Meadville Tribune

Local News

April 16, 2014

Local Boston Marathoners: American spirit can't be defeated by terrorists

As the nation marked the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings on Tuesday, two people with ties to Crawford County who ran in last year’s marathon stressed the importance of uniting to show America’s spirit cannot be defeated by terror attacks.

Crawford County Court of Common Pleas Judge John Spataro’s reflection on last year’s bombing was threefold as he conveyed feelings of sadness for the victims, pride for his nation and concern and relief for his family’s safety.

Spataro, who ran in the marathon for the third time last year, finished in 3:58:43. Had he been about 15 minutes slower, he could have been injured by the two bombs that exploded near the finish line. The bombs killed three and injured more than 260 others, including some who lost limbs.

“Instantly, when I think of the tragedy of last year, I think about the persons who suffered and continue to suffer,” he said. “I pray for them to recover as best they can from this tragedy.

“The second thought I have is how proud I am and how blessed I feel we all live in the United States of America,” he said. “I know it sounds trite, but that’s how I feel. This is a good country. We have good people and I believe we responded appropriately to this incident and it will continue to bring us together.”

On the day of the marathon, Spataro was most concerned with the health of his family, which planned to meet him at the finish line. He tried to reach his family via cellphone, but due to the noise of sirens and panic, talking with them was difficult. He sent his wife, Kathy, and daughters Marissa and Carly text messages saying, “Call me.” Once he received a response, he was able to breathe easier.

“Last but not least, I’m so incredibly thankful my family wasn’t harmed,” he said. “I finished to the point where I was completely out of harm’s way. I heard explosions, I saw the smoke, I was there when everyone was trying to figure out what in the world happened. To be honest, the first thought that crossed my mind when I realized it was a bomb was, ‘My family’s at the finish line.’ Thankfully they’d left minutes before the bomb.”

Valerie (Osborne) Christoff, a 1988 graduate of Saegertown High School, plans to run in the marathon for the second consecutive year. Saying running is not her passion, she didn’t plan to run in the Boston Marathon again. And that’s after her 2013 time of 3:37.51 qualified her for this year’s marathon, which is Monday. The bombings, however, changed her perspective.

“When the bombing occurred, I really felt that I have to go back because you have to stand up and say we’re still here,” Christoff said. “We can’t let those guys win. If nobody shows up, they will win.”

Christoff, who now lives in Ligonier, has constantly received questions from others who wonder why she would want to run in the Boston Marathon again, considering last year’s circumstances.

“It doesn’t really matter where you go, something can happen,” Christoff said. “Any time you are in a crowd, it can be an issue. I’d rather make a statement that you’re not going to beat this group.”

Spataro echoed those sentiments in explaining why he plans to run in Monday’s marathon.

“I’m not the least bit concerned for my own safety,” he said. “It sounds strange, but it’s true. I’m concerned for my family. That’s one of the reasons I want so much to be in this race. I want to show, in my own small way, that this kind of evil is not going to stand in the way of me pursuing this activity, so no, I’m not at all apprehensive. (My family has) some worries about me, but they’re supportive.”

If anything, Spataro said he felt disappointed about the heightened security measures, despite his confidence in their effectiveness.

“People lining the (road) are not allowed to have backpacks or things of that nature,” he said. “It used to be you were assigned a bag.”

Spataro said marathon participants often wait in the cold prior to the race and will now face difficulties keeping blankets, coats or other warm apparel with them right before they start.

“Whatever you take into the athletic village stays there unless you’re running with it now,” he said. “It disappoints me, while I understand the enhanced security measures. That’s one more example of how a terrorist attack results in law-abiding good people taking measures to protect themselves they wouldn’t otherwise have to take.”

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