Near the halfway point of the Boston Marathon, runner Julie West saw a little boy on the side of the course handing out orange slices.
He reminded her of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old who was one of three spectators killed at last year’s race when two bombs were detonated in the finish-line area. Richard had been on Boylston Street cheering for runners with his family.
On Monday, West was drawn toward the boy with the oranges.
“I had been thinking about all the victims and survivors throughout the race, to keep myself going,” said West, who ran with a painful stress fracture in her hip. “Then I saw this kid who looked like Martin, with such a sweet face. I had to go to him, and take the orange from him, and thank him.”
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Tears welled in her eyes as she thought of her own two young children. She flashed back to memories of 2013, when she had completed the marathon and was in a second-story Lenox Hotel room watching from her window as the bombs exploded and the final stretch before the finish line was transformed from a scene of triumph to one of terror.
“It was an emotional race every step of the way,” West said Monday from the Beantown Pub, where she and her husband, Spencer, celebrated after finishing their fifth Boston Marathon.
They live in Davie, but Boston is their hometown, so they felt an allegiance to the city as it staged the 118th running of the race as proof of resilience and recovery.
Like many of the 35,755 participants, the Wests felt they absolutely had to make the 26.2-mile trek from Hopkinton to Copley Square.
Patriots Day 2014 was the day they would join together to take back the finish line.
“I thought I would cry when I crossed, but I didn’t,” Julie West said. “I felt proud.”
Boston Strong. Boston Stronger than ever. On a clear New England spring day, an American man won Boston for the first time since 1983. Meb Keflezighi, born in Eritrea, raised in San Diego, and a U.S. Olympian, printed the victims’ names on his race bib.
More than 100 runners from South Florida joined the second-largest field in Boston history. Some were invited back after being stranded on the course and prohibited from finishing last year when the bombs were set off by the two accused terrorists, Russian immigrant brothers — one of whom was killed days later in a police shootout, the other awaiting a November trial. The attack injured 264 people; 16 lost limbs.
Security on Monday was heavy, but not oppressive, runners said.
“It was a very patriotic day, and crowd support was phenomenal,” said Al Vega, 46, a triathlete from Palmetto Bay who finished in 3:10.
He was a block away on Newburry Street after finishing the race last year when the blasts shook the restaurant he was in.
“There was fear in the back of my mind,” he said. “When I was running down Boylston Street and passing the spots at the Forum and Marathon Sports where the bombs went off, I was thinking about what happened, but I was also glad to see that we will not allow terrorists to deter such great public events.”
Yvonne Figueredo of Pinecrest ran injured but still managed to finish in 3:53.
Last year she was on Boylston Street, 20 minutes after finishing, when the bombs went off “and we immediately thought of 9/11 and buildings collapsing,” she said. Her 10-year-old son was also in the area with relatives, and was so terrified he said he never wanted to return to Boston. But Figueredo and her son returned.
“We helped give the marathon back to Boston,” she said. “I saw amputees running. I saw survivors out there on the course, and the family members of victims. It was a show of perseverance.”
Clay Stanley, a nurse anesthetist at South Miami Hospital, ran his first Boston in 4:35.
“In a way, we were all running for those who can’t,” Stanley said. “When I got to the hills, I hit a lull, and I was cramping, but the spectators won’t let you stop. They were 10 deep, cheering your name, yelling, ‘You can do it!’ At the finish, they were thanking you for running. It was an unforgettable, uplifting experience.”
Spencer West, who used to cheer the runners as a kid from Kenmore Square, finished in 2:56 a year after witnessing the gory scene. This year, he got to celebrate.
“From the minute we arrived, everyone in town was overjoyed to see the runners,” said West, a lawyer from Davie. “On the course, pure inspiration — a lot of tribute signs, a lot of people with missing limbs running and walking.
“I’m biased, but Boston is the greatest city in the world, and the Boston Marathon illustrated exactly what Boston Strong means.”