SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Just a few short weeks ago - yet what seems like a lifetime ago - Slippery Rock University graduate Ed Geary was running in the April 15 Boston Marathon when the community was rocked by mayhem, and Geary was forced to begin a journey back to normalcy.
Geary and his wife, Tammy Stockdill, both 1982 graduates, were on the race route when two bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 250.
Geary, a cancer survivor who wore an SRU shirt for the race, said he was less than two miles from the finish line when the bombs detonated. Although unharmed, he was not able to finish because the race was halted. His wife, who was there to watch him compete, provided first aid to the bloodied survivors.
"The first thing that went through my head was we were all very mad that we didn't get to finish," Geary said. "When we discovered it was bombs from terrorists, we were shocked in disbelief. When we got to the hotel, there were guys from the military there in full military gear with machine guns."
Geary said he didn't realize anything was wrong until he reached .4 of a mile from the finish line and authorities forced him to stop. Geary said the first clue he got that something big had happened was from the reaction of police officers.
"I was thinking this was going to be my one-and-only Boston Marathon. I was running and not even caring about time, having a good time and going back-and-fourth talking to people along the route," he said. "I never saw the bombs. I didn't even hear the bombs. I had no idea," he said. "I was about two miles away from finishing when I noticed along the route that all of sudden all the policemen were on their cell phones, which seemed kind of odd."
After that, he said dozens of emergency vehicles converged on the race route.
"After all these vehicles passed us, we eventually got the word that there were 5,700 of us runners who had been stopped in our tracks" he said. "We stood there for 30 or 40 minutes. We're all freezing, the people who lived along the route were bringing us coats and blankets and bottles of water. My wife, Tammy, found me walking along, and she explained what happened."
At least 14 people required amputations. Some suffered traumatic amputations as a direct result of the blasts. After a massive manhunt that captivated the nation, police identified the suspects as brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Dee Thompson, a retired University employee, was near the finish line too, waiting for her daughter to complete the marathon.
Geary said he stopped watching coverage because he needed a break.
Still, there were some lighter moments that he recalled. As is often the case no matter the location, Geary said other runners commented on his Slippery Rock University shirt.
"Someone said, 'is that Slippery Rock?' I said 'Yes,' and I went over and had a glass of beer with him," Geary said.
Geary, who received his degree in psychology from SRU, said he has completed other marathons but the Boston Marathon was "on my bucket list."
Since he was unable to finish the race, Geary said he has already registered to compete in the 2014 Boston Marathon.
A draftsman for ABB Power Products division in Lake Mary, Fla., Geary said the business unit in Lake Mary will sponsor him in the race next year and has donated $2,200.
Runners in the Boston Marathon must make a sizable donation to a charity of their choice to enter the race. The money raised in Lake Mary will be donated to the American Medical Athletic Association, a cause Geary supports.
Geary said he will run 40 miles a week to keep himself in shape for next year's race.
He said he has been a distance runner since 1978, when he enrolled at SRU. Geary said he worked out with the track team and befriended John Papa, SRU's current head track and field and cross country coach.
He joined a fraternity at SRU and lived in an apartment on Main Street. "I loved my Slippery Rock years, it was, as people typically say, the best four years of my life," he said. "Slippery Rock was a big part of my running life," he said. "That is why I was wearing the SRU shirt. I am very proud to be a Rock alumni."
After graduating, Geary worked as a crime photographer for the Allegheny County Coroner's Office. He later moved to Connecticut to serve as a photographer for the U.S. Navy's submarine base.
After moving to Florida, he worked as a defense contractor. He went back to school in order to become a drafter for ABB. He creates computer models of proposed products. His wife manages the 22-mile West Orange Trail.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.