NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 22, 2013

Former Pentucket runner Stokes witnesses bombs, vows to run Boston

By Dan Guttenplan
Sports Editor

---- — Caitlin Stokes was near the finish line on the day of the Boston Marathon when the bombs exploded on Boylston Street.

The former Pentucket Regional High runner watching with her boyfriend, John Gulfoil, when the first bomb detonated to their left. A little more than 10 seconds later, another bomb detonated to her right.

Stokes, 27, made it out of Boston that day without needing any medical attention. After realizing how lucky she is, the Danvers Highlands Elementary speech pathologist vowed to run the Boston Marathon in 2014.

The Daily News recently caught up with Stokes as she prepares to run the Cape Cod Half Marathon this weekend.

What brought you to the finish line for this year’s Boston Marathon?

“I’ve gone every few years in the past. This year, I was actually there to see a friend from Newburyport (Eric Bowden). He’s also training for next year since they’re letting everybody who didn’t finish re-enter.”

Where were you watching the race?

“I was outside of the Tannery on Boylston. I was in the middle of the two bombs. The first went off to my left, and the second to the right.”

Did you know bombs were detonating?

“Initially, when the first one went off, I was with my fiance (John Gulfoil). I looked and saw a huge cloud of smoke. It seemed like a long time, but in reality it was only 10 seconds. Everybody looked at each other. We tried to rationalize it. I thought maybe a speaker blew or an electric fire started.”

Then you heard the second one?

“The second one went off. I remember a stunned silence. It was very quiet at first. People started screaming. We were frozen. I just stood there. I looked at (John), and said, ‘Do we need to get out of here.’ He was looking around. People started moving more. My best friend (Andrea Bolla) was across the street. We ended up walking toward the second blast because she was right across from it.”

Did you find her that day?

“Luckily, my phone call went through to her. We grew up in Groveland together.”

How did you get out of the city?

“We were parked in City Hall. My fiance works at City Hall. We were there for a while. We didn’t have any way out of the city, so we were there until 9 or so. My friend was able to pick me up. My boyfriend started working right away; he does press for the city.”

Did you understand what happened that day?

“I was in shock for a week or so. I started talking to people about it. I was restless and shaken up by it. I started running again two or three weeks after. I started talking to people I’d run with in the past. I started training to get a number. The interest is so much higher than in the past. People want to return after the bombing. I found out two weeks ago I was accepted to a team.”

What about what you witnessed made you want to return for next year’s race?

“I felt really attached to the marathon. I always wanted to do one. I never really had the will to do it. It was on my unwritten bucket list. I never really committed to it. After being there and feeling what I felt and seeing the things I saw — I wasn’t down there long — but I really felt it that day. Seeing the faces of people injured. I couldn’t get that out of my mind. We have to take back that street and part of the city they tried to steal from us.”

What’s your goal for the race?

“Realistically, I’d like to finish in four-and-a-half or five hours. For shorter distances, I’ve been doing 10-minute miles, but my mile pace will be slower than that for a marathon.”

To contribute to Stokes’ fundraising effort for the Liver Foundation, visit http://go.liverfoundation.org/site/TR/RunforResearch/RunforResearch?px=1859553&pg=personal&fr_id=3940.