Laura Rodriguez of Throggs Neck didn’t realize she was running for her life at the Boston Marathon.
Neither did her fellow runners at the Van Cortlandt Track Club, recalling the moment they came close to death at the scene of a bloody terror bombing on Monday afternoon, April 15.
For Rodriguez, it was simply a day to test her endurance.
A medical assistant at Montefiore Medical Center, Rodriguez crossed the finish line at 3 hours and 4 minutes, roughly an hour before two explosions detonated on Boylston Ave., killing three and injuring 176.
Walking out of the Marriott Hotel on Exeter Street with her husband and a friend, Rodriguez was jolted by the explosion.
“It was the loudest thing I ever heard,” she said. “Then like 12 seconds later, there was a second blast that went off and people just started running.”
They also started screaming, sprinting for their lives as a flood of ambulances jammed Boylston Avenue, stumbling onto a bloody scene of death and blown off limbs.
“It just brought 9/11 back again,” said Rodriguez. “Like the feeling of not being safe and not knowing what’s going to happen.”
Rodriguez quickly tried to called her teammates from the track club, Bronx runners who practice year-round to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon. But cell phone service was down.
“I kept trying to text them ‘please don’t come to downtown Boston, you have to get out of here,’” recalled Rodriguez.
Good fortune was on the side of club president Bette Clark, who decided the day before not to go to the finish line.
Instead, she was riding the T-line near Heartbreak Hill at mile 21, about 5 miles from the finish line, spending the early afternoon cheering runners on.
The subway halted two stops away from Boylston Ave. Mutters of a terror attack soon engulfed the subway car. “An explosion,” Clark remembered hearing.
And as cell phone towers and subways came to a halt, so did fellow VCTC runner and Norwood local Manlio Mondo, a mere mile away the finish line when the bomb went off. He couldn’t finish the race following the explosion.
“We couldn’t go in that area,” said the 66-year-old four-time Ironman triathlete and Korean War vet, recalling that terrorism sprang to his mind that day, enraging him that some “mother muckers” set off a bomb that killed an eight-year-old.
Meanwhile, back at the Marriott, VCTC teammate Kyle Hall of Pelham Parkway was recuperating from a successful run, finishing 90 minutes before the blast went off.
“We could see the smoke coming from where the public library is,” said Hall.
When stepped out to meet other teammates at a nearby restaurant, “You saw dozens of ambulances, more than I ever seen or heard, just rushing to the street in all different directions,”
Teammate Jamie Kyei-Frimpong of Riverdale, a nurse-practitioner at Bellevue, said she didn’t sleep well that night, thinking she could have done more to help victims.
“I’m really struggling to think I wasn’t there,” she said. “Had I been down there I would’ve been more involved, but it was more about being safe in the hotel.”
She’s also been plagued by the “game of what if,” playing out different scenarios that could have left her among the dead or wounded “had I run a lot slower…or what if my teammates were on the finish line instead of Heartbreak Hill.”
Hall has also found it difficult coming to grips over the tragedy, himself wishing to help the fallen who high-fived him at the finish line.
“I think of all of them and that’s what makes it so bad,” he said, “because those are most of the people injured.”
Mondo, however, thanks “the man of upstairs” for giving him his “nine lives.”
“I’m still on this earth because he wants me to serve the people and the community.”
As in moments following a tragedy, the VCTC huddled in a solidarity circle Tuesday evening back in Van Cortlandt Park, observing a moment of silence for victims.
“We’re truly a family, and we’re truly blessed,” said VCTC coach Ken Rolston.
Despite the tragedy, Hall said every runner intends to go back next year, “If for no other reason, just for principle to support the memory of those who fell this year.”
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383