MILTON, Ga. – For one North Fulton family, only minutes and fate separated them from the tragedy that befell the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Marathoner Diane Seale is an experienced runner with 12 marathons under her belt, but her 13th was going to be special.
The 56-year-old Milton resident had qualified for the Boston Marathon, the oldest such race in North America, and by far the most prestigious.
“I was really excited about going. I had only been to Boston once before for a wedding. But friends had told me how exciting and fun it is,” Diane said. “In the Athletes Village, you get to rub elbows with some of the best runners in the world. All the runners are treated equally.”
But she had a special surprise. Her grown son and daughter, Colin and Courtney Seale, were driving up to Boston to surprise her. Colin had taken the bus from his home in Daytona, Fla., to Atlanta to pick up his sister, who also runs marathons. They drove up in time to greet their mother at the Sunday night pasta dinner for the runners.
“Joe Lenahan, a friend from Roswell I run with at the Atlanta Track Club and [who] was running at Boston, asked me if I minded if he brought two guests to the dinner. I said of course not,” Diane said.
“Typical young people,” she said. “They didn’t bring a car phone charger for the car, so they had to stop at convenience stores and gas stations to charge them. Courtney didn’t bring a coat, and it was cold in Boston.”
They arrived just in time to go to the pre-race pasta dinner that feeds the 26,000 runners and their guests.
“But Boston is so organized,” Diane said. “You get your ticket with a time to go, so the lines move quickly. It was fun. It was a big party. Samuel Adams brews a special beer called 26.2 [the length of a marathon], and everybody had a good time.”
The day of the race, Diane told her children to stand on the left side of the street because that would be the side she would be running. When the race began, Diane was stoked for the race. It was the Boston Marathon.
“Oh, I was psyched,” she said. “I had studied the course. I knew just where I had to kick in. I ran my second-fastest marathon ever.”
Courtney and Colin were standing near the finish line when their mother passed by. Courtney was taking photos of her mother going by. Colin just looked at the crowd packing the sidewalk. He raised his phone camera over his head and took a shot up the sidewalk.
Diane finished the course and was walking to the area to get her medal when she heard the first bomb explosion.
“I thought it was a cannon or something that they fired as part of the race. Then I heard the second bomb go off, and I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I turned to a woman standing next me and said, ‘This is history being made.’”
Diane realized her children were somewhere near where the bombs went off. Police had already cordoned off the area and were shooing people away, so she ran to the buses that take the runners away because in her bag was her cellphone.
“We were calling to the people watching the buses our bag numbers and they would throw them out the window to us. I was dialing them when Courtney’s phone cut in. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when I heard her voice say that they were OK,” Diane said.
After their mother had passed by, Colin and Courtney tried to wade through the crowd up the street to make their way to join Diane at the stand to get her medal. The crowd made it tough going, so they decided to duck into an alley and go around everybody.
That’s where they were when the first bomb exploded. Spent debris rained down on them as they slowly realized what happened. Had they remained on Boylston Street, they would have been near the explosion. But it would be eight days later before Colin and Courtney discovered how much closer they came to the bombers.
Diane said if she had run her average time for a marathon, she would still have been on the street around the finish when the bombs went off.
“It was just a matter of minutes for all of us,” she said.
The most chilling moment of all came days later when Colin finally got around to downloading his one cell photo. It pointed up the sidewalk toward the finish line. People were eight and 10 deep. But in the lower right hand side of the picture was a now familiar face in a white baseball cap turned backwards, the surviving brother apparently walking away. He is clearly no longer wearing his backpack.
On the left side of the photo, the name of The Forum restaurant is discernible where the second bomb went off.
Colin’s father, Chris Seale, was able to use a software program to determine the exact location of where Colin was standing that day. He said his son was just 25 feet away from where the bomb was planted.
Colin emailed the photo to his parents. When Diane saw it, she said her heart just dropped knowing how close her children had been to the bomb.
The time stamp on the photo was 2:44 p.m. The first bomb exploded at 2:50 and the second blast came a few seconds later.
“It’s so sad. It was such an innocent gathering of people,” Diane said. “It was just shocking. The day was so perfect. The crowds were great, cheering us on. And then to come down to that. It’s such a tragedy.”
Diane’s friends and fellow racers Lenahan and Michelle Kane, who ran with the Atlanta Track Club before moving to Cleveland, were both near the finish line when the bombs went off.
“I hadn’t heard from them and I looked at their last checkpoints. Both had passed the 40 kilometer point [24.8 miles], but that was it. Later, I found out Joe was stopped four-tenths of a mile before the finish and Michelle just two-tenths of a mile,” she said.
Diane has already participated in some memorial runs that honor the dead and wounded. One run was run in complete silence.
By virtue of her second-fastest finishing time, Diane not only missed the bomb blasts, but she qualified to run in next year’s Boston Marathon.
“When I realized that, I didn’t know if I would or not,” she said. “But the more I thought about it, I made up my mind. I will be back.”
This article was published in the Revue & News May 2, 2013 edition