Never Got To Make The Last Two Turns

“Right on Hereford, left on Boylston” – that’s what was written on the T-shirt Kenneth Williams decided to wear to the Boston Marathon. Those are the last two turns of the race, and Williams was just about to make that right turn on Hereford when the bomb went off on Boylston.

“I saw smoke and thought to myself, ‘what is that?’ ” Williams said. “One moment, I was just trying to survive up to the 26th mile, and I was only thinking about oxygen. Then, a moment later, we were stopped.”

That was the end of the race for the Corinth, Mississippi, native who traveled to Boston with 17 or so members of the marathon running group he leads.

“We stood in the street for over an hour before we were allowed to proceed.” But the race was over.

“Several of us didn’t get our medallions, and didn’t get to finish the race,” Williams said. “But it’s a small thing compared to those who suffered far, far worse.”

[The above article was written by sports columnist Geoff Calkins, for the Memphis, Tennessee, Commercial Appeal on 4/16/2013, the day after the race.

Three months later, Lisa Singleton-Rickman wrote the following article for the Florence, Alabama, Times Daily.]

Marathon runner Kenneth Williams speaks during a Florence
Rotary Club meeting about his experience in the Boston Marathon bombings.

FLORENCE — Kenneth Williams couldn’t have known five years ago that a tongue-in-cheek comment he wrote above a picture taken near the Boston Marathon finish line would carry such tragic significance today.

Williams, a marathon runner from Corinth, Mississippi, included the photo in a video presentation he made for the Florence Rotary Club on Monday.

The picture was from 2008, taken about 50 yards from the finish line. Above it were the words: “Lord, don’t let me die here.”

The caption has been shared in multiple presentations that Williams, a Rotarian, has made the past five years about his vast running experiences and his participation in 11 Boston marathons.

Before April 15, the caption was a humorous moment in the presentation where he explained, “I’ve just always said I don’t want to make it 26 miles, only to see the finish line and have a heart attack in front of thousands of spectators who line those streets.”

Now, Williams considers the caption an almost eerie premonition.

The ending to his 2013 Boston
Marathon was far different
from Kenneth Williams’s
previous eleven.

He told fellow Rotarians on Monday about the events of April 15 in Boston, when a homemade bomb went off at the finish line at 2:50 p.m., followed by another just seconds later about 500 feet away. The explosions left three dead and 264 injured, several losing limbs.

A week later, police charged Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with use of a weapon of mass destruction and malicious destruction of property resulting in death. His brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, also accused in the bombings, was killed by police, reportedly while attempting to escape. Tamerlan is accused of masterminding the bombing.

A nagging knee injury had slowed Williams down, preventing him from being at or near the finish line at the time the bombs detonated.

“I was eight-tenths of a mile away from the finish line, close enough to see the smoke but too far away to know what had happened,” he said. “I thought a transformer had blown when I saw the smoke.”

At that point, Williams passed over a rise in the road and saw about 40 marathoners stopped on the road. Boston police were holding up the runners, explaining there had been an explosion. Before long, 40 runners grew to about 5,000.

About 23,000 runners participated in this year’s Boston Marathon.

Tim Zuelke, one of several Muscle Shoals-area runners who ran in the race, was among those stopped on the course.

Zuelke, who was in attendance at Monday’s Rotary program, told the group, “A single police officer stopped us all, which is a testament to the kind of people these runners were. They all wanted desperately to finish that last mile, but they, out of respect for that sole officer, stopped without complaint.”

Williams said the roadways leading into and around the marathon finish line were blocked within 60 seconds of the blasts.

“They did an amazing job of protecting the runners and re-routing us, especially since they didn’t fully know, themselves, what was going on,” Williams said.

The marathon annually is held on the first spring holiday in Boston, Patriots Day. It’s a day filled with events, including the Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees game, being broadcast on Jumbotrons throughout the city and watched by the marathon spectators.

“The day went from total jubilance to total chaos,” Williams said. “But, despite the (chaos) involved in this bombing, we learned a lot about the goodness of humanity as Bostonians responded so kindly to total strangers who were cold and scared with many injured.”

Having coached and trained hundreds of marathoners, Williams said, many that he’s trained in recent months were in Boston to run this year’s marathon.

“It’s a thousand wonders that all our people (including Mississippi and Alabama participants) escaped injury,” he said. “I was thankful.”

Kenneth Williams
Corinth, Mississippi
April 15, 2013
Age – 71
Bib # 20561
40k – 4:04:55