By Ben Meiklejohn, Courier Staff Writer
SACO/BOSTON – Last year, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, in which four people were killed and nearly 300 people injured, State Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) was frantically trying to communicate with his sister, Heather Chenette, who had attended the annual event to watch her friends race. While cell phones were not responding due to the volume of call traffic, Justin turned to Facebook where he eventually connected with his sister and found out that she was safe and unharmed.
“It was a very nerve-racking time period,” he said.
A year later, Justin said seeing his sister prepare to compete in the Boston Marathon for the first time was inspiring.
“It was her first run (in the Boston Marathon) and after what happened last year, she was definitely really pumped up about running this one in particular,” he said. “She had always wanted to do this as a culmination of all those past experiences running smaller races, but the bombing was really a catalyst to do it.”
Heather, 28, said she moved to Boston several years ago to attend graduate school at Boston College. After witnessing the confusion that ensued last year, Heather said she was “absolutely determined” that she would run in the 2014 marathon.
“Today was breathtaking when coming down that last stretch,” Heather told the Courier after completing the run. “It brings tears to your eyes because the whole city is cheering us to finish.”
Heather said the atmosphere of the race from the beginning was that she was in a city full of people who were all family. Complete strangers would sit and talk with each other, or help each other out, she said, as the nearly 40,000 runners congregated in Athlete’s Village in the hours preceding the race.
“The actual race, the energy around just starting the race, was so powerful,” Heather said. “The adrenalin for everybody was really powerful. The thing that kept me going was the crowd’s energy and the message: ‘This is our city. This is our race. Boston will finish.’”
Justin said that similar to 9/11, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing pulled the country together in a time of crisis, and overcoming last year’s tragedy was a major impetus for runners this year.
“Beyond her usual inclination to run, she had a burning desire to do this,” Justin said. “I can’t describe into words how proud of my sister I am. It was so nice to see her so motivated and passionate to proving this point, not only that Boston is united after the tragedy, but that we’re excited to push back against (violence).”
Justin said he was “bummed” that he could not go to Boston to watch his sister run, but was excited to follow her progress in the race on the marathon’s website. He said he was also surprised to hear that there were more than a million people in attendance to watch the 36,000 runners compete.
“That’s like the whole state of Maine going to Boston for a day,” Justin said.
Heather said the feeling of camaraderie throughout the city was unlike any she had ever seen.
“It kind of feels like being a rock star,” Heather said. “I couldn’t imagine there being any more positive energy … Even after I finished, I had my medal on and was walking around the city. Everybody was giving each other high fives. Cars would slow down, not typical to Boston traffic, and would actually slow down to acknowledge (medalists).”
Heather said it was a hot day for the runners and the average heat on the street was 80 degrees. The volunteers who gave her water along the way were incredibly supportive and even the police officers went out of their way to look after the runners, she said.
Although this was her first Boston Marathon, Heather has run in four other marathons – in Burlington, Vt., Cape Cod, Mass., and Hampton and Manchester, N.H. In the Boston Marathon, Heather placed number 5,063 for her age group, 10,384 among women and 24,353 overall. She finished the marathon in 4 hours, 36 minutes, 43 seconds.
Unlike the other marathons however, Heather said the Boston Marathon was “an amazing day” because it was about something bigger than herself.
“It wasn’t me finishing the race. This marathon was different for that reason,” Heather said. “I was running for an entire city and an entire country. I was making a statement of, ‘This is who we are.’ It was not like, ‘I can do this.’ It was more like, ‘We are doing this.’”