(Corrects that Tufts played Wesleyan in penultimate paragraph of story that ran April 22.)
It was a week ago today that about 10 members of the Tufts University women’s lacrosse team took the subway downtown to watch some schoolmates finish the Boston Marathon.
“Marathon day is one of my favorite days in Boston, and I was really happy to attend,” said Collier Clegg, 21, a senior from Chicago. “I was encouraging a lot of my friends to attend, too.”
FULL COVERAGE: Boston Marathon Bombings
Less than three hours later, Clegg would find herself wandering alone through the streets of Boston searching for help after two bomb blasts rocked the city and sent thousands running for safety. Three of her teammates appeared in the foreground of a picture that showed Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspected of planting a bomb, walking behind them and Martin Richard, an 8-year-old who lost his life, just to their right.
Clegg, along with some of her teammates, still suffers from the after-effects of the blasts that killed three people and injured at least 170 more. The anthropology major says she still has trouble sleeping and feels a panicked quickening of her heartbeat each time she’s startled or scared. Anything frightening moves her to tears, she said.
“Each day since then has been the longest day of my life,” she said. “Every day feels like a week.”
Clegg’s day started with lacrosse practice and tracking three marathon runners who are fellow students and housemates. Clegg said she’s long admired the strength and resiliency of long-distance runners. She kept track of her friends using a text message function on her phone that reported their position on the marathon course.
Hoping to see her teammates as they finished, Clegg and her friends arrived in Boston at about noon, most of them wearing their lacrosse sweats. At about 2:10 p.m. on Monday, Clegg’s friends were in the last leg of the run. She urged her teammates at the finish line to move up the course, thinking that they could get a spot that would be closer to the street and the runners. They found one between Exeter and Fairfield streets, and stopped to wait for their friends and cheer for others.
“It’s such an amazing thing to see,” she said. “There’s a lot of children around too, it’s such a positive environment.”
It was at about this time that Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, were allegedly leaving their backpacks that contained shrapnel-laden bombs on Boylston. At about 2:50 p.m. the first of the two bombs went off, about a block away from Clegg.
“Everyone just turned to look,” she recalled. “It was so eerie. No one was making any noise. I thought maybe it was a firework or a cannon.”
A couple of Clegg’s teammates shouted “run” and began trying to get away from the scene, she recalled. That may have saved their lives. The second bomb, allegedly planted by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, went off seconds later, about 30 feet from Clegg. Shrapnel from the bomb penetrated the legs of two teammates, Clegg later learned. Two suffered concussions.
“We were all blown to the ground,” Clegg said. “It felt like someone just pushed me hard in the back.”
Clegg felt calm, numb, and unable to get up. There was a loud, low-pitched ringing in her ears. She sat on the ground for a minute, and then crawled into the doorway of a Crate & Barrel store. She shared the space with a woman and her two young boys. Clegg estimated the boys’ ages at about eight and six, and they held on to their mother, and to Clegg, with worry.
My Children, My Life
“She kept saying, “These are my children, this is my life,” Clegg said.
As Clegg walked into the street, a feeling of panic set in. There were screams and moans and pools of blood. A boy sat sitting stunned and quiet in the middle of Boylston. One of his legs had been blown off in the explosion.
Clegg was staring. The woman who had been hiding in the doorway with Clegg pulled her face away.
“You can’t look at this,” she told Clegg. “We’re alive right now and we’re going to stay that way.”
Suddenly, just half a minute later, there were emergency medical workers all over the street, throwing people into stretchers and carrying them away. Clegg stumbled into the Crate & Barrel, whose staff allowed her to walk back out into an alley behind the building. She called her stunned parents to tell them she had just survived a bombing attack.
Trying to Sleep
Her father asked her to slow down and repeat what she had said. Get away from crowds, and away from public transportation, he told her. Clegg walked two blocks into Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, where most people still didn’t know that a terrorist bombing had taken place on Boylston Street.
A man who had also been at the site of the blasts invited Clegg to rest in his apartment while he made phone calls. His sister, who had also been watching the marathon, came to the house and helped Clegg get a ride back to Tufts.
Since then, Clegg’s week has been one of trying to sleep, relax, and put some of what she’s seen to one side. She said she feels distracted from almost everything she’s doing. She’s studied photographs of the scene, like the one that shows her three friends in front of Tsarnaev, minutes before the second bomb exploded and they nearly lost their lives.
“It’s just sickening to know that he walked down the street and found the most crowded place where there were tons of little children around and thought that was the place to leave the bag,” she said. “That’s the most sickening part of it.”
Clegg’s Tufts lacrosse team was scheduled to play against Bates College on Tuesday, the day after the marathon attack. That game was postponed for one day, and Clegg was glad to play. Tufts lost, but it was the first time she felt like she was able to focus on something besides the crisis at the marathon. None of her four teammates injured in the blast were able to play, she said.
On Saturday, the team played its Senior Day game against Wesleyan University. Although the team was still shorthanded because of the marathon day injuries, Tufts won. Clegg began to feel that she was on the road back.
“I think I learned how important the people around you are,” she said. “It just made me realize how kind people are when something terrible happens. It’s rare that you find someone who won’t reach out to you in times like these. It makes you appreciate life so much more.”
To contact the reporter on this story: John Lauerman in Boston at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at email@example.com