By Stan Friedman
SWANZEY, NH (April 16, 2013) – Dave Cairns was two-tenths of a mile from crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday when he heard the two bomb explosions and saw the white smoke rising where his wife, Becky, and three children were supposed to be waiting for him.
He didn’t know that they had been unable to reach the finish line in time to watch him cross and were still several blocks away. It wouldn’t be until he saw them nearly an hour and a half later that he knew they were safe.
“Those were the scariest moments of my life,” he said this morning, choking up.
Today the executive director of Pilgrim Pines Conference Center was at home with his family. The Cairns kept their children out of school.
“I think we’re just going to play games and spend some family time together,” Dave said.
He and Evangelical Covenant Church missionary Grant Buchholtz were running the race the together. Buchholtz was two turns from the finish line and did not see what happened. Click here to read his accounting of what happened after the explosions. Julie Miller, who attends Catalyst Covenant Church in Alexandria, Minnesota, and was running with a different group, had completed the race and was a couple of blocks away picking up her medal for finishing.
Dave hasn’t watched any of the video coverage. “That’s been somewhat intentional. I don’t know that I’m ready to process that yet,” he said.
The family is just beginning to consider how their lives have changed – and might have changed – when the bombs went off around 2:50 p.m., killing three people and injuring more than 180.
“It’s beginning to hit from an emotional perspective,” Dave said. His two sons Drew, 14, and Trent, 12, are “pretty shaken.” His nine-year-old daughter, Annis, still is too young to fully grasp what happened, he added.
When the first explosion shook the area, people initially thought it might be a cannon firing as part of the Patriot’s Day celebration. “Everyone just kept running,” Dave said.
Then the second bomb went off. “We thought, what do we do? Do we go forward or do we go back?” he said.
That decision was made for them when police quickly filled the streets and made people turn around. “In the emotion, you are wanting to go one way, and you’re being forced to go the other way,” Dave said.
Many of the runners were crying, Dave said. “Most runners didn’t have cellphones and nobody had any idea of what do.”
Shortly after the racers had been turned around, Dave was standing “in a daze.” A woman came out of a restaurant and asked if there was something she could do for him and offered her cell phone.
Dave tried to call Becky, but the signals were down. He texted her, but had no idea whether it went through as he handed the phone back.
He still didn’t know whether his family was among the victims.
Like all the other runners, Dave had been given an electronic tracking device so that supporters could track their progress online. His family had checked the site and saw he was near the finish line.
When they realized that there wasn’t enough time to greet him as he completed the race, they decided to meet him at the family reception area several blocks away. As word spread of the blasts, race volunteers initially told those in the area that there was nothing to worry about.
The volunteers also had thought the explosions must have been part of the celebration. That soon changed, however. Families and friends of the racers waited anxiously to learn more.
Meanwhile, Dave parents were at home tracking his progress. They were thrilled as he approached the end, and then everything went blank. And then they heard about the bomb blasts.
The text Dave sent earlier to his wife had gone through, so she knew he was safe. Becky was able to relay a message to his parents.
But Dave was searching for his family. He and other racers had to keep asking directions how to get to the reception area. It was an “overwhelming” experience to see them again, he said.
The family didn’t get home until after 10 p.m., Dave said. “I was emotionally fried.”
It was the opposite of what he had felt as he ran past the 26-mile mark of the course. “There was this real sense of joy,” Dave said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to do this. “Here’s the finish line. I’m about there.”
Dave ran the race to raise funds to help pay for camp scholarships. As of this morning, he had garnered about $10,000.
Some people who had learned through texts, Facebook, and a Covenant News Service story that he was safe, gave donations and said it was a way of responding to the disaster.
“It’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
Dave said he is grateful for all the texts, phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages he and his family have received. “To know we are supported is a true blessing.”