TORONTO — Canadian runners returning home from the Boston Marathon the day after two deadly explosions ripped apart the finish line say the attack turned what should have been a special accomplishment into an unforgettable tragedy.
Ramona Gellel ran the race with her friend and was one of several marathon runners on the first flight from Boston to Toronto’s downtown airport Tuesday morning.
She had finished the race when she heard about the blasts and immediately thought of her friend, who was about one kilometre from the finish line when the blasts went off.
Gellel, who’s from Pickering, Ont., was relieved to find out her friend was not hurt, and gave her the race medal she had just won.
“We were looking forward to celebrating. It puts a damper on things but we’re just glad everyone we were with is safe,” she said.
Runner Carey Levinton, who was on the same flight, said Boston was in a glum mood the morning after the blasts.
“It’s somewhat sombre… the city just embraces this event and to have it suddenly turn so tragic was just so sad,” he said.
More than a dozen Canadian runners who were on the Tuesday morning flight — some still wearing their blue-and-golden marathon jackets — said the tragic event has not scared them off from joining the Boston race again.
“I hope to run it again next year,” said Gellel’s friend, Patty Demarco.
More than 2,000 Canadians were registered for the storied race, but the federal government said late Monday it had no reports of any Canadians among the three people killed and more than 170 hurt.
Foreign Affairs officials said they would continue to check with their counterparts south of the border to confirm that no Canadians were directly caught in the blasts.
Other Canadians who witnessed the carnage swapped stories of survival in an effort to cope with the shock.
Rob Campbell, who was among a group of Canadian runners who finished the marathon an hour before the explosions, said he met an Oklahoma man who ran right through the chaos.
“He just kept going, went to the centre of the road and finished the race because he thought there might be bombs going off on the right side of the road also,” he said. “He had a pretty fascinating story.”
Campbell said local residents were enraged by what happened.
“They’re taking this thing really serious,” he said. “They’re not expecting this sort of thing to happen.”
Campbell said he was planning to drive back home to Toronto with a friend on Tuesday and was bracing for major delays on the roads.
“I would expect the troopers are probably going to choke down the traffic,” he said. “I suspect they’re going to investigate every car leaving Boston at this stage.”
U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday the bombings were an act of terrorism but investigators do not know if they were carried out by an international or domestic organization, or perhaps by a “malevolent individual.”
Police in some major U.S. cities were monitoring landmarks, government buildings, transit hubs and sporting events.
At the Detroit Windsor Tunnel, where thousands cross the border from Ontario to Michigan daily, Tunnel President Neal Belitsky says that “all staff are sensitive to the incident in Boston.”
While security measures aren’t being discussed, officials say they’re closely following events.