By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
The Boston Marathon draws runners from around the world for reasons as diverse as the places they come from. Three of the participants in this year’s marathon hailed from Central Minnesota — Sabrina Hoppe of Nelson, Kevin Zimmer of Sauk Centre and Gary Geer of Brooten.
What no runner expected were the two explosions that rocked the finish line in Boston.
“We were two and a half blocks west of the finish line,” said Hoppe’s father, Peter Marthaler. “My son-in-law saw both explosions and my wife saw one. In the first 15 seconds, everyone was wondering what had happened — then the sirens started. People started coming out of that area and we could see the terror in their eyes; it scared them pretty bad.”
Hoppe was experiencing knee pain that had started at mile 6. She had been alternating a quarter-mile sprint with a quarter-mile walk and was determined to finish the race. She received a message from her husband at mile 21.9 telling her that something had just happened at the finish line.
“He wasn’t sure what was going on,” she said. “I expected to be stopped, which happened about a half hour later at mile 25.”
Zimmer was still a couple of miles out at the time of the blasts. He had called his wife, who was waiting with their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter about a block and a half from the finish line, to let them all know that he was close. They told him what had happened.
“We were pretty sheltered from the blast site; they had the area taped off, as it should be,” Zimmer said. “The response from police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was very rapid and professional.”
While he and other runners were stopped behind the finish line, people came out of their homes to bring water to them.
Geer had crossed the finish line about 30 minutes before the explosions and was with his family on the subway when they occurred.
“We heard over the speaker when we got off the subway that the station where we had boarded was closed,” Geer said. “Then my phone started going crazy with people asking if we were OK.”
Geer’s coworkers in Kandiyohi County were among those people concerned for his safety.
“We texted him; we were all starting to panic,” said Kristi Caspers, Environmental Services secretary. “He texted us back so we knew they were all safe.”
Geer and his family had exited the subway near the bomb that didn’t go off.
“We are definitely very thankful that we were ahead of that whole event,” he said.
The runners who were stopped from finishing were able to pick up their finisher’s medal the next day.
“They put it on me just like they do at the finish line,” Hoppe said. “The moment was huge. There was that priceless little chunk of metal as a reward for years of running.”
It was a series of fortuitous events which all lined up to lead Hoppe to the race this year. After qualifying at the 2010 Twin Cities Marathon, she made plans for a vacation so she could run in the 2012 Boston Marathon, only to be sidelined by stress fractures just weeks beforehand.
“Because we had everything planned, we went anyway,” she said.
Hoppe picked up her shirt and other race things. She later found out that a “heat deferral” was given due to high temperatures.
“Any runners who didn’t finish automatically qualified to come back the next year,” she said.
So Hoppe was able to return to Boston this year.
“It was just an emotional roller-coaster,” Hoppe said. “First was the realization that I was running, then my knee hurt and I was worried about not finishing. Overall, it was a good experience.”
Zimmer and his family members stayed in Boston for three more days.
“Whenever people found out that I’d run in the Marathon they would apologize,” he said. “I have nothing but good things to say about Boston.”
When starting their trip home, Hoppe’s family went to the airport early, expecting increased security.
“It went pretty smoothly,” Marthaler said. “We beat the rushes.”
Zimmer hopes to go back to Boston next year. “This won’t stop me,” he said. “I’m not going to let them win that way.”