On the Record

On the record ... with Jesse Rangel

Boston Marathon runner Jesse Rangel
Boston Marathon runner Jesse Rangel

DeKALB – It was a week of dreams, both tragic and touching, that Jesse Rangel will never forget.

It took him 35 years, but the DeKalb man was finally able to fulfill his longtime dream of running in “a big race” when he qualified for this year’s Boston Marathon.

“That was my dream,” he said. “From 18 to 53, that’s a long time to wait for your dream.”

Two days before the race, the Northern Illinois University carpenter also fulfilled part of his father’s dream of playing major league baseball. His father, Rangel said, had once been scouted for the Yankees’ farm system, but because he was only 17, needed his mother’s permission to go. She didn’t give it.

“He’d get teary-eyed telling that story,” Rangel said. “He never got his chance.”

Wearing his late father’s baseball jersey, Rangel was on the field at Fenway Park for batting practice before a game, and even played a little catch with one of the opposing Tampa Bay players. During the game, he and his wife, Charlotte, were twice shown on the jumbo screen between innings.

“One of these days, when I see my dad, I’m gonna tell him to sit down, I’ve got an amazing story to tell you,” Rangel said.

Much of that story will be about how the race ended, with a pair of bomb blasts that killed three and injured more than 170, and how Rangel managed to find his family in the ensuing chaos. Rangel shared that story with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.

MidWeek: Were you excited going into the marathon?

Jesse Rangel: Oh, absolutely. This was the big race. ...I thought, today, I am going to be running with some of the fastest marathoners on the planet. What a thing to say. And the crowds were great. I’ve run like 14 or 15 marathons. This was on a totally different level.

MW: Where were you when the bombs went off?

JR: I was between two and a half blocks on Boylston Street, where the finish line was. I finished at 2:11 in the afternoon, and around 2:50 was when the bombs went off.

MW: Where was (Charlotte)?

JR: She was at mile 25. I called her up. I said there were two big explosions, did you hear them? But they didn’t. They were farther down. So I said, have the kids get on the Internet, because nobody here knows anything. I also told them I (was) coming. Because otherwise they could miss me, because there’s a big mound of people running.

I put on my clothes and started walking. There was a policeman with a phone on his shoulder that started going off. Somebody asked him what that was all about, but he said he didn’t know. Everything was still kind of calm. It wasn’t like people were running at us, but then I heard the emergency vehicles coming.

MW: Were they loud explosions?

JR: Have you ever heard the cannons at the Huskie football games? They were louder than that. I didn’t see the blasts, but I could see the smoke. ...It took me a long time to walk to my family. I was rerouted about two blocks. I could see a lot of people trying to call out on their phones, but it was too overloaded. I was familiar with that, because I was at NIU with the (2008 classroom) shooting.

I was receiving texts from people here wanting to know if I was all right, but I couldn’t text them back. That’s when I decided to save my batteries, because I didn’t know if this was going to be the end of it.

MW: Were you panicking?

JR: I was and I was mad, but I knew I had to stay composed because I had to get to my family. That’s what kept me from falling apart. But I did see a few people getting panicky and I had to stop a couple of times to just help people. I was finally able to get to a restaurant. Usually, it’s for customers only, but by then they didn’t care. I saw a bunch of runners in there and they had TV monitors that were showing the explosions and what was going on. It was really bad.

MW: How long did it take for you to reach your family?

JR: I don’t know. It seemed like a long time. I was really sore from running. I probably had to walk about a mile. But I was hobbling from being beat up by those hills. Before the race, they sent us little guidebooks with maps. That’s how I found them. It was my life saver.

Once I got to them, it took like another mile to get where they had parked. We just jumped in our van and took off. We didn’t get to celebrate. We just drove straight to DeKalb. I didn’t get to take a shower until the next day.

MW: Did you see any of the injured?
JR: I didn’t see anyone bleeding, but I did see a bunch of runners who didn’t get to finish.

We weren’t cold when we were running, but once you finished, being in the city, there was a bad draft. I saw this older runner and he was just walking along. I don’t know what they told him. I had picked up an extra blanket so I asked him, “You look really cold, do you want this blanket?” And he said he would, but “isn’t that your souvenir?” Some people were just throwing them away, so I had picked up an extra. “You can use it more than I can,” I said, and I gave it to him.

A little later, I saw a little girl and she was shivering. I had a jacket from 2012 I bought online and I had my disposable sweat shirt. “I have two jackets. You can have it,” I told her.

I tried to help them because I felt so bad for them because they didn’t get to finish. I don’t know if they got a medal or not. I wish I could have done more.

MW: Where you in shock or was it just unreal?

JR: I was angry. I was so angry. I wanted to cry. All the emotions that go with it. I mean, this is supposed to be our day. There were people from all over, from the Netherlands, from Korea, from Brazil and Japan. I drove like 1,100 miles. And these other people, they trained just as hard as I did and jumped on a plane to come from the other side of the planet to do this.

MW: Coming back, did you listen to it on the radio?

JR: I tried to, but my family I think was more traumatized than I was. (They) asked that we didn’t. So we turned it off.

I’m really glad to be home. I have a lot of friends at NIU; the first thing I did when I got back was let them know I was fine.

MW: Now that’s it over and you have had time to relax, what do you think about it?

JR: It’s still hard to wrap my brain around the fact I was in the middle of a terrorist attack. It’s unsettling.

MW: Do you think you’ll run again?
JR: Oh, absolutely. In fact, it took me two years to finally get into the Boston Marathon. And it took me four weeks to qualify for two. I’m already qualified for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

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