The Fallen Man

Washington native Bill Iffrig, 78, was just feet away from one of the Boston Marathon explosions. (Getty Images)

Washington native Bill Iffrig, 78, was just feet away from one of the Boston Marathon explosions. (Getty Images)

In the video that seemed to be in endless loop on ESPN this afternoon, you can see a man in what looks like an orange-colored singlet, running near the gutter along Boylston Street, approaching the finish line of the Boston Marathon. He looks like he might be kind of old. He has covered more than 26 miles at that point, and is almost done. He has worked very hard to get to there, probably having run some 400 miles in the last few months, probably through some cold and ice (Boston being a spring marathon and not caring that the training weather in the months leading up to it is less than ideal). He probably had a few mind-numbingly long treadmill sessions under his belt, too. Aches and pains. Missed parties and movies, all in the name of training.

The finish line is in sight. Finally. He’ll be able to stop. Some nice volunteers will give him a bottle of water, an apple, maybe a cheese stick and a bag of potato chips, all designed to speed his recovery after such a long run. They’ll wrap him in a silver blanket to hold in the heat, and he’ll totter off on legs as stiff as stovepipes to meet his family, maybe his kids and grandkids, who will ooh and aah over his finisher’s medal.

He’s been out there more than four hours. Four hours is a long time to do anything, let alone run up and down deceptively steep hills along the marathon’s course. He’s almost done. His goal is in sight. Given the speed he’s running, there’s a good chance he was running to raise money for a charity. Boston’s rigorous qualifying standards are suspended for charity fundraisers who tend to be long in dedication and shorter in speed. So it could be this guy is out there helping out sick kids, or honoring someone — maybe a friend or spouse — who’s died.

He’s running. He’s almost done. And then he goes down. A shock wave, or maybe a piece of glass or shrapnel, causes his legs to buckle and he drops like a sack of sand. All around him people keep running. They turn and look, but they keep running. Because if ever there were a good time to run, and run away, it would be at that moment. But running is what they know. So they run. Because how could they even comprehend what has just happened, that a bomb went off during something as benign, as playful, as peaceful as a marathon? It defies logic.

The old guy goes down. And the video I saw stops. Right there. He’s down. So close. What happens? Does he get up and run? Is he one of the grievously wounded? Did he die? I wonder. I have to know.

(Turns out his name is Bill Iffrig, 78 years-old, and — thank goodness — he’s fine, aside from a minor knee scrape. In fact, he even crossed the finish line with help from officials. “Just the shock from the blast was the only damage,” he said.)

Warning: Video is graphic

I ran the Boston Marathon in 2002. As a charity runner, raising money for research into Parkinson’s Disease. My mother, a swimmer as strong as she was tough, was withering from the disease. So I ran to honor her. To help her. I finished in a bit more than four hours. My wife, pregnant with twins, and my one year old son waited for me just past the finish line. With my sister and brother-in-law. My family. Maybe 100 yards from where that bomb went off.

I was that guy in the orange-colored singlet. I had stove-piped legs. I ran by the gutter on Boylston Street. My knees were buckling.

It could have been me.

It could have been any of us.

I grew up in Boston. Going to the 11am game at Fenway on Patriots Day, then cheering the leaders through Kenmore Square. I walked down Boyslton Street hundreds of times, from the Dog House to the Public Library, literally hundreds of times before I ever ran down it.

I grew up in Boston. You can hear it in my voice when I’m tired or have had too much wine, or when I’m mad.

Tonight, you can hear it in my voice.

20 thoughts on “The Fallen Man

  1. Thank you so much for writing that. I saw this “endless loop” as you called it and couldn’t get this guy out of my mind. Who is he? Is he all right? What happened? And yes, I couldn’t help but wonder if he actually finished! I saw this in my hotel after work, but couldn’t think of anything else as I ate my dinner in the hotel restaurant. Now I know. Great article. Thank you.

  2. Well written Steve. I’ve done 4 marathons, none since ’04 and never tried Boston. I’d have been way behind you if I had.
    This afternoon has me thinking about trying for Boston ’14. Just because of Boston ’13.

  3. Thank you! The best and most personal account to bring us into the street of the runner, the crowd, the “moment” of this race for the runners and in the face of the unbelievable events of this day. Families come together on this day to cheer their loved ones on….who have talked about this race all year long. Thankful that this runner was okay……thank you for being one of the runners once upon a time.

  4. And what about the innocent people (civilian women and children) killed daily by American drones and soldiers – going to write a poignant story about them, or retell their story with your special accent?
    Or do we only have sympathy with American victims?

    • Glad to know you’re the Judge of the earth. Was a little concerned that nobody would dictate what’s right and wrong, oh Self-Righteous One…

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight. It made it ever so much more real. So sad.

  6. Nicely written, thank you!
    I need to point out that a 78 year old man running a 4:08 marathon is not exactly chopped liver…it is extraordinary! Bill Iffrig holds just about every age group record available in the Northwest and just keeps on outpacing those anywhere near his age by very large margins. You are talking about a very finely tuned athlete.

  7. The guy gave an extensive interview on CNN last night. He seemed quite unaware of just how many people have seen the video of his fall.

  8. I am so relieved to know that he finished. Every time I watched the loop, I wondered if he ever made it across the finish.
    As for the angry comment by Anton, calling each other names is futile. I believe many ‘Americans’ wish our military would stop bombing innocent people. Even though we have the freedom to vote, it feels like we have so little control over the pointless and terrifying actions of our military. It is sad that many good people get labelled and put into categories that they don’t belong to or agree with.
    It is difficult to know what it’s like to be involved in a bomb or terror unless we’ve been in it ourselves. When it happens close to home, it becomes very real…not just another scene you see, or never get told about, on TV.
    7 billion different worlds happening at the same time…
    If only we could all practice more compassion…less “me”, more “we”…all humans, experiencing this gift of life as a humble team.
    Why the bombs? It doesn’t make any sense anywhere in the world.
    Thanks again for the article…and for all beings, I dedicate my efforts to YOU, to a life of peace and truth – free of suffering…Happiness.

    With Love,

  9. Just a note on Bill Iffrig (the man down in the orange Club Northwest singlet). I’ve run with Bill for years in the Seattle area and you could not pick a tougher old bird. He’s a dominant runner in his age group, has several national records, and has been a legend in the Masters running world for 30+ years. I’m not at all surprised he picked himself up and finished. I’m guessing he then pitched in and helped others. That’s the kind of guy he is.

  10. Thank you for sharing such an eloquently written story. Puts my mind and heart at rest knowing that runner was okay.
    May their be peace in this world for all human beings. And may the individuals and loved ones affected by this evil know that millions of people from around the world are praying for them.

  11. Steven, written from the heart of a Bostonian!!! Glad you and the family are all safe. It was a sad, sad day for Boston and the world! Xoxo

  12. Great article Steve. I, too, saw that endless loop video and the guy with the orange singlet. I thought that maybe he had a heart attack caused by the load explosion. I, too, wondered endlessly what happened to him. I also saw a still photograph of 3 police officers with gun drawn running past him. And I wondered if they stopped to help him. My questions were answered this morning while watching CBS This Morning and they showed the continuation of the video. Yes, the 3 police stopped to help him. He was okay. And I saw an interview he gave to CBS also. Praise God that he was okay. Praying for everyone involved in this horrific act of violence.