An hour before blasts, Hobart couple gets engaged at Boston Marathon

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The first text I received Monday afternoon wasn’t exactly subtle, and it painted the picture of the horrific scenes we would all see across every news station.

“Money: 2 large explosions at the Boston Marathon? ****.”

Like any mid-twenties journalist has been trained to do over the past four years, I quickly logged onto Twitter and searched “#BostonMarathon” to see what could possibly be going on. I mean, how could this be? How dangerous was it? Could anybody have been hurt?

The tweets that poured over my timeline over the next half hour were as graphic as the images that CNN and WXIN Fox59 were showing across the television. The video and snapshots that had the explosion far in the background, the pictures of an empty finish line that had blood splattered as if it was a battle scene from a movie, and the rising body counts that were being taken to hospitals in the Boston area were almost mind-numbing. It still just didn’t make any sense to me.

Why would someone do this to Boston? I couldn’t get this out of my mind, both as a person, and as a former runner.

Not exactly the most well-known secret anymore these days, I am in fact a “retired” runner. Five years of running through junior high and high school up in Hobart, Indiana, I was a four-time letter winner in both track and cross country, I was a two-time captain with “average” speed at best for a 5K and middle-distance runner.

Sometime by the end of my senior year, looking to do something memorable since I wasn’t winning State anytime soon, I joked to one of my best friends and teammate Jason Elizondo.

“Why don’t we do a marathon? There is one in South Bend a week before graduation, it sounds sweet! You even finish on Notre Dame’s football field!”

So as the legend goes, Jason and myself (who were told by both of our parents that we couldn’t do this) snuck over to a friend’s girlfriend’s parents house, the mother drove us to South Bend on two hours of sleep, we signed up that morning for the 26.2 mile race on zero marathon-training, and we raced around the streets of South Bend in a race that had a temperature start time of 92 degrees.

The slice of life moments that take place in a marathon that one takes away during a race of such magnitude are fantastic. From the moment of the opening gun shot (I turned to Jason and said “This is officially the worst idea we have ever had”) shot off, we had so many stupid-fun memories for 18-year olds just doing this on a whim. From singing “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, to giving Shakespeare’s famous “St. Crispin’s Day” speech at mile eleven, to the final spring into Notre Dame’s end zone, finishing this marathon (I would say run, but we had a walk-on, walk-off attitude starting at mile 18) is quite possibly one of my most proudest athletic achievements. In fact, my medal is the first ornament that was placed on my work desk once I got hired here at WXIN Fox59.

Why? Because quite frankly, in a world where athletic achievements are seen as so glamorous, running a marathon is the one thing that Paul George, Andrew Luck, or Roy Hibbert can’t just walk outside and do right now. For the average athlete, we will never be professionals, but we can still find a way to push our bodies to the human limits in ways that most of the most finely tuned athletes in the world can’t even dream of doing. There is a reason that you can spot on occasion “26.2” bumper stickers along a highway, the feat in itself seems as if it is an accomplishment worth bragging about.

And every time I look down at my medal at work, I smile and think to myself of the time two kids were really that dumb to take on such a difficult challenge. That was my race, my story, and my moment in the sun.

Now take that, and consider this: the Boston Marathon isn’t just a marathon, it is THE marathon. The qualifying times to just even enter the race are beyond a blistering pace, and even if you do qualify for the race, YOU AREN’T EVEN GUARANTEED A SPOT. The best of the best of both the United States and the world compete in this annual event, and it is well known how Boston’s “Patriots Day” is celebrated as the region’s own holiday.

For 25,000-plus people on Monday, they were supposed to have THEIR moment in the sun. They, along with the friends, family members, and civilians of Boston who celebrated Patriots Day and sat along the route, were all supposed to have stories like mine that they will long remember about the positives of April 15th, 2013.

And it seems stupid and frivolous to think about that now, but those 25,000-plus positive stories that were going to come out of Monday are now scarred and ruined by a sickening plot to hurt innocent civilians. As I type this now, 170-plus are hurt and three are dead, including an eight year-old boy at the finish line with his family waiting to see his father cross the finish line. Lives are ruined, family members are lost, and Boston, along with it’s greatest sporting event, quite possibly will never be the same.

This should never have happened. And as I went to sleep Monday night, one of the last things that popped into my head was the hope that something positive would come out of the event. I’m not talking to the idea of the heroic deeds of those who ran towards the area of the explosions, or those who were saved or were found to be okay from family members well after the events had taken place. God bless all of that, and the brave souls who made split-second decisions to put their lives on the line to help those in need and become real-life heroes.

I, personally, was just hoping to hear the much simpler feel-good story of the marathon, the puff-piece slice of life moment that keeps the spirit and innocence of events alive, so I know that they existed even after a day as horrific as this. It’s these moments these that truly make any public event, from the Boston Marathon to the Indianapolis 500 so special, and I had to think that somewhere one still lived on.

And then when I woke up on Tuesday morning, I saw this.

“He put a ring on it! @RunningChico”

elizondo ring

Jose Elizondo, or known to some in high school quite simply as “Joe”, roughly has about six months on me in age. Turning 27 next month, just days within my fellow-South Bend Sunburst Marathon runner and his brother Jason, Jose grew up as your stereotypical Hobart High School cross country athlete from the early-2000’s. What exactly did this mean? Well, it means that he had a solid heart of gold, but there was also a good chance every day that the ultimate prankster would drop a dead bird in your car’s glove-box, you would be mooned by him, or some form of hijinks were taking place.

Then again, this wasn’t out of the norm for the majority of the kids in our team picture below from 2004 (Jose is in the front left kneeling down, myself directly behind him).

hobart CC

Our team’s number-one runner at the time, I think it would be an understatement if I were to ever attempt to say that I have ever met anybody that loves the sport of running as much as Jose Elizondo. A solid high school distance runner that would run 5K’s  in the 16:30’s, Jose knew the courses at The Indiana Dunes State Park better perhaps than the back of his own hand. Even after graduation from Hobart, unlike most high school runners who slowly stop running until they are out of shape, Jose kept up his dream of running by attending local colleges in Northwest Indiana.

From a word that athletes use often, Jose over time would become a “beast”. Over the years his dedication and hard worked continued to pay off as became faster, stronger, and one of the best runners in all of Northwest Indiana. If a road race was taking place, there was a good chance that Jose Elizondo would be right there in contention at the finish.

But eventually Jose wasn’t young anymore, and those miles that he was racking up began to take a toll on his body. One can only take so many days of five-plus miles on the unforgiving pavement before your knees begin to feel real pain, and as described, they would soon be “bone-on-bone”.

Time to give up the sport of running? For Jose, it was just time to live the ultimate runner’s dream, to qualify for the Boston Marathon. On June 2nd, 2012, Jose did that with a time of 2:58:12 at the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend.

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As an athlete, Jose had officially accomplished what any competitor that laces up running shoes considers to be a high standard of excellence. Now that he had that down-pat and would be competing in the 2013 Boston Marathon, he wanted to make the day extra special for reasons that would live on through his life forever. Jose, with an engagement ring in his hand all race long, would propose to his long-time girlfriend Marie once he crossed past the finish line.

Below, in his own words, is Jose Elizondo’s story from April 15th, 2013.

“The morning of was the most perfect day for running. 55 Degree weather, no wind, and clear sunny skies. Woke up knowing this was the day that would change my life forever. Excitement, anxious, and happiness feelings flew through my mind.

What made it more perfect was the so many texts and posts from all my friends and family that supported me and wished me good luck.  I not only was I running for myself, but everyone that knew me. To know you can inspire and bring hope to so many people is one of the greatest feelings in the world. But even though so many people were expecting me to good and to represent Indiana , never once did I feel the weight of them on my shoulders. Instead, I felt as if everyone was behind me, pushing me, believing in me. No possible way in my mind, did I think i couldn’t run my goal.

Little did everyone know, I had another force pushing me to run good. I had another reason to run my best…to tell the woman who I love, “You are a more precious journey than any marathon journey can take me.” What better reason to run then to tell your soulmate that running the Boston Marathon is the easy part! Getting on one knee and back up is what’s gonna be tricky. :)

So I arranged Marie to be at the finish line for a “kiss” before I crossed. I held her ring on my pinky and held on tight the whole race. Even with all the bands playing and awesome spectators screaming, the only thought was, Jose … Don’t you drop this ring! So stepped up to the starting line with one hand clinched and one pointing to the heavens thanking God for all he blessed me with-friends, family, and fast little speedy legs. I was ready to go.

As I started my journey things were looking great. 6:25….6:20… 6:24…  6:20… Mile after mile like clock work, a little fast but was as expected. Crowds are cheering and chanting. The colleges are so loud your heart can feel the sound waves. I was getting a little impatient. (Is it the end so I can tell my future wife I lover her already!) But it was only still the beginning. I had a long way to go.

Mile 13 came faster than I thought … 1:23:50. Thats 6:24 per mile through 13miles, ‘Jose… You still have half the race with heartbreak hill at mile 20!’ I thought. Bring it. Oh and believe me, “It” was brought. “Hello rolling hills….Long, high never-ending rolling hills.” My test was here.

By this time, the down hills took their toll on my calfs. Two knifes were just about in my sides waiting for the perfect time to strike. Every water and Gatorade stop seemed like a warning shot to slow down. Knees and ankles were getting weaker. Every breath was getting harder to take in. Pain was coming and fast.

The common misconception is that running is very easy for me and that I am “not human”. Truth is running is very hard and in cases like this, extremely painful. But this is where my training comes in. Not just physically but mentally. I train myself to look past the pain… Make the best of being uncomfortable. To overcome my fear of pain with the power of motivation. To know that the accomplishment I achieve by “fighting” outweighs my option to “quit”.

I hit Mile 16. The daggers are in. It’s getting harder and harder to breath.  I pour water over my head to hopefully shock my body. Nothing. Ironically I see a tent on the side that reads, ‘Quit here. Free ice cream’. Sounds tempting, but I know people are counting on me. I push on.

One hill , two hills, three hills… 7:20 , 7:25, 7:22 per mile… The only thing saving me is the small down hills after the huge uphills. Then I see it, heartbreak hill. It’s so long and high you can’t see the top. I see some people walking up it and some steaming up it. I don’t know what to think. I look down. There it is. The ring. Push…Push… Push. I did it. I reached the top. 5 more miles and I’m home free.

All I can think at this point is find Marie. Can’t miss her. I scope the last couple miles… I hear my name a million times, or so I thought. Must have been dehydrated. I was
sweating salt. I’m back on track tho. 1/2 mile left, 1/4 mile left, 100 feet, but no Marie. My plan was foiled. I finished the line with my entire body exhausted. Look at my time, ‘2:56:53’ , and a big smile comes to my face. I’m done . But it wasn’t over just yet.

I limp to grab my bag and as I walk towards the exit I see Marie running towards me, “Baby you did so good!”

In the back of my mind I think, ‘Where were you! I’ve been waiting 26.2 miles to tell you something.’ And just then a photographer stops us and offer to take a shot of the “cute couple”. Here goes nothing.

We take a regular picture. I tell the camera man ” Wait! One more.” I drop to one knee. Marie thinks I’m hurt. More than she knows. But I took the ring off my pinky and all the words I was thinking to say flew out my head. All I’ve got left was “Marry me?”  “Are u freakin kiddin me right now?”(Boston accent) Marie says with tears run down her face. Mascara running faster then I did. The ring fit perfect. Plan B was a success!

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Was the perfect day but almost too short lived. We find our friend Brian who had just finished his first marathon, 4:06 . Awesome run for him. As we are all conversing, all three super accomplished, we hear it. Just 50 min after Brian finished we hear a sound. Boom. Like a long distance cannon has gone off. Every single person paused for a heartbeat. The look in people’s eyes were that of confusion and concern. Ten seconds later we hear it again. The sound is so distant but feels like so close. Something is not right.

We see a couple volunteers jogging towards the finish. Then we hear sirens. Now we know something has gone wrong. Two bombs have exploded right in front of the finish line. My heart drops. I can’t believe it. We start to evacuate away from the race. As we are leaving we see it on the tv…2 dead, 30 injured.

The Boston marathon is under attack.

So many thoughts crossed my head. Are there more bombs? Who would do this? Why would anyone do this? That could have been us. Nothing will ever be the same again.

But through the smoke and the confusion, I see a glimpse of light.    Every one in Boston came together to help in every way they could. I saw so many volunteers, army men , cops, runners run towards the havoc. Two bombs have just went off and people were still ready to risk their lives to help the injured. People are doing their best to get people to the hospital and to safety.

Afterwards I see the pictures and videos and I notice a man. A man who I saw after the race and came up to me and said ,” Hey man are you Mexican? I saw you running and I screamed -Go Mexico!” This man never met me before, never knew who I was, but still rooted me on as if I was running for a whole country. He was inspired by me. Then, he went back to the race to root more people on, and ended up helping a man who was seriously injured from the explosion. He ended up inspiring me.

So many people called, texted and posted immediately. Everyone sended their concerns and prayers. They supported me once again. I am thankful for all my family friends once again. Thank God myself, Marie, and Brian were okay.  It was an amazing feeling of love.”