April 18th, 2013

Boston aftermath: the Woo family's indomitable spirit

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Paul Najjar

Senior Writer

Boston aftermath: the Woo family's indomitable spirit
The Woo family in Arlington Park after the Boston Marathon

You finish your 10th marathon in a personal best of 3:00.25. And not just any marathon, but the Boston Marathon, which some refer to as “the marathon of all marathons.”

You finish your 26.2 miles as the 139th women’s finisher in a time three minutes faster than you’ve ever run. You hug your husband, your four children — two of whom, Kaden (11) and Kya (9), along with your mom ran in the 5K race the day before — your father and mother and a few friends. You feel a little woozy post-race so you stop by the medical tent to get your vitals checked while waiting for your sister to finish the race.

It’s 1:05 p.m., Monday, April 15.

You get checked by the medical support staff and they give you the green light that all is OK. Your sister finishes about 25 minutes after you.

1:30 p.m.

You gather your family, friends and their child and you all meet up just a couple of blocks from the finish line for a little celebration with ice cream and some play time in a nearby park for the kids.

1:45 p.m.

The children play, the adults talk about the race and everyone enjoys the sun-soaked day. Time to head back to the hotel in Cambridge, about two miles away, for a shower, some pool time for the kids and then dinner. You take the family to the nearest “T” stop and head underground for the subway. You say goodbye to your parents as they catch a cab to the airport to return to Louisville.

2:45 p.m.

You spy two open seats on the subway and your four children, ages 11, 9, 6 and 4, pile into them while you and your husband stand. You take a picture of the kids all crammed together at precisely 2:56 p.m. When the subway train comes to the next stop you hear, “Please evacuate the car immediately.”

3 p.m.

You keep calm and linger a moment in the train car. You know the announcement is serious, but you don’t want to alarm your children. You and your family are the last to leave the train. And chaos abounds.

You walk up from underground and hear the sirens, the heavy honks of the fire trucks, the shrieking horns of the EMS vehicles, the whistles and blaring noise of the police cars. You see people running in random directions and realize something terrible has taken place. You find out what is happening and you begin the two-mile walk to your hotel in Cambridge.

3:05 p.m.

You remain calm and collected for your children’s sake. You keep moving toward your hotel with the intent of occupying the children’s time, anything to take their minds away from the tragedy and chaos nearby. You get to the hotel, change them into their swimsuits and send them to the hotel pool. You are alone now. You break down and let go of your emotions in solitude.

4 p.m.

The world changed April 15. The Boston Marathon may never be the same again. But to hear April (Schneider) Woo talk about the race and her family’s experience there, it was just an incredible day until two improvised explosive devices were detonated near the finish line of The Boston Marathon; on Patriots Day.

“It was a beautiful day, perfect for running,” said Woo, the President of the PTO. at St. Stephen Martyr and a basketball, volleyball, soccer and cross country coach. “This was my fastest marathon by three minutes. It was the first time we flew the entire family to the city where I was running. Mom and Dad were there, too. My sister, Allerie, ran it and my cousin and his wife were there with their son. Some local friends I run with were there and it was great to be with everyone.”

Patriots Day is a day of civic pride for Bostonians and others from the region. Nearly one million people line the marathon route and cheer the runners all day long. The surge of energy from the crowds aligning the streets is palpable and uplifting to the 20,000 or so runners.

It was as if the Woos, the Schneiders (April’s sister and her parents) and their friends were all a part of the celebration. April’s mother, Susie — also a longtime, multi-sport coach at St. Stephen Martyr — ran the 5K race on Sunday with Kaden and Kya and April's husband, Daniel, while April, her sister and father and two youngest children, Kamden and Kira, cheered from the very spot the second device was detonated.

“We picked an area to meet after the marathon at Boyleston and Arlington streets where there’s a nice park,” Woo said. “We waited for all our friends to finish and the family was tracking all of our times and progress. I came out of the medical tent around the time my sister finished and we all convened at that park. It was such a pretty day, really beautiful and we were in no hurry to get out of there. We got ice cream and we just let the kids play. We put Mom and Dad in a cab to the airport around 2:45 p.m. and we gathered the kids and went down to take the subway to our hotel in Cambridge.”

The Woo family went underground and the world was right. They came above ground and the world was out of line.

“We were getting ready to transfer to the Red Line to Cambridge, but that’s when we were asked to leave the subway immediately,” Woo recalled. “We came up and all you saw and heard was ambulances, bomb squads, police cars and emergency vehicles. We were in Boston Common and I’d never seen so many responders. So many people were everywhere in and around the Common.

“We walked the two miles to the hotel, just trying to keep calm for the kids so they wouldn’t panic. We found out what happened as we were walking (to the hotel) because my cousin’s wife contacted us from the hotel, frantic, because she knew we were still in the area. But we made it to the hotel, got the kids to the pool and that’s when I broke down. It was very emotional, but with the kids, you need to stay calm and stay strong. Walking two miles with the kids, it was amazing how well-behaved they were under those circumstances.”

April Woo would do it all over again and has designs on running in Boston sometime in the future. Though it was an emotionally draining day, Woo wants to keep the day’s events in perspective for her family.

“I love running and I don’t want something like this to ruin that love,” she said. “I want my kids to continue to do things that they love to do. They aspire to run and be active. There is so much good in our world and I hope that that would never be overshadowed by this tragedy.”

And that’s exactly the response and attitude one can expect from a sturdy American, a born and raised Louisvillian with an unconquerable resolve to keep moving her life, her family and their love of sport in the right direction.


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