TEMPLE — King and Joshua Johnson sat on the ground, without a care in the world, coloring and drawing stars on posters that read, “Daddy Rocks” and “Daddy’s Awesome.”
Sylvia Johnson kept darting her eyes back and forth between her two sons and the finish line at the inaugural Army Marathon on Sunday.
King is 8 years old, the same age as Martin Richard, who was killed when two homemade bombs exploded April 15 at the finish of the Boston Marathon. The blasts killed three and injured more than 180.
The victims and their families have been in Sylvia Johnson’s prayers since, as has the very real possibility that something could’ve happened to her and her family as they waited for her husband, 120th Infantry Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Edward Johnson, to cross the finish line Sunday.
“It’s nothing we can forget about,” Sylvia Johnson said. “My heart goes out to those families and we will continue to pray for them. ... It’s in the back of my mind, but I know God is looking over us and I know all of our people will be safe today.”
In the wake of the bombing, area law enforcement and first responders took extra steps to ensure the safety of the runners and spectators for the first marathon in Bell County since the mid-1970s.
Bomb-sniffing dogs and uniformed police officers from the Temple Police Department were the most noticeable signs that organizers took last week’s bombing very seriously Sunday.
“Bomb dogs and stuff like that ... they were always going to be planned, ready to go, but in this case, instead of having them (on) standby, we just deployed them. It’s just a safer way,” said race director Ed Bandas. “We were clearing water stops through the middle of the night, sweeping everything, sweeping all the equipment that was already out here just so everybody had a warm and fuzzy feeling. We had security all night, police at both ends, just to keep eyes on the stuff. It was always part of the plan; it just got a little bit more real.”
Bandas added that the marathon, which travels through six different jurisdictions from its start in Killeen to the finish line in Temple, already commands a security detail from multiple Bell County agencies.
Chad Berg, emergency management coordinator for the Killeen Fire Department, headed up emergency response in the case of a major event. Berg said the KFD plans and trains regularly for the possibility of large emergency events.
Law enforcement from Killeen, the Bell County Sheriff’s Office and Temple said they had bomb-sniffing dogs along the course.
“It just makes me mad because these terrorists are taking away some of our freedoms. Before, we never worried about, in a running event, having a security problem. (At) a running event, it’s almost impossible to have security,” said Craig Cross, who competed in his 17th marathon Sunday. “Our country’s entering a different time era.”
Just as apparent as the added security measures was the remembrance of what happened in Boston. Many runners carried American flags, others wore T-shirts and signs that depicted the Boston skyline and slogans of remembrance.
The tragedy in Boston affected Joseph Fraga, a relative newcomer to marathons who’s run in three events since last year.
“Runners are kind of a big family. You’re out on a course, complete strangers, ‘Hey, how’s it going,’ there’s a lot of camaraderie around runners so it kind of hit at home with Boston,” Fraga said.
But the incident in Boston was just the beginning for Fraga, who lives in Lacy Lakeview, a suburb north of Waco, about 10 miles south of West, where at least 14 people died, including 10 first responders, and 200 were injured in a fertilizer plant explosion Wednesday.
“It’s been pretty mentally discouraging in a sense, but you’ve got to keep on going,” Fraga said of the events last week. “That’s what the marathon’s about. You don’t just train physically; you train your mind and you train your spirit. You become tougher. I’ve become a totally different person just by running marathons.”
When Edward Johnson crossed the finish line, his sons squeezed through the barricade and walked with him down to the end of the raceway. After spending two weeks in Afghanistan and just arriving home April 14, Johnson ran five straight days to train for the event.
“There’s a bunch of things we live in, but we don’t live in fear,” Johnson said. “Anything that happens, we explain it to our boys. Things are going to continue to happen — hopefully, it stops one day — but it hasn’t stopped yet.”
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562