The scene of one Boston Marathon explosion just before the bombs went off, as captured by the Pings.
Ryan and Megan Ping were pushing themselves. Running faster than usual, taking in the colorful fanfare that is the Boston Marathon. Their third year at the marathon, the two were exhausted with the effort, and Ryan said the couple wondered if they were going to make it — whether they'd start walking or quit.
If they had, things might have turned out differently, because the couple's three children and Megan's parents Dale and Mary Dennis were waiting near the finish line, just feet from where the first explosion turned the bright and happy day into a nightmare.
Winonan Nathan Wohlfeil had just left the finish line, too. After injuring his foot, he didn't run the marathon, and instead cheered a friend on until around hour three of the race. He limped across the finish line area just 20 minutes before the bombs went off.
Wohlfeil and the Pings, from nearby hotel rooms, watched as the city around them erupted in turmoil following what some are calling an "act of terror." The two explosions killed three and injured at least 140, and thousands since have recounted the close calls, the shock, while millions across the country have raced to contact friends and family members to ensure they made it out safely.
All of the Winona-area residents who attended the Boston Marathon appear to have avoided injury in the blasts, according to information given to the Winona Post by loved ones of attendees.
Wohlfeil and the Pings still feel the shock of the tragedy; all arrived back in Winona on Tuesday.
Ryan described the chaos that unfolded following the explosions. He and his family found out about the explosions from his sister's sister-in-law, who was near the finish line when the bombs went off, and immediately called the family to let them know what was going on. "Immediately there were sirens everywhere, a feeling of chaos," Ryan explained. Special forces officers lined the streets toting machine guns and body armor, streets were shutdown, hotels put on lockdown. Ryan said the family turned on the television for a few minutes to see the news, but quickly turned it off and focused on keeping their children calm. "We took the kids into a separate room and talked to them about it, asked if they had any questions," he described. "And we all prayed for the victims." They brought the kids — Grace, 9; Lauren, almost 8; and Jamison, 5 — to the hotel pool to help them recover from the frightening day.
Wohlfeil and his friends stayed glued to the television, trying to sort out what had happened. Both the Pings and Wohlfeil, because of the chaos on the streets, did not stray from their hotels that evening.
"It really hit home when you see people walking next to you with bandages all over their heads," recounted Wohlfeil, whose hotel was just two blocks from the site of the explosions. Having attended the last two Boston Marathons, Wohlfeil, who is a personal trainer at Snap Fitness and also works at Wenonah Canoe, said the atmosphere following the violence Monday was dark. "It's supposed to be such a happy time," he said. "Everybody was so somber. Everybody was kind of in shock."
Ryan agreed. "We feel absolutely terrible for those people who were affected," he said. "It's also terrible for the event and for future events of this kind." The close call with the children so near the site, he said, still feels surreal. "We're sure glad we toughed it out, because if we had walked or quit, our kids would have probably been at the finish line during the explosion."