Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

April 21, 2013

Witness to Boston Marathon tragedy

Lockport's Belinda Stoll finished the race seconds before the first bomb blast at the finish line.

By John D'Onofrio
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

LOCKPORT —

A decision on whether to run or walk to the finish line of the Boston Marathon may be one of the most important life-changing decisions 2013 race runner No. 19131 ever made in her life.
Belinda Stoll of Lockport was physically near the end of her rope after running the first 20-plus miles of the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon. As she neared the famous finish line that she was pictured standing at 24 hours earlier by her husband and biggest supporter Mike, she was forced to choose to the easy way or the hard way.
Running her 13th career marathon and third Boston Marathon, the Lock City wife and mother of three chose to most difficult path — and will forever be grateful that she did.
“I was shooting for a finish time of under four hours, which was the time that a woman my age needs to qualify for next year’s race,” Stoll said on Friday.
“I was pushing as hard as I could the last three miles and kept wanting to walk. It turns out that was my saving grace. I kept running and crossed in 3:54. The first bomb went off just a few minutes later.”
Stoll, 52, crossed the finish line successfully and without incident. She ran past her husband standing under an American flag in the bleachers, who yelled, “You did it!” to which she replied, “I get to come back next year!”
Belinda, a 1978 graduate of Lockport High School, was having difficulty breathing after completing her third straight 26.2-mile marathon. A finishers’ medal was placed around her neck and a blanket was placed around her to keep her warm — then she turned back towards the finish line, less than 100 yards away.
“I saw and heard the first explosion. It looked like a building blew up. I knew it was bad because I knew there was a ton of people standing there where the explosion went off,” Stoll said.
“I was trying to process what I was seeing, then a few seconds later, a second explosion went off and this one shot up higher and was louder than the first one. The smoke was yellowish gray. People were running towards me and you should have seen the look of terror on their faces. I’ll never forget it.”
The world literally changed around them after the explosions, Belinda said, beginning with the first 45 minutes when she did not see or speak to her husband. Belinda, unlike some runners, did not carry a cell phone with her while running. The cell phone shut down put in place immediately after the blasts to possibly deter more bombs from going off had separated the couple after her finish.
“I borrowed someone’s phone and finally got a hold of Mike. Our hotel faced the site of the second bomb explosion. It was like a war zone. They worked non-stop all night long. There were people standing in front of our hotel holding rifles,” Stoll said.
“My husband and I went out for a walk the next day. The cable news networks had taken over the Boston Commons.”
The Stolls returned to Lockport on Wednesday, a day later than most from a large contingent of Buffalo runners.
“I just needed a day to relax and take everything in,” she said.
Despite what happened this year, Belinda said she’s already booked herself a hotel for the 2014 Boston Marathon and plans to run her best race to date.
“I can’t wait for next year. This isn’t going to keep me away from being there again,” she said.