3 fleet-footed Kuemper alums outrun fate in Boston
Matt McDermott, Julie Burcar, Tammy Snyder finish marathon before blasts; Carroll resident Sonia Walsh's family escapes harm in deadly Boston attack.
April 16, 2013
Barb McDermott of Carroll caught the news break in mid-afternoon. Bombs in Boston.
Her son Matt, a Des Moines lawyer, is in the race, there amid the horror. She checked the clock and felt relief. Matt is fast. Real fast. He's probably OK.
"He runs it faster than 4 hours," McDermott said. "That went through my head."
Soon, family called with the confirmation. Matt and his pregnant wife, Heather, were unharmed, in lockdown in the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.
McDermott, 35, finished the marathon in 2 hours, 55 minutes and 3 seconds - an average of 6:51 miles, or nearly 9 miles an hour. He said it's a personal best time.
"It was a good race for me," McDermott said. "I was in pretty good spirits."
McDermott, who practices in the prestigious Belin McCormick Law Firm in Des Moines, started in the 10 a.m. wave. About 23,000 people competed in the marathon. The finish-line explosions occurred about 2:50 p.m.
In a phone interview from his hotel room about an hour after the attack, McDermott, a 1996 Kuemper Catholic High School graduate who went on to earn his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley, said he had finished the race about two hours before the blasts. He'd already showered. His wife and two friends, Jake and Meredith Johnson from Des Moines, were headed out of the hotel to enjoy what had been a glorious day in Boston. McDermott recorded a spectacular time. They'd caught a Red Sox game. More celebration and fun waited on Patriots Day in the historic city. As McDermott's crew reached the front of the hotel, plans changed.
"We stepped out of the hotel and heard what sounded like two canons," McDermott said. "Remember those canons at Iowa State (football) games?"
He knew something was wrong as the race had been going on for nearly five hours. No need for celebratory, touchdown canons, he thought.
"That's what was weird about it," McDermott said. "There shouldn't have been anything that noisy going on at the race at the point. The winners had finished three hours earlier."
He added, "Instantly, on the street, there was confusion and people were looking at each other and wondering what was going on, and then we could see people running toward us, sort of frantically."
McDermott's group turned around quickly and headed back to their fourth-floor room in the Fairmont - one block away from the finish line and bomb blasts.
"As we watched the news, a lot of what they're showing from on the scene at the medical tents, is probably, I mean, you could hit your sand wedge to it," he said. "It's very close."
McDermott said he's familiar with the area near the finish line. He went to dinner a block west of the finish line on Saturday, and stopped at a pharmacy on Sunday.
"We've been walking past these places five times in the last two days," McDermott said. "We were right in this area. Our hotel is right there."
During the interview, McDermott said the television news broadcast images of his hotel.
"It's just such a strange occurrence," McDermott said. "Obviously, I've never been a part of anything like this."
The McDermotts, who arrived Saturday, plan to leave the Boston airport today at 6 p.m. for Des Moines.
"We're watching the TV in disbelief," McDermott said. "I've never been in a hotel that's been in lockdown."
Julie (Steinkamp) Burcar, a 1995 Kuemper graduate, finished the marathon about 45 minutes before the blasts.
Now living in Gilbert, Ariz., Burcar had a traveling support group in Boston that included two sisters, Jodi Lenz of rural Carroll, and Jenny Maines of Mesa, Ariz. The three are daughters of Kenny and Linda Steinkamp of Breda. Burcar's husband, Shane, and mother-in-law, Mary Shea, were part of her rooting contingent as well.
"I had just met up with my family and we were taking pictures and we heard the big boom," Burcar said in a phone interview this morning from a Dunkin Donuts in the Boston suburbs.
Soon after the post-race hugs, Burcar's group saw smoke. Then they smelled it.
"You could tell people were nervous, and they were running around," Burcar said.
Burcar said her family went into a PF Chang's Chinese restaurant where news accounts started to give them a sense of the situation.
"We got a cab and got out here to Newton where we were a little bit safer," Burcar said. "We were lucky to get a cab driver who really didn't know what was going on."
Newton is about 7 miles west of downtown Boston.
Burcar, a fitness trainer at Firerock Country Club in Gilbert (where she routinely sees a number of Carroll snowbirds), started the marathon in Wave 2, and finished with a time of 3:38. Had she run a slower pace, or experienced any physical problems on the course, she knows she and her family could have been positioned in danger zones.
"I have had a lot of my running group call and say, 'Thank God, you're OK, and you're as fast as you are," Burcar said.
Burcar said her sister Jenny had taken photos near the blast site - close to the now familiar line of international flags framing the video of the explosion - about 20 minutes before the bombs detonated.
"It seems like the supporters were the ones who were hurt," Burcar said. "It's our families and friends that keep us going."
Burcar ran her first Boston Marathon Monday. She plans to continue marathoning.
"I'm sure I'll do another marathon," Burcar said. "I don't know when or where."
Tammy Snyder, 53, a 1978 Kuemper graduate who lives in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis, Minn., finished the marathon in 3:47:50, about an hour before the attack.
"I was out of the finish area when it went off," Snyder said.
She traveled with a group of more than a 100 people from her fitness club in the Minneapolis area to the Boston Marathon.
"I'm OK and everybody is OK," Snyder said this morning as she packed her bags at the Park Plaza Hotel and prepared to leave the city later today on flight to Minneapolis.
Snyder said she had friends who crossed the finish line moments before the bomb blasts.
"I think it's still sinking in," Snyder said. "I feel very, very blessed."
A daughter of Denny and Mardy Snyder of Carroll, Tammy Snyder said she went to Our Lady of Victories Catholic Church in Boston and lit a candle this morning.
"It was the right thing to do," she said.
Sonia Walsh of Carroll had just finished getting her hair styled at Barb's Little Clipper early Monday afternoon. She headed home, ready for the rest of a busy day. Walsh logged on to her computer and saw traffic on the social-networking site Facebook about the developing story in Boston.
The chill struck quick. Her brother, Bill Dix, 44, of Orlando, Fla., was in that marathon.
"He's run the Boston Marathon years and years in a row," Walsh said.
What's more, her parents, Ted and Vicky Cuvelier of Binghampton, N.Y., were there with their son. He finished the marathon about 30 seconds before McDermott with a time of 2:54:22.
"My mom texted me and said, 'We're OK," Walsh said within the first hour after the blasts.
Reports of more bombs and speculation about potential related attacks were flowing in at that point, making Walsh concerned about the safety of anyone in the Boston area.
"I'm going to feel better when I talked to them and hear voice," Walsh said.
That call came, she said this morning.
"I finally talked to my parents last night as they left Boston and had cell service," Walsh said. "Their account is completely terrifying, but I'm glad they are safe at home today."