It wasn’t meant to be. Already the marathon runner was behind on her usual run time, but as the city came into view, she decided to pick up the pace.
Little did the lean competitor realize that each step took her closer to tragedy.
“I had it in my heart that I could do the Boston Marathon,” Darris Griffith remembers her diligent years-long training, “and my goal was to qualify. But ” the mother of two pauses with emotion, “I didn’t realize that my goal that I set would be life-changing.”
It had been a perfect spring day to run the race. The 2013 morning was crisp, and by afternoon the intermittent clouds would bring shady relief. Darris and her friend, Rachael Michael, were two of the 24,662 participants eager to begin the 26.2 mile course.
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But then came the first of several delays.
“On the morning of the race, we had to go to the bathroom,” the slim blonde recalls the line that stretched forever, “so we were late getting into the corral to start the run.”
With other participants seeded for the same group, Darris and Rachael were at the very back of the pack.
“We parted ways,” Darris says about a quick good-bye to her running partner who eventually was delayed with stomach issues. “I knew she’d be way ahead of me because I’d injured my leg.”
During her training for the marathon, the Darris had fractured her tibia and even though it had healed, she still couldn’t run her normal pace. Her philosophy was to enjoy the first-time event despite a predictable later-than-usual finish time.
“I was just happy to be out on the course,” Darris reminisces about the thrill of being a part of the race. “I just wanted to experience it because I’d worked so hard to be there.” The 41-year old then pauses thoughtfully, “I just wanted to finish.”
And so she reveled in the journey. A photo op with the Wellesley College girls holding traditional “silly” signs, another picture to capture Heartbreak Hill, and a walk instead of a run through the water stations. There was again the public “potty stop” with an unending line – a delay shortened some when supporters allowed the runner to move closer to the front.
The miles dwindled as she ran onward toward the finish line.
“At the very end my healing leg was hurting and I’d slowed way down,” Darris comments. “But when I got into the city, I started running to finish it up.”
Then her cell phone rang – twice. Her mother-in-law and an Arizona friend both told her something had happened at the race, although it was yet unclear what. But as Darris looked around, the crowds were cheering and the policemen standing roadside seemed unconcerned.
Darris continued to run, determined to finish the race.
“I’m less than a mile from the finish when a police officer stopped me,” Darris remembers the image clearly. “He came out into the middle of the road, hands out and then ripped down the street barricade. He said, ‘You have to get out of here now!’”
Still not comprehending the event unfolding at the finish line, Darris took refuge in a Starbucks adjacent to the downed barricade, commenting as she came through the door, “You must be my finish line.” Immediately she attempted to call her family, but discovered there was no cell phone service.
Darris remembers the anxiety she felt, “My husband couldn’t get ahold of me – he was at home with the kids – and he was worried because he knew I would be close to the finish line by then.”
She found support from a kindly couple that offered their computer to post a Facebook message to her loved ones. Soon news began to emerge about the bombings, and images of horrific tragedy appeared along with concern over possible unexploded bombs. With all public transportation shut down and Darris two miles from her hotel, she ran there for safety.
Darris, a Tri-Cities resident, realizes how fortunate she was to have been slower than her usual runtime.
“I felt like I was in a secure protected place and I didn’t see what was on that street that day,” says the sensitive young woman. “If I’d have seen the damage that had happened I ” her voice trailing as she considers the certain emotional scarring.
Even so, the impact of being part of this terrible moment that took three lives and wounded 264 has changed her.
“I look at things through different eyes.” Darris confesses. I just appreciate things a lot more and I don’t sweat the small stuff.”
The avid runner says she feels blessed to be healthy and to have walked away from the Boston Marathon changed in a positive way – a perspective she now displays on her personalized license plate.
“I think God has a purpose for me, to share and be connected to people,” Darris says with tears in her eyes. “Maybe when they see my license plate and they’re having a bad day, they’ll think about being thankful in everything.”
“THNKFUL” – something we’re all meant to be.
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