A year after tragedy, area runners back in Boston race

Demi Knight Clark, who has received national attention for being among the last finishers as the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, moved from Charlotte to Mount Pleasant last July.

Nearly three dozen Charleston area residents are among the 250 South Carolinians who today will experience running one of the most important races in the history of the most famous marathon in the world.

The much-anticipated, 118th Boston Marathon. It will be like none other - an emotional journey bound to roll as much as the course does for the 26.2 miles from the quaint town of Hopkinton, Mass., to the bustling metropolis of Boston - to honor those killed and injured in last year's terrorist bombings and to reclaim the joy and glory of one of America's greatest sporting events.

The Palmetto State's contingent will join 36,000 other runners - the largest field since Boston's 100th anniversary in 1996 - as well as 10,000 volunteers, 3,500 law enforcement officers and a crowd estimated at 1 million and millions more watching from afar on TV and streaming online.

Many locals in Boston have their own stories of perseverance to tell, perhaps the most well-publicized being that of Charlotte transplant Demi Knight Clark.

The 37-year-old, who moved with her family to Mount Pleasant's Park West subdivision in July 2013, was among the last runners to cross the finish line as the first bomb blew up. While the blast damaged her left ear drum, Clark was otherwise left physically unscathed amid the broken glass, debris and blood.

Images seconds after the blast show her begging police officers to see her husband Brian Clark and their two daughters Maizie and Lola, now ages 10 and 7, who were seated in the VIP grandstand (a privilege gained by Clark being among the top 100 charity fundraisers) at the finish line.

Her family also didn't suffer physical injuries, but all suffered from emotional trauma from the event. Demi Clark's journey back to Boston has been chronicled in the Boston Globe's 23-minute documentary "5 Runners," by National Public Radio in interviews and blogging by eight different runners titled "Running Toward Boylston," and most recently by "The Sporting News."

Clark said the bombing was a life-changing event, helping to spur the move to Charleston and a change of jobs. And while recovering from the incident is a work in progress, she quickly realized the importance of sharing her journey with others.

"If my story inspires someone to overcome difficulties, such as the loss of a loved one or an addiction, or to take on new challenges, I feel like I've done my job," Clark said.

Several other locals are returning to Boston not only to show solidarity with the victims, other runners and the Boston community, but also to finish something they didn't get to last year.

Running buddies Gary Melville, 69, of Mount Pleasant, and Lisa Deaton, 49, of the Isle of Palms, were nearing the final miles of the race when they starting seeing ambulances rushing to the finals and several helicopters flying above.

Melville and Deaton, along with about 5,000 others, were soon stopped, informed that "the marathon was over," and held in the vicinity, with no warm clothes or food, for three hours before being allowed to leave.

When they were allowed to retrieve their belongings, they could see the devastation down the street.

For six months after, Deaton had no plans to return to run Boston. Besides the incident, marathon training had been hard on her body. In 2007, she had a bicycling accident in the mountains of North Carolina that left her with a partially degloved face, broken back and clavicle and nine broken ribs.

The plates and screws that patched her together and remain in her body often hurt while running.

But Melville, who had vowed that last year's marathon would be his last, did. After all, despite getting a marathon finisher's medal, he didn't finish.

"Gary wanted me to go back with him because it wouldn't be the same. We started a journey (to qualify for and run Boston) together and we haven't finished it yet," said Deaton, who also vows today's marathon will be her last.

Richard Blalock, 61, of Mount Pleasant is such an avid, life-long runner that in April 2009 - after severe arthritis in his right ankle prevented him from competing - he had surgery to remove his lower leg. Modern prosthetics allowed him to run again.

He not only is able to run but also to qualify to run the Boston Marathon. He was qualified in 2012, but while running at the Mount Pleasant Municipal Complex track, a child stepped in front of him and he suffered a knee injury.

Luckily for him, the 2012 marathon was so dangerously hot that officials offered those who didn't want to run a deferment for 2013. Blalock took it.

But like Melville and Deaton, he was stopped along Commonwealth Avenue and recalls the confusion.

"I got stopped at about 25.5. It was just before the underpass, 200 meters west of that," Blalock said. "We didn't know what was happening. Finally someone with a cellphone said there were bombings. And then shortly after that, someone said people were killed."

Blalock managed to get one text message - "I'm OK" - out to his wife, Jen, who had watched him run up Heartbreak Hill.

He hopes that his third attempt at Boston will be a charm.

Charleston City Councilman and avid runner Michael Seekings, 54, is a veteran of the Boston Marathon, completing his fifth one in 2011.

Seekings was registered to run Boston last year but was injured.

His name remained on the registration list, so when the bombs went off last year people were concerned.

"And the minute it happened my phone lit up with texts and cell messages because it showed me as having started," said Seekings, who was sitting in Police Chief Greg Mullen's office when the bombings took place.

"After I learned what happened, I immediately knew I wanted to be there (this year) in support of the running community and Boston. It was a no-brainer for me."