Thomas Aaberg was single-minded Tuesday morning. His focus was his family.
Just 24 hours earlier, he ran the race of his life. He completed his second Boston Marathon in 3:07, a personal best, and was looking forward to celebrating with his family upon his return. But his athletic high was short-lived as bombs were detonated at the finish line late in the race, killing three people and injuring at least 140.
Aaberg set out for home with a heavy heart, and 8-year-old Martin Richard on his mind. The boy, who was there to watch his dad run, was one of three people killed in the attack.
“My oldest is 8… I’m trying to get to Alvord to have lunch with him now,” Aaberg said while driving from the airport. Thomas, who is the attorney for Wise County commissioners court, and his wife, Robin, have three young sons – Dane, Hagan and Laken.
“You know, I saw all these kids there [early Monday morning], and it made me think about bringing my own family next year,” he said. “Now, there’s no way.”
Asked if he would return for the 118th Boston Marathon, Aaberg replied, “I don’t know.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” he said. “It felt that rough.”
Aaberg had been in his hotel room, just a few blocks from the finish line, for about an hour when the bombs went off.
“I was actually on the phone with my wife when I first heard the sirens,” he said. “They just kept coming and coming … I told her I needed to see what was going on.”
He opened his balcony doors to see a stream of ambulances, sirens screaming, coming down the street. In a matter of minutes, his wife had heard the news. She tried to call back but couldn’t get through.
“It was scary,” Aaberg said.
He estimates that he was without phone service for about an hour, but he was grateful to be able to text and communicate with family.
He sat transfixed in front of the TV.
“I didn’t know what was going on; I didn’t want to leave,” he said. About two hours after the bombing, he ventured to the hotel lobby.
“There were ATF (at the hotel), FBI… if you had a marathon jersey on, they were going to talk to you,” he said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t help them.”
“GREAT DAY TO RUN…”
Aaberg said Boston was buzzing with anticipation that morning.
“It was a great day to run, 53 degrees with the wind at your back most of the time … people were cheering.”
The weather last year was unusually warm and humid, making the race more difficult and deterring spectators. This year, spectators flocked to the course.
As Aaberg approached the finish line with hundreds of other runners, the crowd, four and five people deep on one side, roared.
“It’s so loud right there. It’s like running through a wall of sound when you come through,” he said. The runners were shoulder to shoulder, and he could barely walk as they moved forward to get their medals.
In the tragic aftermath, he noted that if the bombings had occurred just an hour earlier, the number of casualties and even deaths likely would have been much higher.
Back in the hotel room, he snapped a photo of himself with his phone and posted it to Facebook.
“26.2 Done in 3:07 and change … a PR at Boston! Thank you for all the well wishes. It is just awesome and praise God.”
An hour later the sirens sounded.
After being holed up in his hotel room all afternoon, he finally sought dinner about 8 p.m. He was starving and ended up walking about a mile before he found a restaurant that was open and not overcrowded.
“I found this hole-in-the-wall place, and I sat at the bar.
“Everyone was just sitting there, staring at the TVs,” he said. “It was a quiet camaraderie, completely different from last time. The conversation didn’t center around ‘What was your time?’ but ‘Where were you?’
A surprising number of people were on the street, along with a large police presence. He returned to his room feeling distressed and anxious to get home. All incoming flights to Boston had been grounded. Fearing outgoing flights might be next, he attempted to rent a car.
“I just knew I needed to get out of there,” he said. “But they wouldn’t let me take a car to Texas. The farthest I could go was New York, and that didn’t seem like a good idea.”
He resigned himself to staying the night, but after several sleepless hours, he called a cab.
“I was at the airport at 2 a.m. My flight didn’t leave til 6:50.”
“When we got off the plane, there were people there welcoming us home, like we were returning from a war,” he said.
Aaberg said he doesn’t feel like a solider, but the scene did resemble images broadcast from the Middle East.
“OK. I just pulled up to the school. I’ve got to go,” he said, relief seeping into his voice.
He and his family were able to celebrate, but it wasn’t about the medal, or even the personal record. They celebrated the fragile and precious commodity of life.