'Deep Steel' soldier recounts Boston Marathon experience
June 17, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - "It was really just a culmination of exhaustion and accomplishment more than anything, just to know, after all that hard work, it was finally over," Spc. Auzdon A. Anothen said about his initial feelings after finishing the Boston Marathon.
He finished in 3 hours, 14 minutes. Of course, about an hour later, everything changed.
Anothen, a Seattle native, and communications manager with 1st Battalion, 94th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, recounted his experience during the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred April 15.
While the streets of Boston have seemingly returned to a normal pace, the marathon bombings that killed three and injured many still resonate downtrodden feelings from those that were there.
For Anothen, the marathon was originally a way for him to define himself as an athlete. In November 2011, while deployed to Iraq, he was hungry for a new challenge. Though he tore his meniscus while in the Army, Anothen's days on the cross-country team at Auburn High School inspired him to continue to run despite his injury. While searching around for the ideal way to challenge himself, he decided running the Boston Marathon would be the ultimate test of his mettle.
Anothen attributes his resilience to his family, spiritual well-being and physical training, which are key dimensions of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program - a program that helps soldiers become better, well-rounded individuals.
"At mile 5 [my knee injury] started flaring up ... in past events that's when I knew I wouldn't be able to run anymore because usually it just got so painful that I had to stop," Anothen said. "So I changed my running form and I'm fairly spiritual, I prayed at that time, and fortunately the pain began to subside and I ran through it."
He said he would have finished the race even if the pain hadn't diminished, but would have ended up slowing down immensely, possibly even to the point of walking. If that had been the case, Anothen could have easily added an hour on top of his run time, which would have put him across the finish line around the time the explosion occurred.
At first, his desire to drive on helped him achieve a longstanding goal. After the explosions occurred, however, Anothen realized his resilience quite possibly saved his life.
The support of his family and friends and the individual training he did helped give him the drive and "second wind" he needed to obtain his goals.
Anothen, satisfied with his achievement, was already in his rental car about a half a mile from the finish line when the bombs went off. He noticed the crowded streets had become frenzied, but was unaware of what had just happened.
"It wasn't until a lady and her friend started tapping on my window that I figured something was wrong. "I rolled down my window and asked her why she was tapping on my glass, and she said 'can you get me out of town, can you get me out of the city?' I asked, 'well before I let you in my car, can you tell me why?' That's when she told me bombs just went off," he recalled.
"That's when everything just kind of reverberated back to the feeling I got on September 2011, when all those ... tragic events happened," Anothen continued. "It seemed like a lot of the same kind of chaos and uproar."
Anothen said he found himself reverting to a battle rhythm and focused on staying calm and assessing what he was going to do, similar to how he reacted to mortar fire in Iraq. While he realized he had no way to know if he could trust the two panicked women asking for help, his experience and instinct forced him to make a decision.
"[The woman asking for help] assumed that some more bombs could have gone off and she wanted to get further away. Seeing how helpless she was, even if she wasn't telling the truth because at that point I didn't know, I figured it was worth the risk, especially if she was right and, God forbid, another bomb had gone off and she had been in that area ... I couldn't imagine the kind of guilt I would have felt for not helping her," he said.
With his training and experience from two deployments, Anothen found himself looking for a way to help the injured, but with the streets blocked and first responders already flooding the area, surmised that his main objective was to get the two women to safety.
He was able to get the women out of the city and continue to the airport where he talked with other runners that had been closer to the explosions, as well as return the large amount of phone calls and text messages he was receiving from worried loved ones that knew he was running the marathon.
While he feels he could have helped more if he was closer to the scene, he remains comforted by the first responders, the Massachusetts National Guard soldiers and valiant bystanders who rushed to aid the injured.
"From everything I witnessed, [there was] a lot of fear, but at the same time, especially when you look back at [the news coverage], there was also a lot of bravery," Anothen said.
Anothen talked about his admiration for human beings like Carlos Arredondo, "The Man in the Cowboy Hat," who rushed into the chaos following the explosions to give emergency aid to the injured. He said the bravery that emerged following the explosions show that "even with the minute amount of evil that is clearly evident in the world and even in our country, the majority of people are inherently good, are always wanting to make the world better."
While Anothen had originally set out to define himself as an athlete, he found in the end he had actually defined himself as an American and a soldier, proud of the noble people compelled to help each other in times of need. He said the experience is "something that I know I'll never forget," but refined his statement by saying his memories will include more than just the tragedy of the attack.
Anothen said he will always remember how so many people helped each other in the aftermath of a malicious attack.
"The first initial five minutes was panic, but the rest of the time was spent solving the issue, it was spent working together to solve what happened," he said. "To basically change it so that it would become a memory of America overcoming, of the nation working together to make this a historical moment of bravery as opposed to fear."