St. Gregory’s University track coach Matt Aguero, who completed Monday’s Boston Marathon, relied on instinct and adrenaline as he and others, amongst chaos, walked three miles to escape Boston after two explosions occurred near the finish line.
Aguero finished the race with a time of 2 hours, 36 minutes and 19 seconds, and was enjoying activities of the event until everything went awry. He, along with his mother, MaryAnn, a marathon volunteer, and a group of friends, were about a block away from the finish line when they heard the first blast.
“My first thought was that it sounded like a cannon,” he said. “But I turned around and there was way too much smoke.”
A few seconds later, he heard the second blast.
“I was pretty positive it was bombs going off,” Aguero said, “I knew I needed to get myself, mother and others out of there.”
Despite being exhausted from the 26.2-mile marathon, he said adrenaline and instinct took over.
“We started heading the opposite direction — I didn’t know where we were going, but we were going opposite of the finish line,” he said. “I had my mother...it was scary and I wanted to get her to safety.”
With so much uncertainty about what was happening, their safety was his top priority, he said. They made it about five to six blocks and tried to get a taxi, but there were none.
Their only choice was to keep walking.
A member of their group had a friend in Cambridge, so they headed that way.
“We ended up walking three miles to get to the woman’s apartment,” he said, adding there were hundreds of people walking across the bridge connecting Boston to Cambridge.
“She welcomed me in and gave me a hug…we were all shook up and three of us had just run a marathon,” he said. “Our legs were pretty trashed.”
The woman, named Leslie, he remembers, gave them a safe place to stay, along with food and water.
“I honestly didn’t feel safe until we got there,” he said. “She was like an angel for us.”
Another member of their group later called a friend for a ride, which eventually got them all back to where they were staying, which was a suburb about 35 miles from the Boston area.
Aguero said through all the chaos, “It was pretty powerful to see how people were helping each other.”
Page 2 of 3 - For Aguero, who was in the seventh grade when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred here in 1995, said the entire experience “brought back a lot of memories.”
Aguero, who said his cell phone battery was dead following the marathon, said he was thankful he and his mother were already together when the explosions occurred. Otherwise, it could have been a more frightening scenario.
“The one thing I’m grateful for is we were together when it happened,” he said. “Had we been apart, I can’t imagine. That was the case for thousands of people.”
Aguero said he was thankful too that many of the group he was with was from the Boston area, so they knew their way around, which helped them navigate away from the area of the blasts.
While the explosions occurred just after the four-hour mark for those still running the marathon, Aguero said he hasn’t even stopped to think about what could have been if the blasts occurred earlier while he was crossing the finish line.
Looking back on everything now, Aguero said his mother and the ladies thanked him for remaining calm to keep them safe, although he remembers things differently.
“I didn’t feel calm at all — I just felt very paranoid,” he said.
Aguero said the Boston Marathon is held on Patriot’s Day, which is a holiday in Boston that usually involves much celebration.
While the celebrations changed to shock this year, he said the underlying message through all of the chaos was the sprit of the people. He compared the entire situation to training for a run.
“As a runner, when you train, you break down your body so it will come back stronger,” he said.
In the case of Oklahoma City, New York and now Boston, he said people come back stronger despite evil acts.
“It makes us tougher — it makes us come back stronger,” he said, and he believes that’s also the case for the Boston Marathon.
“You can’t break the spirit of a runner. I know the Boston Marathon will be back better than ever next year,” he said.
Aguero, who has run in numerous marathons, including Boston in 2010, initially questioned whether he would ever want to run in the Boston Marathon, or any large marathon, ever again.
He has since changed his mind.
“I won’t let what some evil person did stop me…I hope to run it again,” he said.
Page 3 of 3 - And while he said he still feels “anxious” about what happened, Aguero said he’s learned from this experience.
“Tell everyone how much they mean to you,” he said.
He also has a new appreciation for the kindheartedness of people in Boston and everything they did for him and his mother.
Aguero, who grew up in Poteau, has been the men’s track coach at St. Gregory’s for about a year.