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Day of celebration for local runner turns to chaos

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 8:14 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 1:04 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
First-time Boston Marathon runner Linda Bailey walks with her husband Dan Bailey in their Lakewood neighborhood Tuesday. Linda crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon 30 seconds before the first bomb detonated, as husband Dan Bailey cheered on his wife from the sidewalk between the site of both explosions Monday.

Dan Bailey tracked north, passing one closed Boston street after another.

As he moved farther away from Boylston Street, the famed finishing stretch of the Boston Marathon his wife of almost 25 years had just run down, he clutched his smartphone, hoping it would ring.

The Lakewood resident had abandoned his route to the finish line when the first explosion, 30 seconds after his wife crossed the finish line, lifted a plume of greenish-gray smoke into the air 150 feet in front of him. First there was a flash, then a boom. The ground shook. But the thing he remembers most is the combination of glass, brick and debris that showered onto the sidewalk below.

That’s when the second explosion erupted behind him.

“At first, you don’t know what it is,” Dan Bailey said Tuesday. “Then, I realized, they’re bombs and there could be more.”

Instinct told him to flee. As he moved away from the race course, Bailey hoped Linda Bailey – who was running her third marathon – would know enough to keep moving away from the destruction. He kept moving, waiting for a sign. Nothing. Another closed street. No phone call.

Finally, his phone rang. But as cellular service around downtown Boston started to shut down in the moments following the two explosions that killed three and injured more than 170 others, the voice on the other line was so garbled Dan couldn’t make out the message.

One call turned into two. Then three. Then four and five. Finally, the voice on the other end came through clearly on the sixth try.

“We have your wife,” said a stranger who had approached Linda as she moved toward the family gathering center.

“Is she OK?,” Dan yelled into the phone. “Is she OK.?”

The stranger, who was shocked and speechless, had offered her a jacket. On the phone, he told Dan that Linda was fine and that he needed to get to the intersection of Columbus and Arlington, where his wife would be waiting.

When Dan got there, they embraced.

Linda’s back was turned, comparing Garmin running watches with another runner and talking about how hellish the course’s hills had been when the first bomb went off. It sounded, Linda said, as if someone had fired a cannon.

Linda, an emergency room nurse at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, was inclined to do what she could to help.

But the last time she had seen Dan, he was moving in a pack of spectators, five deep, toward the area where the first explosion had taken place.

“It just goes from utter joy that I was able to complete the race to just utter terror,” Linda said. “Then, they’re telling you, ‘Get out, get out. Go, go ... Just get out of here.”

‘You just feel so unsafe’

Monday was a perfect day for a marathon. Sunny, blue skies. Outside of the nagging knee injury and a case of nerves, Linda felt great.

Dan initially chose a spot right on the finish line, eerily close to where the first bomb went off. But when race organizers started placing flags from around the world to decorate the final stretch of the race, he moved 3/4 of a block away. He received a notification every five kilometers Linda covered. After 40 kilometers – 25 miles in – Dan started to look for Linda. She passed, he yelled, she waved and he started moving toward the finish.

Then he saw the flash. Heard the boom. Felt the ground shake and saw buildings start to crumble.

Back in Dixon, Linda’s parents were tracking their daughter’s progress. Linda’s mother, Cami Van Dam, had prayed for Linda’s safety early Monday morning, fully expecting she’d cross another city’s marathon off her list.

But after the explosions, Cami found herself scanning the TV, looking for a runner wearing a black tank top and hot pink shorts. Linda’s father, who had tracked the race on his computer, assured his wife that Linda had finished. But there was uncertainty.

“I just felt so sorry that this day Linda had been looking forward to so much went from a day of celebration and jubilation to one of terror and chaos,” Van Dam said Tuesday.

As runners crowded around the big screen TV in the Renaissance Hotel lobby, Linda got her first look at what happened.

Now she was certain people back home were worried. Linda called her aunt, Iris, in Colorado and then her parents in Dixon. Dan called his mother and brother in Sterling, letting them know both he and Linda were OK. He then called the couple’s niece, Josie, in Washington, D.C.

Linda posted a Facebook message saying she was shaken, but OK and just wanted to come home. They ordered sandwiches, but Linda couldn’t bring herself to eat. There would be no way, she knew, she’d sleep.

“At that point, you just want to be safe,” Linda said. “I’ve never felt that unsafe in my life and unsafe for him. You just feel so unsafe.”

‘Not going to let some weirdo ruin what I love’

Dan and Linda arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport at 4 a.m. Tuesday, prepared to take off at 6 a.m. But before long, U.S. Marshals and other law enforcement agencies burst onto their United flight, removing two men from the plane after nearby passengers complained the two were acting suspicious.

The flight eventually departed and after a 2 1/2-hour flight, the Baileys were back in Chicago.

Because of her knee injury, Linda doubts she’ll run another marathon. Dan, who has competed in the Crystal Lake half marathon and runs the annual Soldier Field Memorial Day 10-mile race with his wife, plans to train for the Milwaukee Marathon in October.

“Races are family events, community events with good people,” Dan said. “It’s really hard to see that spoiled by this.”

Linda, who plans to run as much her health allows, said she won’t allow Monday’s events to change her running habits.

“We’ll realize that hopefully, this is an isolated, horrific event,” she said. “I’m not going to let some weirdo ruin what I love.”

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