BU student Kellie Marshall goes from survivor to marathoner

It’s April 15, and Kellie Marshall is doing everything in her power to treat it as any other day. She goes to the Driscoll School in Brookline to student-teach, then hustles back to campus for class and eventually gets to eat dinner and relax.

All the while, though, there are reminders. Everywhere. The news clips, the Facebook statuses, the “Boston Strong” paraphernalia, the incessant questions from people who mean well — How is she holding up? What is it like one year later? One of the only moments a radio is within earshot happens to be 2:49 p.m., the moment of silence.

Marshall can’t escape it: A year ago today, she almost died. She survived a terrorist attack, plucked shrapnel from her legs, and wandered up Commonwealth Avenue with family and friends, bloodied and confused and scared and scarred. Two disillusioned brothers allegedly triggered twin explosions near the Boston Marathon finish line, killing three and injuring more than 260. Standing just feet away from the second explosion, Marshall was lucky to escape with her life and limbs intact.

Marshall was one of the 260, not one of the three, and for that she is grateful. Monday, the 22-year-old Boston University senior became one of the approximately 36,000 to stand at the Hopkinton starting line to begin her nearly five-hour trek known as the 118th Boston Marathon.

By the end of the 26.2 miles, Marshall was limping and in pain again — the limp a welcomed limp, the pain a happy, victorious pain.

But on the 15th, the anniversary, it’s hard to think about anything else. And in at least one way today is just like so many before it.

“I haven’t gone a day since then,” Marshall said, “without thinking about it.”

***

Marshall is upfront when it comes to how she became a victim of circumstance on Boylston Street that picturesque Boston spring day last April. She was freshly 21, and — wanting to avoid the hubbub of Kenmore Square — she joined her cousins, Dan and Jacqueline, and their significant others at Atlantic Fish Co.

She was standing on top of the short fence in front of the restaurant when the first bomb went off about a block to her left. Was it a celebratory cannon? Fireworks? The violent noise was incongruous with the environment.

The second boom came before anyone had time to fully comprehend the first. The force of the explosion — about six feet away, in Marshall’s estimation — hurled her back about 10 feet to the wall dividing Atlantic Fish’s outside patio and dining room.

The blast knocked Marshall unconscious, ruptured her right eardrum, sunk glass-like pieces of shrapnel into her legs and left her concussed. She doesn’t remember the actual explosion. She does remember the moments before — “when everyone was happy” — and the horror that ensued.

“It’s crazy to think of how quickly that changed,” Marshall said.

Someone — she never found out who — carried her inside the restaurant, where she found Jacqueline. Dan was still outside tending to Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed by the bomb.

“No one knew what happened, they just knew something happened,” Marshall said. “I called my dad and I was freaking out, and I was like, ‘Dad, a [expletive] bomb just went off.’ He was like, ‘OK, calm down.’”

Added Peter Marshall, Kellie’s father: “[Dan’s now-fiancé] Lauren grabbed the phone and said, ‘Pete, we’re OK. But there’s been two explosions. We don’t know what’s going on. We can’t find Dan.’ … Then the phones went dead.”

Physically, everyone was ultimately fine. The fivesome reunited and wanted to get away, far away, from the chaos. They made their way to Comm. Ave. and then toward Kellie’s Student Village 2 dorm.

“And we still didn’t know what happened. We were just walking,” Kellie said. “At that point, we all had blood all over us.

“Dan didn’t have a shirt. It was on Martin.”

That week, as Boston stood on edge — pausing at the sound of a siren while wondering what the new normal would be and when it would come — Kellie was at home, in Danvers, recovering. The memories are hazy.

***

Over the summer, Kellie became one of the many to benefit from the assistance of One Fund Boston, and come fall that included an offer to run the 2014 Marathon. It didn’t take long for her to decide to give it a go.

“It’s something that’s always been on my bucket list. Why not now?” she said. “Just thinking about all of the people who can’t is motivating.”

Running, though, isn’t exactly how Kellie was used to spending her free time. She was a three-sport athlete at the Pingree School in South Hamilton — a prep school about 40 minutes north of Boston — and excelled at hockey and softball in particular. When she enrolled in the School of Education at BU, her sights set on becoming a special education teacher, the extent of her athletic involvement was being a manager for the Terriers’ men’s hockey team.

So for a long time, the prospect of a marathon wasn’t a very enticing one. Legend says, after all, the first guy to run one dropped dead shortly thereafter.

“I never thought that I could run three miles, let alone a marathon,” Kellie said with a laugh.

Kellie wasn’t short on sources of motivation, however. The lasting psychological effects from last April reminded her constantly of what she was running for. Part of the Marathon route in Brookline is visible from the playground at the school she works at.

She grew to dislike crowds and loud noises. Little kids in Red Sox hats, like the ones she teaches at school, remind her of Martin Richard. In the weeks leading up to the Marathon, the flashbacks — and she did have flashbacks — featured Richard.

“A lot of it too I’m sure is not having my family here with me,” she said. “Sometimes if I’m feeling overwhelmed thinking about it, or I see it on the news, it kind of takes me back to the initial moments when it happened and I couldn’t find any of them. It’s hard being away from them.”

Peter noted that while Kellie has overcome quite a bit in the last year, one of her most prominent characteristics — her determination — is the same as ever. This year it manifested itself in a way that allowed her to run farther than she ever though she would.

“She’s the same old Kellie,” Peter said.

***

It’s April 21, and Kellie Marshall isn’t going to pretend it’s a normal day.

She completed the race in 4 hours and 44 minutes, beating her goal of sub-5 hours. She found her cousin Dan, who ran for Team MR8, the group running to honor Martin Richard, near Kenmore Square. She stopped to hug family and friends on Boylston Street. She then embraced Larry Venis, BU’s head athletic trainer and a longtime volunteer who was at the finish line just as Kellie had hoped.

Peter was just beyond the finish line where the families of the runners were made to wait.

“I cried so much,” Kellie said Monday night, decked out in her blue and orange Marathon garb, the gold medal hanging around her neck.

“I think it will mean more tomorrow when I’m not — I’m in a lot of pain right now,” she continued, exhausted but smiling. “It was the most amazing thing, to cross the finish line.

“When I hit Atlantic Fish, I just sprinted. I’ve never run so fast in my life.”

With that last spurt of energy, she changed from Kellie Marshall, bombing survivor, to Kellie Marshall, Boston Marathoner.

“Her running the Marathon has really put closure to it,” Peter said. “She’s put it behind her.”

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