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Boston Marathon director says impact of bombings still felt today

Boston Marathon director David McGillivray speaks Friday, May 19, 2017, at the marathon expo in the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 2
Boston Marathon director David McGillivray speaks Friday, May 19, 2017, at the marathon expo in the Fargodome. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service2 / 2

FARGO --- There's a lot of Boston in David McGillivray, from his accent when speaking in front of a room full of people at the Fargodome, to the several references of Fenway Park and the professional sports franchises in that city.

And why not? He's the director of the Boston Marathon who has had quite the running career himself. He once ran across the United States in 80 days, a route that took him from Medford, Ore., to Medford, Mass.

He's Boston strong.

That was the message in 2013 much of the country became familiar with in the wake of the bombings that marred the '13 Boston Marathon. It was a story resurrected over the winter with the release of the movie "Patriots Day."

"It's a Hollywood movie," said McGillivray, who came to Fargo as part of the Scheels Fargo Marathon. "It's based on a true story, but not necessarily everything in there was the way it all unfolded exactly. But it does tell the story that a lot of people felt needed to get out there. In that regard, I thought it was treated very well."

The impact was still vivid with McGillivray in this year's Boston Marathon. His family was in the bleachers near the finish line when the bombs went off and it took until this year before his son Luke would return to the scene.

David McGillivray was at the starting line when the bombs went off, getting ready to run the 26.2-mile route after everybody else was finished. He's always done that.

A police car rushed him to the finish line, where he went into the medical tent and saw the severity of it all. There was no cellphone service.

His main job was to respond to the 6,500 runners, and mainly to help them get their gear bags back since they contained valuable items like car keys and cellphones. During it all, he found out his family was Ok.

"A lot of times you have your game face on, so you're not emotionally caught up because you have a job to do," McGillivray said. "So it didn't hit me like it hit other people until much later, because we had to deal with all the work."

That was a concern with the December 2016 release of the movie: Was the timeline too soon? McGillivray said he was more worried about the feelings of the victims and their families.

"Is it something that should be on the big screen?" he said. "It's tough to question their feelings on it because, listen, my son was in the bleachers. He saw everything. He was on the other side of the street. I can only imagine the pain those families went through to lose someone. So I'm thinking more about what they're thinking about."

Like McGillivray, the owner of the company that is timing the Fargo Marathon events—John Magnuson—will never forget that day, either. He's also in charge of timing the Boston Marathon and at the time of the bombings was driving on a freeway away from the starting line.

He first saw two police cars flying by and thought there was a bad accident. Then he saw them make a U-turn and Magnuson thought maybe there was trouble ahead in a tunnel.

"Then I look in my rear-view mirror and I see two big bomb trucks barreling down the freeway going right by me," he said. "I'm thinking this isn't good."

It was about at that time when Magnuson's daughter called his cellphone to ask if he was all right. His first thought was of three of his timing team members at the finish line, who were OK.

"There was a great sense of fear when the bombing happened," he said. "Unbelievable panic. A friend of mine who was at the finish line took his knife out and cut the temporary fencing apart so people could escape. It was mass chaos once people realized what was going on so, yeah, it was quite scary."

McGillivray also called the scene chaotic. He ended by talking about "Boston Strong."

"Oh yeah, it's here to stay," he said. "I look at it like scar tissue on the body. It's stronger than original skin. It is true, the moniker, we are stronger than the original. You want good to overcome evil so you want to peel off things that can be respectful to those who were profoundly impacted."


Saturday, May 20

Full marathon and relay at Fargodome, 7 a.m.

Half marathon at Fargodome, 7:15 a.m.

10K run at Fargodome, 7:30 a.m.

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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