Boston Strong

Boston Marathon runner Kecia Denk survived the 2013 bombing to tell the story; almost 10 years later, with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s trial on the front pages of the papers, she reflects on the power of sports. One of her favorite running spots is Lovers Point.

Kecia Denk, 42, was always into sports. Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, her family moved to Monterey in 1989. Denk was a golfer starting at age 7, but suffered an injury and eventually picked up running instead. “The longer I went, the better I felt,” she says, describing getting hooked on the euphoric high.

Her first big race was the 2008 Big Sur Marathon, one of the hardest races in California, “up and down, up and down” Highway 1. She completed the race in 4 hours and 48 minutes, thought it was “pretty good,” and then became completely obsessed. Boston had always been the dream, the Super Bowl of running, and Denk qualified in 2013. She was there all jazzed up, with her fancy jacket and marathon gear and with her beloved parents, Roger and Adrianne, who are her biggest fans. The excitement was unreal.

Everything felt like a movie: ESPN, camera people doing pre-interviews with the top runners in the country. Her parents dropped her off at the starting point, but agreed the finish line would be too packed so they decided to see Kecia running at mile 19. There, her dad convinced the whole bunch of girls from a nearby college to cheer her name while she flew by, high-fiving everyone. The weather was perfect; the city and the crowd got bigger and more alive, forming a tunnel. She took her headphones off to soak it all in. Half a mile before the finish line, she stopped to address a cramp in her leg. She turned and saw a woman and then, in a blink of an eye, the woman’s leg was gone. There was a white smoke in the air, blood and body parts on the ground.

The domestic terrorist attack killed three and injured hundreds. The attack was carried out by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed in October to consider reinstating a death sentence for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who survived the 2013 events.

Denk, who now lives in Monterey, spoke to the Weekly about getting through the Boston Marathon bombing, and moving forward.

WeeklyWhat was in your head at that moment?

Denk: I thought it was a firecracker. I went into survival mode, decided I have to save myself and I have a lot of survivor’s guilt from that. People rushed in toward the fence to help. There were ambulances, fire trucks, and government people everywhere. People were running around, crying. I really thought I was dead. I kept checking my limbs. If I had kept running, I would have probably been very seriously injured.

Where were your parents?

On the subway. A lady was sitting across from them and she started to cry. She said: “I lost someone on 9/11 and now I’m going to lose another person in the Boston Marathon. There has been a bomb at the finish line.” My dad had a tracker and he saw my button stopped. They thought I was dead. I was able to get to the hotel and my parents were right behind me. We were not allowed to leave the hotel for hours.

What about non-physical injuries?

It was a pressure cooker bomb that hurt 260 people, so I was really lucky. But emotionally, it was the sport I loved. I never thought that my safe place – running, the place I felt the most at peace – would be taken away. I had nightmares, flashbacks, my drinking was out of control. I still don’t like being in the dark and I’m hyper-vigilant, always on guard. But there’s always a flipside. It’s called Boston Strong.

Tell us about the magic of the 2014 marathon.

It was incredible. A different type of crying, from happiness. Again, I went with my parents and the emotions were all over the place. The streets were packed, my mother was at the end, crying and taking pictures. I was thinking this whole time, the terrorists couldn’t take it away from me.

What about your life and work these days?

I did seven marathons and now I’m taking a break to recharge. I have some injuries, to my knees and shoulder, from golfing. But I can’t not go back to the sport. We get up and do it again. In the meantime, I work as a caregiver; I’ve been thinking about going back to school to become an occupational therapist.

What’s the best place to run locally?

From the Aquarium on the Rec Trail down to Asilomar, and back to the Aquarium. Preferably in the morning, after oatmeal with berries and Greek yogurt.

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