Hollidaysburg YMCA leader counts blessings

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Tina Kunstbeck looked at her watch Monday morning and knew exactly where she was a week ago at that moment.

Kunstbeck, the Hollidaysburg YMCA’s wellness and race director, was riding a shuttle bus in Boston to the tented village, where runners loosen up in final preparation for the world’s most prestigious marathon.

The 38-year-old Altoona Area High School graduate and former professional cyclist (1998-2005) was running Boston for the first time, and she planned to enjoy it more than the two previous marathons she had run over the past year when she was “trying hard to qualify” and was more pre-occupied with her time than the scenery.

“Everybody I talked to said to soak everything in,” Kunstbeck, sipping some coffee, said. “When they lined us all up, it was a pretty amazing moment. The roar of the crowds when we started, the first couple miles, the reality of being in the Boston Marathon was a pretty surreal moment for me. Pretty cool.

“It’s definitely a special race. Just the pride of the people. There were only two-three spots I don’t remember seeing people, and the next thing you know you’re in another town, and everybody’s outside cheering, grilling food and making it such a special event.”

Kunstbeck was running alongside close friend Jayme Orr. The two hung together for the first 20-plus miles before “I gave her the thumbs-up,” Kunstbeck said, to go ahead and they’ll catch up at the finish line.

“I wasn’t feeling that great so I was afraid to push it,” Kunstbeck said, “but, fortunately, Jayme felt good so I wanted to keep up with her.”


Kunstbeck completed the race in 3:54.14 – 10 minutes before the first bomb went off near the finish line. Fate certainly smiled on her, Orr and others with local ties who participated.

With 23,000-plus runners in the field, the event is supremely organized. Kunstbeck said runners are funneled a few blocks beyond the finish line, where they are flowed into a changing area and supplemented with food and drinks.

Her son, Dima, and Orr’s boyfriend, Donnie Rhodes, had been tracking the runners’ progress via technology and were supposed to join them near the finish line. That’s when Kunstbeck heard a “loud” noise, but “I couldn’t imagine it was a bomb.”

She called Dima’s cell phone, and Rhodes answered.

“Donnie’s voice was concerned,” Kunstbeck said. “He asked if we were close by.”

When they all united, “Everybody was looking over at the direction of the finish line, even though you couldn’t see it,” Kunstbeck said.

A policeman mentioned that a bomb went off. The local contingent left quickly and balked at riding public transit. Cabs were full so they walked four miles to their hotel. Only when they passed a bar-restaurant with people crowded around the TV “did we realize how bad it was and how close it was to our finishing,” Kunstbeck said.

At that point, she called home to her husband, Dusty, and her parents (Ted and Joan Skelley), who had been watching on TV after a concerned friend alerted them.

“I was glad I was able to get through,” Kunstbeck said, “because after that, you couldn’t call out [because of cell traffic].”

Kunstbeck was back in her role as director of the Bud Shuster race on Saturday. Nearly 400 runners turned out, and a moment of silence for the Boston victims was held.

“There were people who came up before the race,” Kunstbeck said, “and gave me a hug.”

The Hollidaysburg YMCA was obviously concerned about her.

“We were all shocked and anxious that Tina was OK,” YMCA Executive Director Tom Kopriva said. “It brought us all together.”

Watching the wall-to-wall coverage in the week since and receiving well wishes, including many from veterans, Kunstbeck has run the gamut of emotions, especially considering her son was also at the finish line.

“I feel like one minute I’m fine, and the next minute I think about the other people and how close we were,” she said. “We realized how in 10 minutes our life could have changed. We just thank God.”

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.