Cross-country relay coming to area

The physics involved in the explosion of two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon last year played out instantaneously – but the psychological reverberations linger.

Pennsylvania native George Stephans is a high-energy nuclear physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has run previous Boston Marathons – albeit with charity-run waivers for qualifying times.

Those terrorist bombs had emotional impact on Stephans, not least because they killed and maimed spectators there cheering for ordinary runners like him.

So just as he did last year, Stephans will run in a Pennsylvania leg of One Run for Boston, a cross-country relay to raise money for the victims of the bombing – except this year, he’ll be the main runner for the only all-Blair County leg, Duncansville to Canoe Creek, slated for Wednesday morning.

“I feel a real bond for those anonymous people,” said Stephans of the spectators victimized by the bombs at the finish line about four hours after the start of the race, after he hastened to explain that his work is basic research, smashing atomic particles together “to see what happens” – and has nothing to do with bombs.

Those people provide a 26-mile “wall of sound,” and it makes a big difference “for somebody like me,” he said.

While Stephans was not at the marathon last year, he was headed into MIT in the immediate aftermath of the marathon bombers’ shooting of an MIT policeman.

He and others came out of the subway and into a scene of police lights and SWAT teams with guns and dogs.

“It was not sort of an abstract thing, like watching something on the news,” he said.

For the Boston area, the marathon is “a big deal, a really big deal,” he said.

And the bombing was “like somebody came and spray painted a beautiful piece of art,” he said. “Spoiled it.”

Still, there wasn’t much someone like him could do.

Until One Run for Boston came about last year.

It was being “done on a shoestring,” he said.

“No one was sure it would work and not be a fiasco,” he said.

“But it seemed like something really big and maybe just a little bit crazy,” he said.

It was appealing “just to do something, to be a part of something bigger than myself,” he said.

Tina Kuntsbeck, wellness and race director at the Hollidaysburg YMCA, ran the Boston Marathon last year, finishing before the bombing, hearing the blast, but not fully realizing what had happened until she saw film clips as she and relatives and friends walked back to their hotel in the increasingly chaotic aftermath.

Last year’s One Run “helped me kind of close some feelings I had, that I didn’t realize I had,” she said.

During the One Run – which she ran with fellow 2013 Boston Marathon participant Denise Claycomb – they chatted about what it had been like that day.

“We both kind of felt the same feelings,” she said. “Just so … vulnerable.”

For months after the marathon, she had reacted to loud noises, sirens and helicopters.

“So this year, I didn’t think twice,” when One Run became One Run the second, she said.

Jason Williamson is also doing One Run again.

Last year, he accompanied the GPS-equipped baton down from Cresson down old Route 22 for the handoff in Duncansville.

This year, he’s the main runner taking the baton from Ebensburg to Cresson.

Last year, as one of about a dozen runners on that leg, “we were just pushing, trying to get the baton on its way,” he said. “You kind of lost yourself in the moment.”

“Can’t wait to do it again,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.