LAKE PLACID - Darci LaFave and her fiance Billy Whitney of Lake Placid returned to Boston seven months after the 2013 bombings. Staying in the same hotel and retracing their same path from that difficult day, the couple started at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and walked backwards from 665 Boylston St.
On April 15, 2013, just like every other runner and bystander in Boston that day, LaFave and Whitney had their lives shaken by the Boston Marathon bombing. For LaFave, a committed endurance athlete who had competed in numerous Ironman Lake Placid and Tinman triathlons here in the Tri-Lakes and is a member of Team Placid Planet's cycling squad, this was her greatest accomplishment to date. Her passion for endurance sports was trending toward marathons, and after first running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., LaFave unexpectedly qualified for the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest annual marathon race.
Whitney joined her, as he ran for the American Liver Foundation. At the finish line at 665 Boylston St., he planned to propose to LaFave.
Darci LaFave, the codes and zoning coordinator for North Elba and Lake Placid, holds up some recent running medals.
(News photo — Antonio Olivero)
But the couple wouldn't meet at the finish line until they returned in November. LaFave finished the race, but Whitney did not, the result of her beginning the race as part of an earlier heat.
LaFave finished the race shortly after 2:30 p.m., and 12 minutes later the first of two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line. Far enough away to hear it but not be injured, at first she assumed it was a natural gas explosion. But when a second explosion occurred in the same vicinity 12 seconds later she realized this was something far worse.
"So everyone was yelling," LaFave said of the moment, "everyone is yelling to basically get out of there."
Whitney was far enough behind the blasts where he was unharmed, held up at mile 25 of the race and instructed along with hundreds of other runners to walk backwards, never finishing the race. He attempted to communicate with LaFave by texting her from strangers' phones that he was OK. He'd finally return to the hotel at 7 p.m.
"It was chaotic," LaFave said. "No one knew exactly what was going on."
Just a month later, as a runner who did not finish the Boston Marathon due to the bombings, Whitney was invited to run in the Burlington City Marathon. Just six weeks after the 2013 Boston Marathon, he qualified for the 2014 race.
LaFave would qualify again as well, and despite the horror of the 2013 bombings, they returned to race and finish the marathon in 2014, this past April and have qualified again for next year.
"We actually went back to Boston in November of 2013 to kind of have some closure for ourselves," LaFave said. "We hadn't been back since that time and we walked the course backwards so I could see where Billy had made it, where he had to go back to and wait, what his story was. He hadn't actually seen the finish line in 2013, so he got to see that hear my story and see what happened to me. It was emotional, therapeutic and kind of put it into perspective.
"When we went back in April 2014, we were much more comfortable. It was somber, a huge police presence and huge crowd support. It was overwhelming how many people were out there cheering. It was just amazing."
LaFave has done the opposite of slow down since the 2013 Boston Marathon, competing in numerous races including a fourth-place finish for her age group of 45- to 49-year-old women as part of the Boston Athletic Association's Distance Medley. The BAA Distance Medley includes the association's 5K, 10K and half-marathon races. Of the approximately 100 women who competed in the medley this year LaFave finished highest of anyone who also ran the Boston Marathon.
Two weeks ago, she competed for the first time in the Philadelphia Marathon. Whitney ran the half-marathon, and the couple's friend Bob Morganson, of Lake Placid, achieved his best marathon time, sub-four hours.
"And the weather conditions were horrible," LaFave said. "There were 50 mile-per-hour wind gusts, it was cold, and I was running with him. That was the purpose of the race.
"It was kind of neat to run with a lot of people, and Philly seems like a nice city and I had only been there once before so we got to stay and do all the sightseeing."
Looking ahead, LaFave has her sights on the grandest accomplishment in all of marathon racing, to finish each of the races included in the Abbott World Marathon Majors. Member cities include the Boston Marathon, the New York City Marathon, the Chicago Marathon, the London Marathon, the Berlin Marathon and the Tokyo Marathon. Thus far, she's only raced Boston.
For a girl from Tupper Lake whose earliest memories of endurance events came from looking out from her childhood yard on Park Street at the Tupper Lake Tinman, LaFave has embraced how marathon running can help her to see the world. And no bad experience is holding her back.
"It'll take a bunch of years," she said with a smile, "but I'd like to do it."