The sun continued its daylong battle to break out from behind the clouds Monday as Kendel Ross made her way up Beacon Street, through the heart of Brookline, toward Boylston Street, Copley Square and the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. A gentle breeze and cool temperatures combined to make it a perfect day for distance running. The mood was one of celebration as thousands of cheering fans lined the streets and balconies along the route, remaining well after the first, elite racers had crossed the finish line.
Ross had no way of knowing how quickly the idyllic scene would change to one of massive carnage and chaos, as first one bomb, then a second, detonated just feet away from where she was passing.
Ross, a former University of Dayton women’s basketball standout who helped lead the Flyers to the program’s first NCAA appearance as a senior in 2010 and currently serves as a strength and conditioning coach for the Flyers, was not one of the roughly 27,000 runners competing in the race on Monday. Instead she was there to lend support to her fiancé and fellow Dayton grad Mike Anderson who was competing in his third marathon.
By the time the bombs went off on Monday, Anderson had passed through the finish line and rendezvoused with Ross who was watching the finish from a block away. “We had actually walked and gotten some food and then were meeting our ride to get out of the city,” said Ross.
Ross said neither she nor Anderson heard or felt the two blasts from where they waited at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, just two blocks away from the finish line. But those around them did, describing the sensation as “like thunder” or “like a cannon going off.”
“I think we just weren’t really consciously thinking about there being wild noises or anything, so we just didn’t hear it. But people all around us definitely did feel it,” Ross recalled.
Ross described the scene in the immediate aftermath of the blasts as “just really chaotic. People were going every which direction. You’re not really sure if the whole event’s over or more is coming. You don’t really know where to go, which way is safe.” Two nearby hotels were evacuated due to reports of suspicious packages that proved to be false alarms. Media erroneously reported the discovery of a third unexploded bomb in the vicinity of the first two blasts.
Meanwhile, Ross and Anderson “ended up hooking up with the people who were supposed to take us out of the city, who we had just known through a mutual friend,” said Ross. They made their way back toward the downtown street where the friend’s car had been parked, passing by the site of the explosions on the way. By then, said Ross, “they had already kind of barricaded it all off and were just pushing people away from that area.” Their friend’s car, too, was now inaccessible: “The car was actually right between some streets that were shut down because of all the chaos,” said Ross.
"I was there to support him and cheer him on,” said Ross who was a finalist for the Canadian National Olympic Team in London and hopes to make the squad for Rio in 2016. “It’s a little interesting with runners and marathoners especially. … My basketball career is coming to an end, but you play basketball games every week, whereas with a marathon, you do them maybe once every six months. So even though he might be running for a little bit longer than I’m playing basketball, the amount of events I’ll get to see are few and far between, so I try to make it to as many as I can.”
So Ross had taken a break from her graduate studies at Dayton, where she will receive her master’s degree in exercise physiology with a concentration in biomechanics, and had made the 13-hour drive from Dayton to be there with Anderson in Boston -- and not just to see him off at the start and welcome him back at the finish. Ross actually joined her beau for the last three miles of the race.
Ross is not a distance runner herself. “I have definitely become more of a runner since meeting him, but the long-distance stuff isn’t so conducive to being able to jump high for my sport,” Ross explained. “So I try to not run too long and stick more to like the short sprint stuff on courts.”
Instead, Ross rented a bicycle and waited for Anderson a few miles from Copley Square. “I parked myself at mile 23, and then biked alongside him on the far side of the street for his last three miles to the finish line,” said Ross. “Once I got really close to the end, it was kind of really blocked off, so I had to take side streets to get to where I was going, but I could still see him.”
It had been a difficult race for Anderson, who had a successful collegiate career in cross country while at Dayton but did not run his first full marathon until October 2011 in Detroit. “I never felt good in the race,” he said of Monday’s effort in Boston. “I never found my groove… I just kept pushing the entire way. Mentally, it was a challenge.”
It might have been a challenge, but it was one Anderson rose to. He put up a time of 2:25:12, finishing 42nd overall, 34th in his age group, shaving 1:07 off his personal best and bringing him within eight minutes of his goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials for 2016.
And, as it turned out, Anderson’s time was good enough to take him – and Ross – out of the kill zone when two homemade bombs detonated approximately a hour-and-a-half later, killing three bystanders and injuring a reported 176 others who were rushed to area hospitals. The two bombs, one placed near the photo bridge that marks the finish line, the second roughly 100 yards further down Boylston, turned the steel ball bearings and carpenter’s nails packed inside two pressure cookers into a hail of maiming shrapnel flying up to three stories into the air. Today, nearly six days after the explosions rocked downtown Boston, nearly 60 victims remain hospitalized, three of them still in critical condition, and dozens of others facing years of surgery and rehabilitation simply to be able to walk again.
The bombings triggered a regionwide search for both additional explosive devices and the perpetrators of the violence that ended Friday night in a bloody gunbattle in the streets of nearby Waterton, but not before a police officer and one of the suspects were shot dead and a second suspect lay fighting for his life, in critical care but in custody.
Ross and Anderson were besieged with incoming text messages inquiring after their safety but found themselves unable to respond.
Initial reports claimed that the government had shut down cell service to prevent the perpetrators from detonating any more bombs in that manner, but the FCC later confirmed that that the problem resulted from “a temporary surge in wireless phone use after the Boston attack, which caused network congestion,” according to FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, who has launched a federal investigation into the incident in an effort to strength network reliability in the wake of disasters.
But in the moment, Ross and Anderson found themselves trapped in the chaos of downtown Boston unable to communicate with friends and loved ones about their situation.
“We were getting floods of text messages and calls that we weren’t able to answer and we weren’t able to respond to because the cell service was down,” said Ross. “And it was really tough, because all these people wanted to make sure you were OK. Thankfully, when we were at the apartment that we went to we were able to get on the Internet and just post a message on our Facebook walls that we were fine. “
Ross and Anderson finally got out of the city later Monday evening, Ross returning to Dayton to finish her studies and Anderson heading to Brighton, Mich., where he manages Running Lab, an innovative shoe store that uses video to analyze which shoe bests fits each runner.
Her initial reaction to the bombings was one of feeling shaken and exhausted: “It was definitely an emotional roller coaster -– to be so excited for him doing so well, and to be there for the marathon, and then for that to happen – it was an exhausting weekend, for sure,” Ross told Full Court.
With a return to personal safety, those feelings have been replaced by a sense of profound sadness. “To me, it’s sad. It’s such a great event and the history of the event -– it’s incredible. It was the 117th Boston Marathon to be run, and for whoever it was to try and tarnish that – and not only that, but obviously, to be successful in hurting a significant amount of people ... it’s just a sad day, in general, for the event and for Boston.”
Ross knows the role sports can play in bringing people of different nationalities, ethnicity and religion together. “I’m still planning on the Canadian National [Team] tryouts here in a about a month, and for me, in my experience in sport, I’ve been to a lot of international competitions, world events –- I’ve played in the University Games in China a couple of summers ago -– and when you’re in athlete villages and you’re eating side-by-side and training and sleeping side-by-side with people from different countries that speak different languages, it just brings a lot of people together that you wouldn’t have otherwise met. And there’s a lot of people that never get to leave the country. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that and get there and see that huge, big world out there, and it’s great that I had that opportunity and was brought that opportunity through sport.”
That knowledge of the potential of sport to build bridges adds to her grief that a sporting event such as the Boston Marathon became the target of an act of terror.
“That’s one of the sad things about it.…[T]hat’s just really unfortunate that when you’re running in an event like that, that that’s something you would have to be concerned about. People are out there, and especially marathoners –- a lot of people have a marathon as their life goal and you have a lot of runners out there that trained just to be able to do that, but for the first time in their life, and for them to be in the middle of accomplishing a goal like that and to have to deal with a life-threatening event, it’s insane.”
Still, both she and Anderson are resolved not to allow the tragedy in Boston to deter either of them from their goals of participating in international sport at the highest levels:
“Absolutely not!” said Ross. “I know that [Mike] said if that is the outcome, if he was scared, then the people who were responsible for it win. Their goal is to terrorize people and frighten people and he said his time that he ran the Boston Marathon already qualified him for next year, and if he’s available, as soon as he can sign up, he’s going to. And really, it’s about supporting the sport, and separating the event, the Boston Marathon, from what happened.”
The couple plan to wed at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., a kind of “halfway point” for their Dayton friends and Ross’ Ontario, Canada, family, on Oct. 18.
From there, “Mike and I will be kind of going wherever the wind blows us. … [W]e’ve talked about moving out to Colorado, being in Michigan, or even in Dayton. Just for us, over the next years, the most important thing is our training, because we’ve obviously got some big goals here – him wanting to make the Olympic trials for the marathon and me wanting to compete in Rio in 2016. And so we’re going to go to the best location that’s going to help us do that.”
Ross is justifiably proud of the progress Canadian women’s basketball has made in recent years and after representing her country in the World University Games in 2011, hopes to make the Olympic team for 2016. “We like to kind of pride ourselves on being a little bit of a brute team. We’re not afraid to get in there and be physical, and we’re not afraid to compete with any of the great teams. I think that’s kind of what has created us to be successful. Every game we go in we want to compete and we work extremely hard on being very sound defensively. And we’re just hoping to compete with the best in the future.”
Ross played professionally for a year in Portugal after graduating, and since returning to take up her post with Dayton’s strength and conditioning staff, her personal commitment, as well as her job, have helped keep her in playing shape.
As far as keeping up her playing skills, Ross describes herself as “really fortunate. I’m able to practice with the girls [on the Flyers’ team] and get on court individually with one of our assistant coaches Adenlyl Amadou. He does a fantastic job of keeping me on-court ready.”