Despite the hurt, they’d go back: two Elk River teachers’ Boston stories

Tina Ostroot was photographed by her husband at the Boston Marathon starting line on Sunday.

Tina Ostroot, Lincoln Elementary first-grade teacher, was photographed by her husband at the Boston Marathon starting line Sunday.

 

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

Two Elk River teachers who ran the Boston Marathon on Monday saw it turn from one of the best days of their lives into a day of infamy in American sports history.

However, scary as it was, both Tina Ostroot and Theresa Lensing vowed they would not let the terrorist bombs that killed three and injured more than 170 prevent them from returning.

“This was going to be my last marathon,” said Ostroot, who used her 50th birthday last year as motivation to qualify for Boston, “but this is not the way I’d want to end it.  I don’t know if I’ll return, but I know I won’t let the bomb deter me. I would like the experience to be more positive.”

Lensing, 41, who’s run in more than 50 marathons, including in Boston 15 years ago, had the same sentiments.

“This was supposed to be my last Boston Marathon, but I’ll do it one more time. I feel like I should, just to honor it.”

Lensing finished 30 minutes ahead of the bombs, and Ostroot was about 14 minutes prior.
Ostroot said she wasn’t fearful that something else would happen, but profoundly sad.

“There was such a change, from when I walked away from the finish line, the sheer joy and excitement, the feeling of accomplishment, to the feeling at the end of the chute, when we knew what was happening, and it was just sadness  then. It was a real rollercoaster.”

Lensing was struck by how rapidly euphoria turned to horror.

“I was thinking about how I’m running this historic Boston Marathon, and I am running with Olympic runners, and it’s supposed to be this great, symbolic, good thing, and instead it winds up being this horrific tragedy.”

Theresa Lensing was safe and sound and back at Room 258 at ERHS on Wednesday. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

ERHS English teacher Theresa Lensing was safe and sound and back at Room 258  on Wednesday. (Photo by Bruce Strand)

 

Lensing teaches senior high English, and Ostroot teaches first grade at Lincoln. They were among nine residents of Elk River, Otsego or Rogers  competing at Boston. The Star News interviewed Amy Visci and Katie Eberley by phone within a couple hours of the race Monday and posted a story at that time. Lensing and Ostroot were interviewed separately on Wednesday at their schools.

When you finish the race, Lensing said, you’re packed amidst thousands of runners meeting with friends and family, plus legions of marathon fans, and you proceed slowly through a chute to collect the duffel bags that contain your clothes.

After that, she and her husband were a block and a half away and were trying to cross a busy street  when they heard the explosions, then the frantic chatter on the radios of the many policemen on the street. Confusion, panic, fear set in.

“They immediately stopped the race and redirected runners (who hadn’t finished), but didn’t tell then where to go, and the runners didn’t know what to do, and they were frozen and cold, and didn’t have their stuff to change into.”

While thousands of runners were booked in hotels close to the finish line, the Lensings were staying in suburban Revere. They just wanted to leave, so despite having just run nearly 26 miles, they quickly walked about a mile to their parking ramp and drive to their hotel.

She blinked back tears pondering the nature of most of the injuries.

“It was all lower extremities,” she winced. “I can’t even imagine, what I would do without my legs.”

Lensing said her marathons have been smaller ones in recent years but she decided to qualify for a couple majors in the past six months — and both wound up being star-crossed. She was at the Empire State Building with a fellow runner on Nov. 3 when the New York Marathon was canceled because super storm Sandy was ravaging the east coast. And now this.

“My friend emailed me, ‘Between hurricanes and terroristic bombings, marathons are not going real well for you,’ ” she said grimly.

Lensing was back in Room 258 on Wednesday, with Monday’s events obviously a frequent topic. One student gave her a big hug, she said, and many expressed, “Thank God you’re safe.”

Ostroot’s first-graders had made posters for her. “One of them said, ‘We hope you win!’ I told them I hope just to finish. They said, ‘Well, get as close as you can then!’” — and they tracked her progress Monday on the Boston Marathon website. By the time the scary news came, they had gone home.

Ostroot was a two-time state cross country champion (1978 and 1979 at International Falls, as Tina Bahr) and All-American (at Idaho State). She prefers half-marathons for fun as an adult, but trained hard to earn a Boston trip last year and succeeded by qualifying at  Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth with 3:47. That was her sixth and best Grandma’s, between 1978 and 2012.

At Boston, she was just picking up her bags in the chute when she heard the first explosion from two blocks away.

“We turned and saw the smoke at the finish line. A few people were panicking, like, ‘Oh, my God, what is going on!’ and rushing to get out.”

She praised the many security people on hand — police, marathon volunteers, National Guard — who remained calm while directing traffic and keeping people moving.

Ostroot was able to make one call, to Lincoln, so she could let them know she was OK, before cellphone traffic ground to a halt, and she posted on Facebook, too.

Tina Ostroot (left) and Katie Eberley prior to the race.

Tina Ostroot (left) and Katie Eberley prior to the race.

Before the blasts, Ostroot said, the Boston Marathon “the most incredible experience I have ever had,” starting with Sunday’s events including shorter runs involving schoolchildren and a 5K run and a mile run (“one guy ran a 4:03!”) that got the whole community involved, and continuing with the exhilarating support and fanfare from the huge crowds in the communities they passed through.

“Even on Tuesday, people were stopping me on the street, asking if I would return to Boston,” she said. “I told them I would vacation in Boston  with my family.”

Area Boston participants

About one-third of the 23,000 runners were stopped prior to the finish when the bombs were detonated. For the record, all nine Star News area contestants finished.
Sam Tabaka, 33, and Tracy Sabaka, 32, of Rogers, in the wheelchair division that took place in the morning, finished in 2:13 and 2:51, respectively.

Jeff Rapacz, 41, of Otsego, finished in 3:20. Amy Visci, 38, of Elk River, finished in 3:34, as did Theresa Lensing, 34, of Elk River. Other women from the area were Katie Eberly, 38, Elk River (3:43); Tina Ostroot, 51, Elk River (3:49); Joni Busch, 46, Rogers (3:50), and Lynette Catapano, 50, of Otsego (3:51).

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