When Sgt. Mike Mason crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon last year, the blast from the first bomb erupted literally before he could even catch his breath.
Mason can even be seen crossing the finish line just seconds before first bomb erupted in the crowd.
He said he turned and – despite being absolutely exhausted and spent from 26.2 miles of running – years of training kicked in, and he knew exactly what he was looking at.
“It’s amazing because you train all the time for things like that and have live drills and go over so many scenarios,” he said. “Then it happened in real life. You can’t believe it’s really happening. I saw the first blast and knew there was going to be a second. Everything just kicked in, all the training. It was strange because here it was happening in real life, and all I was thinking was, ‘Where is the third one going to be?’ I remember realizing immediately that this was going to be very bad. I recognized immediately what this was.”
Similarly, though he didn’t run last year’s race, Police Chief Joe Cafarelli was also a major part of last year’s Marathon Bombing story – leading the North Metro SWAT team that helped scour Watertown for the accused bomber and that made the daring capture of the suspect.
One year later, both men – along with Sgt. Joe Covino – will represent the Revere Police in running the Boston Marathon as a tribute to the actions of law enforcement one year ago and as a way of showing resolve against the actions of those who wish to spread fear.
For Mason, it will be his 19th run.
For Cafarelli, it will be his maiden voyage.
“I can’t do treadmills and I can’t do indoor training, so I’ve been out all winter long – 10 degrees below and I’m still running three to five miles every morning,” said the Chief. “It’s something I always wanted to do, but I never felt compelled to take the steps to enter…After things ended the way they did last year, it seemed like the right thing to do. There are many runners who want to do this – first of all to honor those who lost their lives – but also as a tribute to my guys – the North Metro SWAT. I’ll have my North Metro SWAT T-shirt on, but I will also be running as a tribute to everyone – including Sgt. Mason, all of the Revere Police, the Everett Police and all law enforcement.”
For Mason, crossing the finish line is a bit more personal.
Having run the Marathon for nearly two decades, he said the race and all of the pageantry around it on Race Day has become a cherished part of his life. Last year, when the attack went down in front of his very eyes, he said it struck something very dear to him.
In the minutes after the blast, Mason was instrumental in helping several people to safety, but he also spent the better part of a sleepless week using his training as a K-9 officer to canvass the Back Bay for more explosives.
“It’s going to be tough to cross the finish line because I’ve only been back there once – to Marathon Sports – since that day and it was eerie,” he said. “When we were sweeping for explosives in the days afterward, we set up in the Lenox Hotel. I’ve been back there once since then, and it was eerie too…It’s something I haven’t missed since 1998. I ran every one of them. For me, the Marathon is very, very personal. You see the best in people that day. It’s such a great day in the city and everyone comes out to help you when you’re running. After a while of doing that, it becomes part of your life…When the attack happened in Boston on that day at that time, it was personal to me…For me, to miss it after all that would be difficult.”
Cafarelli said that while he played a notable role in the search and capture of the bombing suspect, he didn’t go near the crime scene.
“While I was involved in the search, I didn’t go near the finish line,” he said. “I figure the first time I went through the finish line, there would be a different ending than last year.”
He also said he has found a certain amount of peace in training for his first Marathon.
“My body fights it every step of the way,” he said. “My wife’s a runner though and she helps me because she keeps me motivated. I’ve actually found running is a good way to clear my mind. I do some of my best thinking when I’m on a run.”
Both men said the memory that will live with them as they run this year’s Marathon is the people – regular citizens – who jumped to action. Whether it was the residents of Watertown who showed unwavering cooperation as Chief Cafarelli and his men searched home after home, or whether it was a bystander tying a tourniquet on an injured person at the finish line, regular people stepped up.
“The same fans who are cheering and helping out the runners or giving out cups of water were the same people that stayed and helped out – who took the shirts off their back and used them to tie tourniquets,” said Mason. “I remember standing there and looking at the whole scene. You couldn’t see injured people because so many people were on top of them helping them. That was such a strong statement.”
Said Cafarelli, “It’s one thing for public safety personnel to respond this way, but it’s entirely another thing for the general public – specifically runners and business owners – to respond the way they did.”