Renae Goettel, an alumna who graduated from Trinity with a degree in communication and sociology in 2008, discovered her passion for running two years ago and has been beating the odds ever since. Goettel, who is legally blind, says she wanted to find a passion that she could “get something out of” and started running outdoors with a friend’s husband in 2011.
Two marathons, two half-marathons and a handful of 10Ks later, and the Seattle-based insurance broker headed to Boston last Thursday for the historic Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, Goettel, along with thousands of other runners, wasn’t able to finish the 26.2-mile race when two explosions occurred at approximately 2:50 p.m. near the finish line, killing three and injuring more than 170. Goettel was at mile marker 18 when the bombs went off. Here, she shares her experience with the Trinitonian.
Trinitonian: Why did you start running?
Goettel: I started running almost exactly two years ago in April and I was sort of in a weird place in my life. I didn’t have a job, I had moved home from San Antonio and I was trying to find something I enjoyed and that I could get something out of. I’m blind, and so I just started running on a treadmill, but then I started thinking I would love to find someone I could run with outside. A childhood friend’s husband was a runner, and I was talking to her about it, and she said “˜he’ll run with you!,’ and we’ve been running together ever since.
Q: Had you run a marathon before the Boston Marathon?
A: Yes, the Boston Marathon was my third full marathon. I ran my first in Seattle in June of 2012 and then I ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco also in 2012. I’ve also run two half marathons and a couple 10Ks.
Q: So why the Boston marathon?
A: I do a lot of speaking for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and I was giving a speech down in Phoenix. I was talking about my love for running and how it’s changed my health in terms of blood pressure, weight loss and so on, and I talked about how I feel stronger and that it’s great to find that thing that you really love and enjoy. After my speech, a man came up to me and and said “˜How would you feel about running the Boston Marathon?’ I started laughing and he asked me why I was laughing and I said, “˜Well, I’ll never qualify.’ He said, “˜I’ll train you’. I didn’t know him, but he called me a few months later and said, “˜I have your number for the 2013 Boston Marathon.’
Q: How did you train for the event?
Colin [my running partner] and I started training pretty seriously, but I got a stress fracture in my ankle and had to take some time off. When I was able to run again we had about five weeks until the marathon. We trained hard those last few weeks and then took a red eye to Boston last Thursday.
Q: How was the Boston Marathon different than the ones you’ve run in the past?
A: Well, the Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon besides, I think, the one that takes place in Marathon [Greece], the actual city. The Boston Marathon isn’t the largest, but I think it’s the history of the Boston Marathon and the city that makes it special. There were also people everywhere. There was something like 500,000 spectators, and so to be able to be a part of such an amazing event that so many people come out for is incredible. Physically, San Francisco was the hardest marathon I’ve run because of all of the hills and I had a different guide then. This one was tough in that I knew my foot wasn’t necessarily healed properly. It wasn’t broken at the beginning, but it got worse the longer I ran. I probably ran on a broken foot for 10 miles and once I stopped, I couldn’t walk. But my cardio was really good, and I probably felt the strongest going into this marathon.
Q: What happened when the bomb went off? How did you hear about it?
Well, we were at the last corral of the last wave. The official start was at 10 a.m., and we didn’t cross the start line until 10:55 a.m., so we were at mile 18, and I heard on a cop’s radio that there was an explosion, but I didn’t know what to take from that. We didn’t know if it was at Fenway, because there was a game going on or what. A couple minutes later we heard sirens and they were pushing us aside. Police opened a gate and let the cars pass through and then they closed the gate and we kept running. At about mile 21, they directed us to the side again. This time 10-15 undercover cop cars come speeding down the course. We were 4-5 miles out and they weren’t telling us anything so we kept running and we ended up making it to mile 25.5. There, Colin’s sister, who was watching us, jumped over the barricade and told us they weren’t going to let us finish. We went until we saw barricades because we didn’t know what had happened and we didn’t know what to do or where to go. No one was giving us any directions. It was like controlled chaos and we were just standing around confused.
Q: What was your reaction when you heard the news?
When we saw his sister and she confirmed there had been an explosion at the finish line I asked, “˜So were not safe where we’re at?’ and she said “˜Probably not.’ So I said, “˜Let’s get to the hotel. We just have to be able to get out of where we’re at.’ At that time I had so many mixed feelings and there were so many different things being said. You didn’t know what to believe, but we knew something really bad had happened. We had heard people lost limbs, but we didn’t know if people had been killed or not. We walked a mile back to the hotel. Police were everywhere. We showered, found food and then just watched the news and talked to our families for the rest of the night. The three of us just wanted to be together.
Q: Then what happened? How did you get home?
We had to go to New York and then to New Jersey to fly home. The whole week was surreal. Once I got home, I went to the doctor for my foot, but all of that seemed minor compared to what we had just went through. I don’t know if I’ve experienced all of what I’m going to experience yet. I think I’m still a little in shock from it. It’s amazing though how strong people come together and reach out and offer anything they can to help you get out of the situation. I had people that I hadn’t talked to in years sending me emails, Facebook message, texts, just asking if I was okay and if there was anything they could do””it was overwhelming, but really touching.
Q: Do you think you’ll go back?
Colin, my running partner, jokes that we have unfinished business so we have to go back, and, yeah, I think if we were given that opportunity, I would. I think that would mean some closure emotionally. At the time, I was exhausted and had just ran 25.5 miles and there was a part of me that was like “˜Oh my god, I didn’t get to finish,’ but I know that was the least of our worries. We don’t have a finish time, so the officials don’t know if you finished under your time and can qualify again so I don’t know how they’re going to go about doing that. But I’ve never been the kind of person that says, “˜Because something like that happened, I don’t want to go back to Boston’–of course I want to go back! But I also want to go to Chicago and run a marathon there and I want to run the New York marathon. I hope my body can still focus on those.
Q: How do you think this event will change marathons in the future?
You learn from things like this””security wise, and there are so many lessons that will come out of this. It will change the way big marathons are organized, in terms of participation, spectators, etc. It will change in the way that 9/11 changed the way we travel. It’s sad that’s what it takes, it takes someone so crazy to think of something like this, and it’s so overwhelming and so unfortunate and very, very tragic that so many people had to experience this, but we won’t stop running. It’s something a lot of people didn’t think I can do as a blind person, and people still don’t believe it, but I say just because I can’t see doesn’t mean I can’t run. I love it too much.