'Human spirit' still alive in Boston

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Story highlights

  • Strangers help strangers after blasts leave racers stranded
  • Telephone donation leads Starbucks to give away coffee, pastries
  • Businesswoman changes plans, volunteers to belatedly give out race medals

In the hours after two explosions ripped through Boylston Street just feet from the finish line of Monday's Boston Marathon, people across the city rallied around each other, showing, as one runner said, "the human spirit is still alive."

At a Starbucks across from the Westin Copley Place, a hotel filled with out-of-town marathoners, manager Sol Elta and his staff set up an impromptu feeding table offering free coffee and pastries to anyone walking by. The idea was sparked by a woman in Philadelphia who called the store and offered to donate $100 worth of coffee and pastries to people affected by the bombing.

"I was shocked," Elta said. "I thought it was an organization. I thought it was Starbucks corporate. It turned out to be just some citizen who wanted to find somewhere close and be a helping hand."

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Technically, the store was closed. Train station closures made it difficult for staff to get to work and police barricades made it virtually impossible for customers to enter. But Elta and his management team opened the store on their own time to feed and caffeinate passersby.

"Instead of doing a little bit of what we had, we're doing everything that we had in the store based on what Starbucks wants to contribute and based on her contribution as well," Elta said.

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Those enjoying the shop's offerings included many of the thousands of runners who were stopped short of finishing the race. Wearing running gear or branded Boston Marathon jackets, many wandered up to police barricades where early in the day volunteers checked bib numbers and handed out finishing medals.

Luis Cuan and Jaime Herrera flew from Guadalajara, Mexico, to run the marathon, but were stopped just short of the finish line when the bombs went off. When the police diverted the two men away from the buses that carried their personal belongings, they were wearing only running clothes.

"It was freezing," Cuan said. "But many people came out of their houses, some of them were filming us, but many of them were offering water, many of them were offering jackets. We both had pants and a jacket that were given to us just 'cause those people felt that we were in the need of some support."

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After walking for hours they eventually made it back to their hotel, but they didn't receive their marathon medals.

When the pair left their hotel on Tuesday to explore the city, they met a man who told them they could collect their medals at a police checkpoint on Clarendon Street. One of the women at the checkpoint hanging medals around runners' necks was volunteer Kathy LeClair from Chester, New Hampshire.

LeClair hadn't planned on being a part of the marathon. An employee of TD Bank, LeClair had come to Boston on Monday afternoon to attend a corporate training class on Tuesday.

"My hotel room looked out over everything that happened," said LeClair, who was checking into her room just as the bombs exploded. "I just couldn't go to class today. I just couldn't focus and so I decided to walk around until I found a place that needed a volunteer."

A police detective eventually directed LeClair to the offices of the Boston Athletic Association, where she was handed a marathon jacket and led to a police barricade. There, LeClair spent the morning greeting and hugging runners who had been affected by the bombing.

"I've seen every emotion," LeClair said. "I've seen men cry. I saw a man who didn't want to take a medal because he didn't feel he deserved it."

One runner told LeClair he was a military veteran who had served time in Iraq as a medic.

"He didn't have his (bib) number because it was covered in blood and he threw it away," LeClair said.

"He went to help people and he was totally covered in blood," LeClair said, recounting his story. "He had his bag but he didn't have a medal, and he didn't think he was going to get one and when I gave it to him he cried. That was so touching."

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By noon on Tuesday, the city's response efforts had become more organized, and the BAA began directing all runners in search of closure in the form of finishing medals to the Park Plaza Castle on Columbus Avenue.

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Hundreds of runners streamed in and out of the Castle, where the city had set up a makeshift resource center for those scattered by the blasts. Belinda Osborne wiped tears from her eyes as she emerged with a medal around her neck.

"I was crossing the finish line and about to receive my medal right when the bomb went off," said Osborne, who flew in from Salt Lake City to run her first Boston Marathon. "I heard the explosion and right when the guy was about to hand me my medal he said, 'That's not supposed to happen.'"

She rushed away from the finish line with no cell phone and no money in search of the two friends she had coaxed into running alongside her. After a fall ended their race, Osborne's friends jumped ahead to cheer her on at a restaurant near the finish line.

"They were one table left of the blast. Where they were sitting, if I would've passed 10 seconds later, they would've been in the blast, because they got up to leave and the blast went off," Osborne said. "And that's where ground zero was, and the dead bodies and the blood."

After waiting for more than an hour at the family waiting area, she made her way back to her room at the Copley Marriott just in time to grab her purse and cell phone before the building was evacuated. During the evacuation a man stranded outside his hotel with nothing came up to her to ask for help.

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"I gave him $20," Osborne said. "He e-mailed me last night and he said, 'I'm going to repay you. Give me your address.' I said, don't even worry about it. It's just the human spirit. I know anybody would've done the same thing for me. I've never felt so helpless just not having any money, I don't even know the city. It's just amazing how everybody came together."

Until the finish, Osborne said the race was the best she marathon had ever run.

"I was coming through the finish line and hitting people's hands," Osborne said. "I stopped and had a beer on mile 22. It was so great and so electric."

Despite being visibly shaken by her experience on Monday, she vowed she'll be back.

"I'm not going to let them scare me away," Osborne said. "That's what they want. I'm going to come back."

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