Mac Engel

April 16, 2014

Tarrant County runners have unfinished business at Boston Marathon

Jennifer McAllister and Toni DeSantis Biggerstaff return to run one year later feeling safer and more resolved than ever.

The letter arrived a few months ago from the Boston Athletic Association. The certification was Jennifer McAllister’s projected finish time in the 2013 Boston Marathon. It read: 4:09:36. The first bomb exploded at 4:09.43.

A veteran of 13 marathons, McAllister figures what kept her from crossing the finish line at the same time the first bomb went off was taking a photo with the Hoyts — the famous father/son combination who are regulars at endurance events.

“I replayed that scene over and over and over in my head — what if we hadn’t stopped?” said McAllister, who lives in Fort Worth with her husband.

McAllister never did cross the finish line of her first Boston Marathon. She officially completed 26.1 miles.

McAllister and close friends Toni DeSantis Biggerstaff of Keller and Chimene Fikkert of Arlington all ran Boston last year. Fikkert finished a few minutes ahead of the two explosions. Biggerstaff’s race ended at 26 miles before Boston police and race organizers stopped her from turning the final corner.

On Monday, McAllister and Biggerstaff will run Boston again to finish the point-one and point-two miles remaining on what is the Everest for marathon junkies. Fikkert missed qualifying by a matter of seconds.

On cue, this week just about everybody who ran Boston last year have recounted their stories of last year’s tragedy, where three people were killed, including an 8-year-old boy, and 246 were injured.

For Biggerstaff and McAllister, returning to Boston this week isn’t so much about revisiting the past and asking, “What if?” but rather finishing something that was not over.

In our efforts to hurriedly and deservedly praise the brave people who heroically tried to save the runners and fans that day, we often forgot that healing goes at its own pace.

And out of this tragedy, at least with Fikkert, McAllister and Biggerstaff, as well as thousands of others, a sense of resiliency is reborn.

“There are so many lessons. I was just reminded I’m not in control. None of us are,” McAllister said. “You would think I would be more fearful, but it’s been the opposite. I had more resolve to go back. You just can’t live your life in fear.”

In the immediate aftermath, Biggerstaff and McAllister each confronted her own mortality. The trio of women are devout Christians, and all three came to the same conclusion: Death they did not fear.

“It was the process of dying that I realized is what I was afraid of,” said Biggerstaff, who is married and has one son. “I know if I die I’m going to be in a good place. I’m at peace with that.”

McAllister figures she was not meant to finish — that she either slowed down or stopped at certain points along the race for a reason. In her mind, this was God’s work.

“I was supposed to be where I was. For some reason, He did choose to protect Toni, Chimene and myself that day,” McAllister said.

But why not others?

“I don’t know,” Biggerstaff said. “I have thought about that a lot, especially for the parents of the little boy who died. Why would someone do that? I did go through a phase of anger. I felt like I was under attack. How does someone do that? Why did this horrible thing happen to people? I cannot imagine losing a child in that way.”

These three runners have been repeatedly asked to share their stories. They recently traveled to Athens to speak to a group of social workers, police and firefighters and those who deal with victims of violence.

“I don’t think they were expecting a message of hope,” McAllister said. “The opportunity is there to help more people.”

Biggerstaff said this time she finds herself training for another marathon, not to set a PR (personal record), but for people, for spirit and for a cause.

“I’ve never trained as I have for a marathon,” she said. “I’m running for God. I’m running for the people of Boston, for the love of America. That good does win in the end.”

Among other things, McAllister is running to finish.

“I remember thinking on that last mile, ‘I can’t believe this dream is finally happening’ I was right there,” McAllister said. “There is no way I’m not finishing.”

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