THS grad survives marathon bombings

Finishes race an hour before explosions
Apr. 19, 2013 @ 12:37 PM

Dean Harris finished Monday’s Boston Marathon in a little more than three hours and headed back to his hotel a few blocks away for a quick shower and a change of clothes.

With friends still out on the 26.2-mile course, Harris, 52, wanted to freshen up a little before returning to the Finish Line where thousands of people waited to greet runners from all over the world in one of the country’s oldest sporting events.

“For me, it was a normal race,” Harris, a 1979 Thomasville High School graduate, said. “It was business as usual from start to finish. I was going to grab some food and meet some buddies for a celebratory beer. I was ecstatic. I had a great race. I was really on top of the world.”

Harris never made it back.

Within an hour of Harris completing the race, a pair of bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 170 in a terrorist attack that stunned the nation.

Instead of celebrating his second Boston Marathon, Harris spent the rest of what once was a beautiful spring Monday in New England in front of the TV, watching a scene of horror take the place of a joyous celebration.

“I put the TV on to see live race coverage and some of the other finishers,” said Harris. “I wanted to take it all in. In the middle of it, there was a news bulletin saying there was an explosion at the Finish Line. It was very much like [Sept. 11, 2011]. I was scared out of my wits. You didn’t know how big the bomb was or if there are multiple bombs.

“The coverage on the news was outside my hotel room and I realized I was in this war zone. I had no clue about the magnitude of it, I just knew I was in there.”

Told by police to stay in his hotel, Harris watched the news unfolding just down the street. Before long, victims of the bombings started coming into the hotel lobby, bandaged and bloody.

“One guy that came in looked like a mummy,” Harris said. “He had bandages all over his head. You could see a little bit of his cheek bones and his eyes. Everything else was bandaged. When it’s right there in front of you like that, it’s kind of intense. I hope I never have to go through it again.”

Had he not found a hotel room so close, Harris said he probably would’ve have lingered around the Finish Line for a while after the race. Runners are treated like rock stars, Harris said, and the atmosphere is comparable to a Super Bowl for the athletes.

“Once you finish, everyone wants to talk with you and congratulate you,” Harris said. “It’s a great feeling and it‘s where you want to be. I would have hung out with everyone, but I just ran 26 miles and my hotel was only a couple blocks away. I feel pretty fortunate that I got out of there.”

Over the next few hours, Harris reached out to loved ones to let them know he was OK. With his own emotions running the spectrum, Harris tried to process exactly what happened and how even the slightest change in his routine could have put him directly in Harm‘s Way.

“I went from sheer jubilation, having just finished the race, to shock, fear, anxiety and even anger,” said Harris. “I still even have some guilt. Because I was a little faster than a lot of other runners, I was already in my hotel. Some people were finishing up just as the bombs went off. It’s an emotional thing to deal with.

“If I would not have had the TV on, I probably would’ve showered up, put my clothes back on and headed right back down there. You go through these thoughts and I feel lucky to be here. It still kind of shakes me up. It‘s kind of like being in a sea of chaos.”

Harris left Boston on Tuesday. He admitted not feeling safe until he landed in Chicago on way home to Minneapolis.

“The fear has kind of gone away now that I’m back here in Minnesota,” Harris said. “I’m still in shock. While the fear and anxiety have sort of gone away, I still have guilt and anger.”

Harris competed in his first Boston Marathon in 2011 and said he would do it again. The race is scheduled to go on in 2014, and Harris said finances, not fear, is the only factor that may keep away.

Harris’ life also will go on. However, the memories of a joyous celebration turned horribly wrong will stay with him long after his running days are over.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or