Local family has near miss in Boston Marathon explosionsThe Sorenson family of Cloquet is playing a game of “What if?” following the dual explosions during Monday’s Boston Marathon. Steve
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
The Sorenson family of Cloquet is playing a game of “What if?” following the dual explosions during Monday’s Boston Marathon. Steve and Wenday Sorenson and their daughter Becca were all running in the marathon, and daughter Biz and niece Lindsey Peterson were there cheering them on. It was a dream experience that the family of avid runners had looked forward to for a long time — one that turned into an unforgettable nightmare.
“This was supposed to have been an awesome week for them to spend together,” said Steve’s mom, Dianne, from her Cloquet home on Tuesday. “Thanks to the grace of God, it didn’t turn out to be any worse than it might have been.”
This was the first time that any of the Sorenson family had attempted the famous Boston Marathon. Steve said his niece Lindsey had talked him into running a half marathon a couple of years ago, and he enjoyed it so much he challenged the others, “Wouldn’t it be neat to try for the Boston Marathon?”
The feat wasn’t nearly so wild a dream for his daughter Becca, who competed in running events while a student at Cloquet High School and spent four years on the track team at Montana State University in Bozeman, graduating just last year. In order to participate in the Boston Marathon, runners first have to attain a qualifying time at an accredited marathon event.
Wenday achieved her qualifying time at last year’s Grandma’s Marathon, and Becca qualified right away as well. Steve didn’t quite make it at Grandma’s, so he ran a marathon in Sioux Falls, S.D., and earned his qualifying time there.
The three had been training for the big event in Boston ever since and looking forward to it as a family.
Steve said he didn’t sleep hardly at all the night before the race, since the adrenalin was already pumping and his mind was on how he was going to run the race. The lack of sleep didn’t seem to disrupt his race performance, however, and he ended up crossing the finish line at a respectable time of 3:27.45.
“The finish was fantastic!” he exclaimed. “That was about 20-30 minutes before the first of two explosions went off, and I felt great. It didn’t take long for all of that to get sucked right out of me….”
Becca finished not long after Steve, and the two of them were about half a mile past the finish line when they met up with each other. Wenday was still out on the course, and Lindsay and Biz were headed up the course from the finish line area to see if they could get catch a glimpse of her.
“We had just talked to Biz on the cell phone,” said Steve, “and she indicated that Wenday was on track to finish very soon.”
Steve wanted to head back toward the finish line in hopes of seeing Wenday come in, but Becca said she was tired and wanted to rest for a few minutes first. They found a spot in the family area and had just sat down to catch their breath when they heard a loud blast.
“We both said, ‘What was that?’” remarked Steve.
He said they knew it came from the vicinity of the finish line just three blocks away from them, and they were painfully aware that, based on Wenday’s split times, she could have been in that very vicinity by then.
“We figured it had to be a bomb,” he said, “because we could feel the pressure of it — either that or some sort of gas explosion. There was just a sense that it was way bigger than that, though, and it wasn’t normal. It sounded like a dynamite blast.”
When the second blast came in short proximity, they began to see smoke. Further up the course, Biz said she wondered if the blast had something to do with the fact it was Patriot’s Day in Boston.
“We could smell smoke in the air, and we wondered if someone had fired off a canon,” she said. “Then we realized that no, they wouldn’t do that with all those people around.”
Biz said the first they actually realized anything was amiss was when the runners who had just passed them on the course came running back toward them.
“One of the female runners dropped to the ground in anguish,” she said. “We could tell something terrible was happening. It didn’t take long for things to go from confusion to chaos.”
In the meantime, a few blocks away Steve had grabbed his cell phone and called a friend who was also in the crowd and asked if he knew what was going on. Confusion reigned throughout the area, however, and there wasn’t much, if any, information to be had.
He then called Biz, who was about three blocks in the other direction from the blast and “going crazy” with worry, Steve said.
“I asked her, ‘Did you get ahold of Mom?’” said Steve.
The blasts had occurred in the space between where Steve and Becca were resting and Lindsay and Biz were headed up the course, and Wenday was nowhere in sight. With some 7,000 runners on the course in that one small area, pandemonium prevented any of them from getting very far.
In desperation, Biz decided to climb up on a concrete pillar, and by a stroke of pure luck, she spotted her mother, who made eye contact with her and started moving toward her. Biz was able to reach her dad by cell phone to assure him Wenday was all right, but only moments later all cell phone service was shut down in the interest of security.
Steve’s friend offered to post a message on Facebook assuring the Sorensons’ family and friends that they were safe and sound. In the meantime, Biz began to get texts from concerned friends all over the country, and it didn’t take long before her inbox filled up.
“There we were, trying to erase texts and take incoming messages as fast as they came in,” related Steve.
It took the two halves of the Sorenson family some two-and-a-half to three hours to finally track one another down because the bombs had gone off between them and they weren’t allowed to get anywhere close to the site.
“Biz was closest to the scene,” said Steve, “and she said she was pretty impressed by how quickly the police responded and the fact that everything seemed to be fairly orderly in spite of the terrible events that had happened.”
After the family was reunited, they were careful to avoid the subways, which created a hardship because their car was parked at the far end of the city’s Green Line. They ended up taking a taxi and then driving to their hotel, which was back near the site of the race’s starting line.
“It was a sad deal,” Steve reflected of the experience. “Here I’d just run the Boston Marathon that I had worked toward for the past two years, and suddenly it didn’t even matter anymore.”
Steve and Wenday had planned to stay in the area for a few more days to sightsee, but they found the city strangely quiet following the events and no one was allowed anywhere near Copley Square and Boston Commons, where the blasts occurred.
“Every time we heard a siren, we’d wonder,” said Steve the day after the explosions and their aftermath. “When we dropped Lindsey off at the airport, we had to leave her alone, and we worried about her.”
The rest of the Sorensons decided to get out of the city the day after the explosions and traveled to Cape Cod to try to decompress and wrap their minds around just what had happened and how close they’d come to its terrible events....
If Steve and Becca hadn’t decided to sit down and rest after they finished the race, they would have been stationed at the finish line at the time of the blasts.
If Lindsay and Becca hadn’t decided to head up the course to try to spot Wenday as she came in, they would have been there as well.
And if Wenday hadn’t developed a sore shin in the closing miles of the race and decided to pull back and slow down, she might have been crossing the finish line just as the explosions went off.
“That extra 10 minutes was probably what made all the difference,” said Steve.