedy.

“I was shaken up and praying for those involved,” she said. “And then I wanted to get out of downtown Boston.”

Stacey’s scheduled to fly out of Boston on Tuesday. She re-qualified for the Boston Marathon, but whether she participates again is “to be determined,” she said.

And she’s already thought about what she’ll tell her students.

“I’ll tell them I finished the race and when I found out about the bombs that my thoughts and prayers go out to those involved in this horrific attack,” she said. “This thing is so surreal. The community (of Boston) is so supportive — at the airport, eating out, the Expo — they just welcome everyone.

“The weather was perfect, the crowd was perfect, everything was organized, I can’t imagine a better scenario for a race day — until the end. Within 15 minutes you hear there’s been an explosion, an attack and you just want to go home. I want to come home to Kansas. I never thought I would be so proud that I live in Kansas.”

It was the third time Matt Gronniger had run the Boston Marathon. He crossed the finish line about 25 minutes before the bombs exploded.

He said he feels lucky.

“Yeah, I feel really lucky,” he said. “I’m glad I ran and got done when I did. I feel really sad for all the people affected by this.”

This is something he never thought would happen at the Boston Marathon.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought something like this would have happened,” he said. “I met up with some friends afterwards. We were four or five blocks away and talking about how the race went when we heard this huge explosion, like a huge firework, but larger. Then we saw a bunch of smoke and dust and people started panicking then because a lot of cops started moving toward that, directing traffic, not letting any pedestrians move, just getting the traffic off the street so ambulances could get in.

“It just got crazy after that.”

And to make the situation worse, Matt said he had to go back near the area of the explosions to get his rental car in a parking garage.

“It was pretty scary walking around in the area,” he said. “Driving in the area, being in the area, not knowing what’s going to happen next. There was a lot of confusion; people just repeating what they were hearing added to the confusion.

“I just wanted to get my car and get back to my hotel and out of the area.”

Would he run the race again?

“I would,” he said. “It’s one of those you have to run. But in the back of my head…the things that I heard and seen will last a long time. I’ve seen the (TV) footage, and having been there just prior to that, it’s pretty shocking.”

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  1. […] Olathe runners stunned by marathon blasts […]

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