WESTPORT, Conn. — Ten seconds. That’s all that stood between Westport runner Jeff Clachko and the first bomb that exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.
“I was literally about five steps past the finish line when I heard the first explosion," said Clachko, 40, one of 14 Westporters who ran the marathon . "I was about 10 seconds in front of it."
Clachko — a first-time Boston Marathon participant — said he didn’t think anything of the explosion at first, because there had been loud music and drumming throughout the race. But after seeing a cloud of smoke “rising 20 feet into the air” and hearing the second explosion, he knew the situation was serious.
“It was all so surreal,” said Clachko. “It was almost like a scene from a movie. There was shattered glass, smoke and people screaming and crying. There was mass confusion.”
Realizing his wife and three sons had tickets to sit in the area where the explosions happened, Clachko become overcome with worry. Using a cellphone borrowed from a volunteer, he tried calling his wife, Betsy, but couldn’t get through. He then called his father in New Jersey, who was able to reach Betsy and confirm she and the boys were safe.
Luckily, she and the boys were stuck in traffic about a block away from the explosions, Clachko said. They were headed to the finish line from Wellesley, where they had driven to cheer him on near Mile 16.
Clachko said the gravity of the situation hit him when he returned home early Tuesday.
“I was trying to finish under four hours, and had four minutes left when my left hamstring cramped up at the quarter-mile mark,” he said. “If I stopped and stretched for a minute or two, I certainly could have been right near the blasts when they went off. But instead, I literally grabbed my left leg and kept running.”
Westport resident Blake Benke, a former Marine officer, was another runner at the marathon. Unlike Clachko, Benke finished in 2 hours and 45 minutes, well before the explosions. However, he and his wife, Diane, were on their way to meet up with friends at the finish line when the explosions occurred.
They were about a block away when the first bomb went off, Benke, 36, said. Having served five years in the Marines, including a tour of duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said he knew it was a bomb.
“I’ve heard similar sounds in the past, and you could feel the reverberations through the buildings,” he said. “I don’t think the average person thought it was a bomb, but I said to my wife we had to get off the street immediately.”
Blake and Diane went to the restaurant where they were supposed to go with their friends and stayed for about three hours. Afterward, they went back to their hotel. There, they were greeted by bomb squad personnel and men with semi-automatic weapons, he said.
From their hotel room window, Benke said they could see shattered glass and debris in the area where the bombs had gone off.
“It was a scary and disturbing ordeal, and it’s still hard to process,” Benke said. “We were going to bring our kids with us, and we’re so glad we didn’t.”
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