Patty Hicks finished last week’s Boston Marathon in 3:59:56. Minutes later, as she was recovering near the finish line, the first of two bombs exploded—instantly transforming triumph into tragedy.
“I was just passed the finish line when the first bomb went off,” Hicks, a Wayzata resident and mother of two, said. “I turned around, and you could see smoke and debris—it was very loud. It was surreal. I was tired, and you just don’t think that it could possibly be a bomb.”
Seconds later a second explosion shook the area.
“People were running at that point,” Hicks said. “I was with other runners, and my husband was a block over coming up toward the finish line on Commerce. I was scared, but I was tired and fuzzy. I don’t think I was completely processing what was happening.”
Hicks had never heard a bomb go off, but she compared to noise to that of a transformer exploding.
“The news media was saying it was absolute chaos, but I did not find that it was chaos,” she said. “First responders, race officials and medical personal immediately went into emergency recovery mode. They moved extremely quickly and with purpose.”
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Hicks said medics began performing triage almost instantly. The streets were cordoned off before she could begin to comprehend the scope of the situation, and police were adamant that pedestrians could not enter the blast area.
“The race was stopped immediately, before I even knew what was happening,” she said. “If you got close to the finish line but weren’t there, then that was it—you weren’t allowed to come any closer.”
As emergency vehicles flooded the scene, Hicks retrieved her race bag at a staging area near the finish line and left a message on her husband’s phone telling him she was fine—that she wanted to hear his voice and would meet him at their pre-arranged rendezvous point.
“I felt that my husband was probably fine and that he hadn’t yet come up that close to where the bombs went off,” Hicks said. “But I wanted him to know that I was fine because he knew that I was near the finish area.”
Hicks’ next move was to text her two children—both students in the Wayzata School District.
“I knew they probably hadn’t heard about the bombs yet, but when they did I wanted them to know that we were both OK,” she said.
Hicks’ attention then turned to a group of friends from Plymouth, who just minutes earlier had been cheering and waving as Hicks approached the finish line.
“I knew where they were standing, and someone said that was where the second bomb went off,” she said. “So my next frantic phone call was to them. They had begun walking toward the finish line after I went by, and they didn’t quite get to where the first bomb went off.”
Hicks said her friends had joined hundreds of other spectators and began running away from the site of the first explosion—and directly towards the site of the second bomb.
“They called me back right away and said they were in a building and had been locked down,” Hicks said. “Thankfully they were all OK.”
After about 25 minutes Hicks finally found her husband.
“At that point I did break down,” she said. “I had a moment where I was frightened.”
The couple walked about three miles and found a local pub to rest, warm up and absorb what had just happened.
“Surviving a terrorist attack was never on my bucket list,” she said. “I put it on and crossed it off. That can be a one-and-done. It was surreal. You just never think something like that can happen wherever you are. It was terrible.”
What Hicks recalls most vividly about the hours following the explosions was the general mood of Boston.
“The whole city was just sad,” she said. “Everyone was just staring at their TVs. Nobody could believe what had happened. It’s such a fabulous city, and the people are so wonderful. I just felt bad for everybody.”
Patty Hicks is a former employee of General Mills and Pillsbury. She left work to raise her two children and sits on the board of the Wayzata Community Sailing Center.
The 2012 Boston Marathon was Hicks’ first time competing in the race. She ran the Detroit Marathon last year, and her time qualified her to run in last week’s race. She also ran the Twin Cities Marathon last fall.
As for the 2014 Boston Marathon, Hicks says she’s undecided about whether or not she’ll be in the field.
“I didn’t ever plan on running it again,” she said. “I just wanted to be able to say I ran the Boston Marathon. I’m not a marathoner per se, but now I’ve got family members coming out of the woodwork saying they are going to try and qualify for next year. I told them that if they all qualify I’ll go. It’s going to be an epic marathon next year.”