Brian Sullivan: Running into a very tough week
Theresa Apple didn't stay long enough to hear the sound of the blasts. Perhaps, though, she heard the church bells ringing in the city this past Monday when they sounded to recognize the one-week-to-the-moment anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. Perhaps then, like many of us, she began to breathe again.
The events in Boston horrified the state and the nation. But when the news of the day that was Boston was trespassed in a sense by the other news of the day -- the deadly fertilizer plant explosion -- that was West, Texas, the longtime and successful Pittsfield High girls cross-country coach admitted that it felt a little like "piling on."
Why wouldn't it? Apple was being sucker-punched every time she changed direction. She felt sick by the end of the Patriots Day week, a bit weak-kneed and confused. Just like the rest of us, I guess. It's just that Apple's heart seemed that much closer to the events of the week.
And here's why.
She has completed 26 marathons in her illustrious running career, including six in Boston, where she has also worked the medical tents at the finish line on two occasions. Apple is employed at Berkshire Medical Center as an operating room nurse. So, she knows that drill. Her husband, Peter, is a captain in the Pittsfield Fire Department. He is at any point in time, just like many in the department, a first-responder.
So, as events unfolded in Boston and Texas, Apple's emotions and thoughts raced to and from the horrific injuries suffered by many of the Boston runners, the Herculean task that was presented to the Boston medical community, and the members of the West (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department and the five members of that company who died instantly when the fire at the town fertilizer plant suddenly exploded into what some called an event of "nuclear" dimensions.
Marathoners, OR nurses and first-responding firefighters. Everyday lives Apple is more than familiar with.
"I've thought about this before," she said. "When Peter goes out to a fire and he's a first-responder, I obviously worry. I forget sometimes that he worries about me and my safety on the job. There might be a gang fight here in Pittsfield and we'll work on people in the OR with the police right in the room to protect us."
Apple went down to this year's Boston Marathon to support some friends.
"I was able to watch them in Newton and Brookline. But I know the layout very well and knew I wouldn't be able to get to the finish line before they did. So, I headed home.
"I listened to an audio-book tape on the way back, so I heard no news. But after I got off the turnpike in Lee, my cell phone began to heat up with calls from family and friends who wanted to know if I was OK. I hadn't left with any real plan that day, so no one was really sure where I was. I had actually run in Pittsfield that same morning before I left."
Apple said that when she first saw the televised coverage in Boston, her immediate thoughts went toward the heroic nature of the first-responders and the way they broke through the barriers that had been set up to separate the spectators from the runners.
"You could see some horrible things," she said. "I noticed someone taking away a man on a wheelchair who had lost his legs in the blast and I noticed a stretcher go by with someone applying CPR.
"Hospitals at least have a little time to prepare," she added. "But the people in the medical tents could not have been ready for something like that. The years I worked those tents you pretty much get IVs ready and deal with a lot of blistered feet."
Apple said that if she had been at the finish line she might have offered her nursing services in the aftermath to any of the local hospitals. Her presence at the hospitals, she added, probably would not have been needed.
"Hospitals all have disaster plans and strategy," she said. "And they do train. We do it at BMC, where we have eight operating rooms. The hospitals in Boston I'm sure had a lot on their plates, but I'm also sure they were ready to go."
In the fall, Apple coaches girls to run long distances, although not of marathon length. Still, some of her better runners may ascend to meet that goal in the future. If parents this fall were to tell Apple not to encourage their daughters to run one day in the Boston Marathon, what can a coach do? If the parents say they remain fearful, then what can a coach say?
"I think I have a pretty good relationship with my kids and their parents," Apple said. "So, I guess I would challenge that request. We just can't live our lives in bubble wrap."
Runners, just like the firefighters in Texas who lost their lives, are passionate about what they do.
"Those heroic Texas firefighters were volunteers," Apple said. "They don't even get paid for actions like those. But, yes, people know I'm passionate about running and my runners at PHS may want to talk about what happened in Boston. But the bombings were more than an attack on my sport and the people in it. The bombings were an attack on my country."
There is, added Apple, some passion on that level too.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.
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