By Chris Maza
BOSTON – One year ago, East Longmeadow native Katherine Pyrek had a glimpse of the carnage and chaos created by the tragic bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon few else did. She also saw and helped prove that the best in people can show itself in the darkest times.
Pyrek was between Boylston Street, on which the marathon concludes, and Newbury Street, which runs parallel to Boylston, when the explosions occurred on April 15, 2013. As a charge nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), she also spent the next three days at the Blake 12 Intensive Care Unit tending to the victims and their families.
“I really can’t describe one memory from last year; it’s more of a jumbled memory,” she said. “I remember the awe of our patient’s faces when they learned President [Barack] Obama was coming to our unit to meet the staff and victims. I remember pain on our patient’s faces during dressing changes. Most of all, I remember our unit coming together as one solid team that could not be broken that week.”
Roughly a year later, Pyrek finished her first Boston Marathon on April 21, honoring those who died or had their lives forever altered by the event, while also raising money for pediatric cancer research.
“At the end of the week, while the city was on lockdown [during the search for bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev], I had a feeling I can’t describe and I knew I was going to run this year,” she said. “I did this for my city that I love, for my patients, for the innocent lives that have been effected by pediatric cancer.”
As a charge nurse that fateful week a year ago, Pyrek explained that she was able to lend extra support to the victims, their families and the nurses working diligently to care for them.
“The teamwork and courage that every nurse exhibited was flawless in such a tragic time,” she said.
That teamwork was on display once again during the months that followed as Pyrek was one of six nurses form the Blake 12 ICU to take part in the first running of the iconic race since the terrorist attack. While training and preparing, they leaned on each other for support, much like they did in the days following the bombing.
“Training was difficult at times but amazing overall. The winter was brutal but I’ve never felt so strong and healthy in my life,” Pyrek said. “I could not have gotten through this marathon without the help of the five nurses I work with. We shared group texts and emails to keep us all motivated, discuss injuries and provide support. It was great to look to Meredith [Salony], one of the nurses I work with who qualified, for tips and tricks. Although we did not train together, there was never a moment where each of us didn’t feel supported.”
Pyrek said in addition to her personal goal of fulfilling a “bucket list” item and honoring her patients, she also had the motivation of knowing that she was running for another noble cause.
“I knew I wanted to run with MGH to give back. MGH marathon team supports pediatric cancer and research and I could not think of a better charity to run for,” she said. “I was so honored to meet the little lives all the donations touched.”
In the weeks and days leading up to the marathon, the magnitude and effectiveness of new security measures was a topic of conversation everywhere from the office water cooler to national cable news outlets, but never for a second did Pyrek question her decision to participate.
“I had no doubt in my mind I wanted to run this year and I put full faith in my city that they would keep all of us safe,” she said.
With nearly flawless weather, a record number of participants and possibly the largest crowd of spectators in the race’s history, the 118th running of the Boston Marathon went off without a hitch. Pyrek crossed the blue and gold finish line after keeping her legs churning for 4:51:55.
She credited the hard work of all of the law enforcement officers and agencies in keeping everyone safe, while contributing to the festive atmosphere of the day.
“The atmosphere was amazing. The support was outstanding,” she said. “My favorite part of the run was seeing all the police officers – dressed in uniform, working, cheering us on, giving us high fives and yelling our names.”