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18 April 2013

Boston Marathon bombings hit close to home

It was Patriots’ Day, a day that commemorates the opening battles of the American Revolution. For the 117th time, runners from all across the country – from across the world – converged on the streets of Boston to celebrate freedom and independence. Racers young and old, fit and impaired, gave it their all. Families lined the race path to cheer on their loved ones, or in many cases, complete strangers.

But this Patriots’ Day was different. Four hours, nine minutes and 43 seconds into the race, an explosion ruptured the serenity of this Patriots’ Day. Twelve seconds later, a second explosion confirmed that the first was no mistake.

Among the lives changed on that day were several University of Miami alumni. Boston was under attack and it struck close to home.

For Tracy Carracedo, who attended the university in ’93,  it was his eighth go at the Boston Marathon. It appeared at 42, the veteran athlete was in the best shape of his life. Carracedo was an hour ahead of his usual pace, placing him at the 25.75-mile marker at the time of the first explosion.

“You’re about to make your big ceremonial finish,” Carracedo told the Windham Patch. “Slowly but surely you started to see people pausing.”

But Carracedo was unable to make his ‘ceremonial finish;’ he was just a half a mile away from the Boston Marathon finish line where the first bomb was detonated. He was less than four football fields away.

Moments later, the second bomb was denoted, this one closer to Carracedo.

Once race organizers and police officers turned him away from the racecourse, he immediately checked his iPhone where he learned of the unthinkable act that played out within earshot.

“I saw a lot of police,” Carracedo said. “The police were doing a good job telling people what to do.”

After the initial swirl of emotions of realizing that he would not finish the race and that people were injured in the explosion, Carracedo sobered, realizing that he had to find his family. His wife, two children, ages 4 and 7, and his sister were all near the finish line, waiting to cheer him on just like so many other people.

Two hours after the explosions, Carracedo was finally able to get in touch with his family. According to the Associated Press, cellphone service was intermittent due to network congestion: Too many people trying to call out at the same time.

Carracedo later learned that his sister was only about 100 feet away from the first explosion when cheers at the finish line turned into screams.

But others at the finish line were not so lucky. Between the two explosions, three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy. Another 183 people were injured, with 13 people undergoing life-altering amputations.

Several of the injured were removed from the rubble and raced to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, just two miles away from the finish line.

“I had very little information as we were receiving the wounded,” said Joshua Weiss B.S ’08 and M.D. ’12, a surgical resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The response at [the hospital] was immediate and strong.”

Given Beth Israel’s proximity to the ground zero of the attacks, the hospital was inundated with patients.

“People suffered injuries with pellets that made this clear this was a bomb intended to cause as much harm as possible,” said Weiss, matching FBI reports of the bombs contained “improvised fragmentation” – sharp objects like nails, BBs and ball bearings.

Benjamin Leis, B.S.C. ’04, was in Boston for work at the time of the bombings. “I was actually planning to watch the marathon with a fellow alumnus yesterday, but opted to stay at the hotel and work instead,” said Leis, Development Director, University of Miami Alumni Relations. “A good choice in hindsight.”

After the blitz slowed and the adrenaline rush subsided, Weiss says a somber mood sat in.

“I will always remember arriving in the trauma bay and being immediately inundated with the smell of gun powder and blood.”

While Carracedo thought it would be his last time racing in the Boston Marathon, he now knows it cannot be. “I can’t go out like this,” he said. “I have to go out in the traditional way, which is crossing the finish line.”