John Valovic was hampered by leg cramps and walked for a distance during the 2013 Boston Marathon. The former Johnstown resident continued on and was looking to finish the marathon when things changed.
Just after Valovic passed Fenway Park and came to an underpass, race officials stopped the runners and herded together to a safe location.
After a while, he and the other runners found out they were stopped because three people were killed and about 150 injured in two bomb explosions near the finish line.
John Valovic wears his jacket from the 2013 Boston Marathon at a track meet last season. Valovic will compete in this year’s event Monday. (The Leader-Herald/James A. Ellis)
"I was stopped a half-mile from the finish line," Valovic said last April. "I never actually finished. I didn't hear the explosions, but I heard people talking about them. I didn't know what happened, but I was 24 miles into the race and I was just trying to finish."
Valovic, now a fifth-grade teacher at a public charter school in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is heading back to Boston for Monday's 118th running of the Boston Marathon.
"I had no doubt about going back this year," Valovic said. "I have gone back and forth on what my purpose for going back is. I have already gone and had the experience I was trying to have. I have gone to the memorial and I have gone back to where the bombs went off. For me, it is more, I have had the experience now, I need to make the trip worth it this time. So I am not running for charity; I am just going to finish the race that started me on this whole I want to run a marathon thing."
However, the memory of last April does linger.
"Everything for me kind of goes back to my experience," he said. "To hear other people's stories, it is incredible to hear about the people who went back to help. My brain went to my family. I remember going under the overpass and breaking down barriers because I needed to go and be with my family."
Valovic said he has not focused a lot on the events of that day. However, the the reality and emotion of what happened has impacted him when he least expected it.
"I was working at a summer day camp last year and we went to Boston on a field trip," he said. "We were walking around the city and ended up over there. I went and bought a shirt at Marathon Sports that is near where the bomb went off. I came out of the store and there really wasn't anything there anymore. There was a tree in front of the store and there were some shoes hanging from it and a couple of notes. The whole group kind of went on and I just stood there and it hit me like a truck. All it took was a shoe hanging on a tree. I didn't have a nervous breakdown in the middle of the street, but I couldn't just brush it off. It was surreal. You hear the stories of people who were standing right there. You try not to think about what if this happened or that happened. But you can't really help it. What if I hadn't gotten that cramp? Then my whole family would have been right there waiting for me to finish."
Veteran marathon runner John Geesler of St. Johnsville is headed back to Boston to run his 27th consecutive Boston Marathon. He had already finished the race and was back at his hotel when he heard what had happened at the finish line.
"I went through about an hour before the bombing," Geesler said. "Like everybody else I was shocked. Where our hotel was we could still see people running."
Looking forward to Monday's race Geesler and Fort Plain's Rob and Ryan Hudyncia expect security will be a priority.
"We have been notified with our entry packets and of different steps and security precautions that we can expect this year," Rob Hudyncia said. "My son Ryan and I have run the marathon 10 years in a row now. It is such a great event that has always been a positive experience for us. The people there are awesome."
Geesler said he is not sure exactly, if anything will be different.
"There will probably be beefed up security, but I don't pay a lot of attention to that stuff. I take a lot of it for granted," he said. "Like after 9-11, when we got there you could see snipers up on the roof before we started at the athlete's village. I don't know if there is anything else they can do. If someone wants to do something, they will find a way to do it."
Boston Strong is a slogan the city has taken on after the event, and it seems appropriate for the 118th running of the marathon.
"Boston is a big, prestigious event," Geesler said. "Things like that can happen, but it will not stop it. The show will go on, bigger and better than ever. That sort of thing only pushes it forward. It [the bombings] will always be remembered, though."
Valovic is already in Boston, taking in the complete experience surrounding the event.
"I get the emotional situation and I get that we are supposed to be upset about this, and I am; someone ruined one of the most pure things in my life that day," he said. "Compared to some of the people, I think I have handled it fairly well. I haven't been real emotional because I have looked at it as, OK, it happened, now I have to get past it. I need to go run this race so that I can really appreciate it 100 percent."