Tom Gramc realized his dream by running in the Boston Marathon, but his elation turned to horror when he saw the devastation that occurred from two bombs exploding.
Fortunately for Gramc, 26, of Cranberry Township, he completed the marathon route’s 26.2 miles in 3:03:21.
“I’m grateful I didn’t run a slow race,” he said.
He was eating with his parents, Tom and Kathleen Gramc, at an Irish pub nearby when the bombs went off at 2:50 p.m. on April 15, killing three people and wounding more than 250.
Since a baseball game was airing on some of the pub’s televisions, Gramc initially believed the sounds to be emanating from fireworks at the game.
He was accustomed to games at PNC Park, where every home run is celebrated with fireworks.
However, Gramc soon realized the noise was coming from explosives planted along the race’s route because the marathon was being broadcast on other televisions.
“We knew bombs went off,” the younger Gramc said.
But it wasn’t until the tragedy was covered during a television news broadcast and people started coming into the pub that the Gramcs realized the scope of the damage.
Gramc, a seminarian for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, watched as television anchors scrambled following the explosions.
“They didn’t know what to do,” he said.
About an hour earlier, Gramc was finishing the race alongside an ROTC group. One of the students was carrying the American flag.
“The crowd went crazy,” Gramc said.
Little did he know the festive atmosphere would soon turn to calamity.
Eventually, the Gramcs left the pub to reach their vehicle. With the city’s subway system shut down, they began a 6-mile trek to the parking spot.
For more than half the trip, they passed the wounded.
“We saw people covered in blood,” Gramc said.
Runners and spectators frantically searched the city for their loved ones.
Water stands for the race were converted into medical tents.
“People in running clothes were doing CPR,” Gramc said.
Police and military personnel swarmed the streets, canvassing the area to locate the perpetrators.
“Every block or two, there was a road closed,” Gramc said.
Viewing the aftermath of a catastrophe firsthand was much different from watching it on television.
“It was kind of surreal,” Gramc said.
While grateful he avoided injury, Gramc was even more thankful that his parents were not hurt.
“They were at greater risk,” he said. “They were sitting at the finish line.”
With cell phone towers shut down, Gramc also was glad he met his parents before the explosions.
“Thank God we were with each other,” he said.
Although the Gramcs were safe at the moment, there still was the fear more bombs could be planted elsewhere in Boston.
“You don’t know if you’re safe or not,” Gramc said. “It’s a situation that puts you on edge. It’s like nothing I ever experienced before.”
Gramc tried to give blood to aid the victims, but was discouraged from doing so because he had just run the marathon.
“All I could do was pray for them,” he said.
Gramc, a seminarian for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, is a few years away from becoming a priest.
He said he recognized the good he could have done had he already been ordained.
However, the tragedy reinforced Gramc’s commitment to enter the priesthood.
“It made me realize the need for priests,” he said.