By Brenden West
It happened two hours after John Hood finished his run. Like many, he thought the loud boom was just the sound of cannons going off, something that shook the ground. It was odd, but Hood — a 1989 Clinton High School graduate — tried to make it logical, associating the noise with another good happening at the Boston Marathon.
He didn’t see the explosion. Hood said he was about two blocks away and around the corner by the time the second bomb went off. By then he knew something was wrong.
When he returned to the finish line, Hood observed a scene he describes as “mass chaos.”
“For a good two hours, we weren’t in front of the TV like you guys were,” he said Friday. “You didn’t know what happened. You’re hearing things like ‘gas leak’ or ‘pot bomb.’
“I didn’t see it, but I definitely felt it. Initially, when it went off, you’re all thinking, ‘Oh, hey, this must be pretty good.’ Fifteen seconds later, you hear the second one.
“We all started to run toward the scene. All of a sudden, you realize this isn’t fun — this is serious. Finally, you find yourself running further from the scene, because the next thing you’re thinking is ‘what’s next?’ All of us were waiting to know if something else was going to happen.”
Hood said he’d seen something like this before — in a movie. It was like “The Dark Knight” scene when the villainous Joker, disguised as a police officer, attempted an assassination. After the gunshots, police, spectators, everyone darted throughout the streets hoping either to escape the mayhem or thwart a chase.
April 15, 2013 made these horrible, previously fictional images very real to Hood. Like everyone else around him, he spent the next few hours in disarray.
He couldn’t immediately reach loved ones because airwaves were jammed. He managed a quick Facebook post assuring friends he was unharmed. Eventually the constant ringing of his phone killed the battery. By the time Hood felt he was safe enough to call his mom at home in Clinton, he had to ask a “shocked” woman he never met to borrow her cell phone.
News hadn’t reached mom — Karen Hood. Her first question wasn’t about chaos but on how John finished.
Running is a generational pastime for the Hood family. John’s dad — Larry — previously held the Clinton High School record for the half mile. John and his brother were among Bill Holsclaw’s cross country dynasty of the 1980s. Years later, John Hood regained his running legs; 2013 was his eighth Boston Marathon. He’s a previous top-100 finisher for a race that draws tens of thousands of people around the globe.
It caught Karen Hood off guard that her son was saying “everything is all right.” What was wrong?
“I said, ‘Do you know what happened?’ “ John Hood said. “ ‘No? Good.’ And I told her to turn on a TV.”
By this time, the runner, too, was able to watch what the nation saw. Hood learned about deaths and hundreds of injuries. He saw dozens of replays of the explosions.
To him, the Boston Marathon has always been the main event. He’s trained for Iron Man competitions and run in the Quad Cities Bix marathon before.
But Boston “is the hottest ticket to qualify for,” Hood said.
A year ago, the race he cherished became a tragedy.
“Normally, when you finish, everyone is so happy,” Hood said. “You’re walking the sidewalks and the Boston people are so friendly. That day, it was a complete 180.”
Hood returned home to Murfreesboro, Tenn. and tried returning to life as a chiropractor. Nothing will ever erase what he saw. Now, it serves not just as a moment of tragic history but a day when Hood decided to change for the better.
“It’s been a very productive year,” Hood said. He began volunteering time to the youths of his community, helping to coach the local wrestling and baseball teams into state champions. Hood also has been asked to speak publicly about what he witnessed. He tries to deliver a message to others to be true to themselves.
“The take away for me is that life is short,” Hood says of the bombings now. “It made me slow down my pace and realize that you only have so much time. Live positive. Encourage. Love each other.
“At a certain point, you have to put all the extra things to the side.”
Despite family and friends pleas against, Hood is returning to the Boston Marathon on Monday. He said it’s an important day for him and other runners.
“People have asked me, aren’t I scared?” he said. “I’d be more scared of what I’d become by not running again. Of course I’m keeping the ones who were injured and died in my heart. We’re running with the spirit of them in our minds and in our hearts.
“I’m not doing this for John Hood, but for everyone around me.”
This year, Hood said, is another chance to witness history — a reminder of what was overcome since the last Boston Marathon.
“Will I get emotional? Of course I will,” he said. “How can you not think about it?
“When it all went down, my life flashed in front of my eyes. And I thought, what if I don’t get to go back home?” Hood said. “If that did anything, it gave me a deeper appreciation for everything around me.”