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LDS Boston marathoners tell their stories

Rhett Wilkinson - April 17, 2013
source: LDS Living

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Some ran an additional eight miles beyond the marathon just to reunite with loved ones. Others were spared after receiving VIP tickets that placed them across the street from the explosions. All are grateful for the miraculous blessings that kept them safe and sound.

Cell phones and VIP passes convinced Heather Ekola and her husband Josh that they had been uniquely blessed by the Lord in helping to be preserved from the savagery of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The Springboro, Ohio, couple was among many Latter-day Saints participating in Monday’s world-renowned race who found themselves safe after the worst attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001—many of whom attributed their fortunate condition to divine blessing.

The twin blasts on Monday killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and sent 183 others to the hospital, some of whom were marred by bombs loaded with ball bearings and nails. Thirteen had limbs amputated, according to hospital officials.

In her nine previous races, Ekola wouldn’t have felt her phone vibrating 24 miles into the 26.2-mile marathon because she had never brought it. But for this trip, for some reason she decided to take it. And just a couple miles shy of the finish line, her phone was suddenly bombarded with 204 new messages.

Two blasts, resulting from heavy devices made out of pressure cookers in dark-colored nylon bags, had just exploded--just across the street from where her husband was, and exactly where he should have been.

The only reason he wasn't there was because Ekola and her running partner, Libby Brown, had unexpectedly been given VIP passes that morning by a manager of Team Hoyt—the charity group supporting Dick Hoyt, who has pushed his 51-year-old quadriplegic son Rick in some 1,000 races across the country.

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Josh is adamant that had he, along with Brown’s husband, Brian, not used those passes, he would have found himself on the wrong side of Boylston Street Monday afternoon. “I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I don’t know why and how everything that day unfolded, but I’m very grateful that not more people were injured and I pray for those that were, and their families.”

Ekola, who met up with her husband after running 10 more miles (for a total of 34) after being rerouted through the city, mentioned President Hinckley’s injunction that fear and faith cannot co-exist. “What happened is shameful, it’s wicked, it’s cruel, it’s pure evil in its truest form. But I feel very blessed through all of it,” she said. “This will not dampen people’s spirits. People will mourn and people will grieve, but you can do anything you set your mind to do. . . . Whatever it is, you have a choice: you choose to sink, or you choose to swim.”

Shelley Coutu hadn't trained as well for the race as she should have, and the Cottage Grove, Minn., resident had traveled 25.5 miles before finding herself stacked behind about a dozen people near Massachusetts Ave., where the trail begins to bottleneck normally. Coutu believed someone had fallen, and posted to Facebook asking about the holdup. That was how she learned what had really happened.

“Then I heard big bangs,” she said. Texting hardly worked because of the suddenly heavy traffic load, and individuals began to cry and panic after finding legitimacy in the word “bomb” permeating the crowd.

“Once that hit me, I was a bit stunned and didn’t know what to do,” she said.

After managing to take a taxi to meet her husband at their hotel, she realized that running at her normal speed would have placed her at the finish line exactly when the bombs exploded near the finish line. Her lack of preparation for the race had possibly saved her life.

“I feel like this was in the works for a long time, like that’s how it was supposed to be,” she said. “This has certainly helped me realize that the picture is much broader than I ever knew. Things just get put in place months and years in advance, and you are just watched over.”

Coutu said she doesn’t know why she was preserved and others weren't, acknowledging a scripture from the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount that our Father in Heaven “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). But she is grateful nonetheless for factors in life magnified by tragedy.

“It makes every moment a little more special, a little more important,” she said of the influence of Monday’s events. “You realize how many people you influence. My phone wouldn’t stop ringing with well-wishes. Even though it’s been a tragic event, it’s made me feel more trusting in mankind, with so many good people.”

Scott Keate said he gained the same perspective. The Highland, Utah, resident was actually in the tented area following the finish line, waiting for his mother to complete the race, when the bombs went off. He was touched by an African-American woman who approached him near the city’s famed Freedom Trail, offering her home and other resources to the visiting athletes.

“We saw the best of Boston before and after the explosion, and that spirit was only heightened after the event,” he said. “It was unique to feel so many people wanting to offer services the way they did. Really, it brought a feeling after the fact. The only word that comes to mind is reverence. There was a sacred feeling in Boston. A lot showed up in prayer and spent a little longer in churches.

“It was quiet—probably more quiet than it usually is."

LDS Living received several tips of more than 20 Latter-day Saints who were in or involved with the Boston Marathon at the time of the bombings. You can read about a BYU student who was there or two other Mormons' experiences as well.

© LDS Living 2013
Comments 10 comments

defygravity said...

04:58 PM
on Apr 17, 2013

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I refuse to believe that God loves Mormons more than the eight-year old child who was killed. This makes Mormons and God look cruel; God saved us but not others.

countryberry said...

06:29 PM
on Apr 17, 2013

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I wonder if they understand the absolute anguish people feel when they read this? I hope the parents of that child NEVER read this story. If it were me, I'd be screaming, where was God when my child needed Him? Why did God feel you needed saving more than my child? This is not helpful or understanding. This is narcissistic.

maudeen said...

08:49 PM
on Apr 17, 2013

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I think God was merciful to the eight year old boy. He is whole and home. He spared his family untold grief. Mormons are know better then anyone else we have a great understand of this life and the next. You don't know how many Mormons are around you every day. We are all praying for the families that have lost life and limb. We cry with them we comfort them. No one knows why or what God will do next, I just know justice will be served.

brandon said...

10:28 PM
on Apr 17, 2013

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I am Mormon and often feel like defygravity and countryberry . I absolutely don't think that Heavenly Father loves one more than the other. I don't know why the eight year old was killed and others not. I wish I had insight and understanding of God's plan for each of us and someday hope to. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones and I pray for their comfort.

xtraxtra said...

10:30 PM
on Apr 17, 2013

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God was merciful! Are you kidding? God had nothing to do with this, nor with choosing which people to save or give cramps to. This little boy's family will bear unimaginable grief, his sister lost a leg and his mother has traumatic brain injury. This Mormon chest-thumping is unbecoming and saying God actively saved some while easily disposing of others is vile.

iaacog said...

12:11 AM
on Apr 18, 2013

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let's unite our thoughts and prayers for those who are suffering. God didn't do this but rather a sick mind was responsible. He loves all of us, certainly the 8 year old as much as the runner. sometimes bad things happen, even to the savior of us all. remember his admonitions to us and choose well. anger and contention or love one another and peace. i choose to pray for the ones who are suffering.

countryberry said...

09:07 AM
on Apr 18, 2013

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Maudeen, I am a mormon. Sometimes when I read articles like this or hear these awful "faith promoting" stories at the expense of other people, I am embarrassed and ashamed of the organization I belong to. When I said "they" I meant the person writing the article and the people interviewed for the article.

ldsliving said...

10:29 AM
on Apr 18, 2013

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We're sorry for the distress this article has caused. As Shelley Coutu explained in the article, she didn't know why she was saved and others weren't, but she definitely didn't believe it was because she was more righteous or Mormon or anything like that. As she quoted the scriptures, our Father in Heaven “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). The stories of these Latter-day Saints were meant to show and celebrate hope in the midst of tragedy and were in no way meant to put down other people and their experiences.

dankrist said...

02:38 PM
on Apr 18, 2013

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Hope in the midst of tragedy is something we can get from looking at all those who rush to help in times of hurt. Hope isn't something you get from stories about people who were just lucky enough not be in harm's way. Hope doesn't come from reminders that God's plans are inscrutable. Hope doesn't come from self-righteous group think. I'm LDS and I live in Boston. The little boy who was killed and his family live in my neighborhood. This article is embarrassing.

mama_al said...

05:10 PM
on Apr 26, 2013

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I am sad at the knee jerk reaction of some people to this story. I did not take it as "we are more blessed than you are" any more than any of the other "I would have been there except..." stories I've read all over the press coverage of this tragedy during the last 11 days. Calm down. Take care of the beam in your own eye and let others walk their own path. If you want to be helpful, pray for those affected and donate to One Fund Boston. Don't waste your energy on leaving negative comments.
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