Adrienne Wald, director of the undergraduate nursing program at UMass Boston, is an avid runner and a veteran of more than a dozen marathons. When a holiday skiing injury forced her out of this year’s Boston race, she chose another way to participate.
She took her students to the Boston Marathon.
“I thought it would be a really great experience,” she said last week in an interview at her office in the Science Center. Wald gathered 29 students from the College of Nursing and Health Sciences to join the Boston Athletic Association’s marathon “sweep teams,” groups of volunteers who give aid to runners in distress.
Sweep teams are trained to help marathoners fix common problems—cramps, blisters, dehydration—or direct them to medical tents if their troubles are more serious.
The UMass Boston group gathered at 7:30 a.m. on Marathon Monday and worked steadily throughout the day, caring for athletes from all over the world who come to conquer Boston’s treacherous course. As the race passed the four-hour mark, the students prepared for throngs of runners who were nearing the finish line.
Then the unthinkable happened: One of the world’s premier sporting events, held on a picturesque spring day in Boston, became a theater for unimaginable horror.
After two bombs tore through the crowd, some students rushed into the chaos to help those injured in the explosion. Others focused on caring for runners with more predictable injuries, who were at risk of being forgotten amid the bloodshed.
All the while, the professors and students looked out for one another. Wald and senior lecturer Kattie Kafel, the faculty co-adviser for the Marathon trip, scanned the crowd for new white hats they had distributed to members of the UMass Boston group.
In the end, every member of the CNHS volunteer team was found safe. As authorities cleared the scene, many of the students went to Wald’s Beacon Hill apartment to watch the news and discuss what they had seen.
Soon their bravery in the face of tragedy was a matter of public record—their faces in USA Today and the Boston Herald and on TV stations across the country. Here’s how they described their experiences.
“We didn’t know if we were all going to die. It was pretty terrifying. We just didn’t know what was going to happen next. And yet there was like this eerie calm, too.
-Wald, speaking to The Westchester County Journal News, from her hometown of Rye, New York.
“One of [the students] had to climb over someone. ... It was pretty horrific. It was a gruesome scene.”
-Wald in USA Today
“The situation I saw today wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen before. There was smoke, you know, a woman’s clothing was on fire. People were patting her shirt. You could see the burns.”
-Nursing student Spencer Gilfeather, a former Marine, who rushed into the crowd to help injured spectators after the bombs exploded. He spoke to News 12 Westchester.
“They did what they were trained to do. Instead of running away, they ran to help.”
- Wald to Fox 25 Boston.
Like many New Yorkers, Wald's memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center remained vivid a dozen years later, and Wald said she immediately thought of 9/11 -- but not with the detachment of someone watching the images from a safe distance.
-New York Newsday article
“I would say that our resolve should be to continue the Boston Marathon, and not let terrorists or lunatics dictate our way of life.”
-Gilfeather to News 12 Westchester.
“I am so proud to be a nurse and so proud of the students that we're producing here. …They're going to be wonderful nurses and they did with their training what they could do.”
-Wald to Medscape
Wald was also asked to write a commentary piece in the American College of Sports Medicine, Sports Medicine Bulletin entitled, "Tragedy, Commitment, and Hope in Boston: In-Person Sports Medicine Perspectives on the Bombing in the Boston Marathon."
The 30 nursing and exercise and health sciences students who volunteered for Marathon sweep teams, along with faculty Adrienne Wald and Katie Kafel, are: Esayas Abraham, Sandra Barbosa Vicente, James Boyns, Irina Callahan, Andrew Castro, XueFen Chen, Megan Croake, Tiffany Diep, Kristin Dovan, Ksenia Dunn, Jillian Fagan, Sarah Gasse, Spencer Gilfeather, Cliff Haas, Jaime Halliday, Mary Ho, Hali Kovich, Ann Phuong Le, Christine Marino, Monika Mruk, Leah Ottenstein, Tracy Paris, Angela Pasqualone, Sarah Riad, Stephanie Shain, Melinda Sudbury, Stacey Tosado, Caitlyn Valanzola, Adrienne Wald, Katie Wohlgemuth, and Nelson Huezo.