A year ago today, Tasha Souza ran a race to mark a deeply personal loss.
”I knew this marathon would be an emotional one for me,” the 44-year-old Humboldt State University Department of Communication professor said Monday in an email to the Times-Standard. “I dedicated it to my friend and running partner, Suzie Seemann, who had been intentionally hit and killed by a homicidal criminal on the lam while she was out running.”
Seemann, an HSU geography lecturer, was killed in 2012 in a hit-and-run while running with two friends on Old Arcata Road.
Souza said she began crying as she crossed the finish line. After composing herself, she started walking back to the finish line to watch two other Humboldt County runners finish the race -- the 2013 Boston Marathon.
It was then, Souza said, that she heard the bombs go off.
”People stricken with horror ran quickly toward me as I stood frozen in bewilderment,” she said.
Two pressure cooker bombs planted near the finish line killed three people and injured over 250 others. Chechen brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnav were named as the two suspects by the FBI on April 18. The same day of their identification, Tamerlan Tsarnav killed a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer and was later shot to death in a firefight with police officers in Watertown, Mass. Dzhokhar Tsarnav was arrested the next day and is currently awaiting a federal trial.
Armando Ibarra-Espinoza of Arcata said Monday that while his memories of the bombing remain, he also remembers the experience of running through the crowds of spectators during what was his first major marathon.
”It was amazing to see all those people around you,” the 26-year-old said. “I hope more than anything that last year doesn't scare the spectators away because that was the most beautiful thing to see.”
Ibarra-Espinoza is one of three Humboldt County runners -- two of whom ran in last year's race -- set to participate in this year's Boston Marathon, the world's oldest annual race of its kind, on April 21.
Ibarra-Espinoza said he had finished the 2013 marathon and was just getting off the subway around 3 p.m. when the explosions occurred.
”We didn't find out until everyone was hitting us up really concerned,” he said. “People were finding out before us. It was a spooky night on the town so we were trying to avoid the mayhem.”
McKinleyville resident Kim Coelho, 50, said she was also able to finish the race and get on the subway before the bombs exploded.
”I got into my room and turned on the TV because I was interested to see who won and I was just floored by what I saw,” Coelho said. “I had finished about 20 minutes before the bombs went off, and had just barely gotten out of there.”
After running in the marathon last year and in 2012, Coelho said she would have “no problem going back”, but said planning a trip to the East Coast can sometimes trump her desires to run.
”Running is kind of like eating and breathing for me,” Coelho said. “But I've already ran in Boston for the last two years now and want to try something different.”
Ibarra-Espinoza admitted he is not in as good of shape as he was last year, but said he is participating this year to “enjoy and to support the cause of the whole event.”
After running the 2013 Boston Marathon, Ibarra-Espinoza ran a charity marathon in New York and raised over $4,500 for the American Cancer Society and plans to run a double marathon for another charity this fall.
”After Boston, my reasons for running were definitely shifted, and I had to stop and think why I do this after such a tragedy,” Ibarra-Espinoza said. “I really like the idea of using my legs for something more than just myself.”
As a group of people who put themselves through 26-miles of intense physical strain, Ibarra-Espinoza said that runners are “not exactly a group that's going to scare that easily.”
Rather than being discouraged by the bombings, Ibarra-Espinoza said his experience at two other marathons showed him that the running community has become more emboldened in its determination to participate in races.
”I think everyone around there was thinking that they're not going let an act of terror keep them from a sport they love,” Ibarra-Espinoza said. “But I still think it's going to be something on everyone's minds there.”
Coelho said she feels the same way, but said that bombing still left an effect on people -- an effect she saw when she and her two daughters participated in a race in Arcata last May.
”At the beginning of the race, my 9-year-old daughter asked me if we were going to be safe,” Coelho said. “It was sad that she would even be thinking of something bad happening when we we're going to do something fun together.”
After experiencing the loss of her friend and the bombings, Tasha Souza said she has “changed as a runner.”
“I have a hard time decoupling the two since the Boston bombing happened within the context of my grieving for Suzie,” she said. “I run with more purpose, appreciation, and passion now as a result of such experience.”
Though they have had a large impact on her life, and although she won't be running in Boston this year, Souza said she is not taking these incidents as a “message for me to discontinue.”
”I took the experiences as a message to continue running; to continue living life to the fullest so that I may cherish every day as if it were my last,” Souza said. “Running makes me whole; it brings me peace, inspires good health and creates balance in my life.”
Coelho said she is glad that the Boston Athletics Association has expanded the qualifying list by 9,000 people to allow last year's runners to finish the race.
”Whether or not they had a qualifying time or not, they can still have a great time and celebrate when they cross the finish line,” she said.