by Dennis Dalman
When Sam Nordby of Sartell snapped a photo of runners near the Boston Marathon finish line, little did he know he had “captured” an image of a streetside bag that later exploded, bringing instant horror to what had been such a happy event.
Fortunately, Sam’s wife, Laura, had finished the race 40 minutes before the two bombs exploded, killing three and injuring scores of others. Laura was one of four runners from Sartell who returned home uninjured from the catastrophe.
Sam had been standing about a block away from the finish line. When he saw U.S. Army runners going by, he decided to get a photo of them, knowing the photo would please his young children back home in Sartell.
Not long after snapping that photo, Sam, who kept looking down the street in eager anticipation, glimpsed his wife approaching.
“Laura! Laura! Go, Laura!” Go!,” he yelled.
Despite the deafening noise, Laura heard her husband’s cheer. It gave her an encouraging second-wind as she approached the finish line.
Seconds later, Sam snapped another photo as Laura passed him and then crossed the line with a time of 3 hours, 28 minutes and 27 seconds. After much hoopla, hugs, kisses and congratulations, Sam and Laura headed for the Boston subway for their hotel just 1.5 miles away from Boston’s Copely Square, site of the race’s finish.
The Nordbys were not aware of the bombings, not until they turned on the TV in their hotel room.
“It was crazy,” Laura said. “It was so unreal. So unreal to be in that hotel room watching that horrible news from the place we’d just been.”
Back in Minnesota, during the race, many of Laura’s long-distance supporters had been watching TV, rooting for her and all the other thousands of runners. The fans included her young children – Dutch, Anna and Lincoln – who had their mother on their minds but who were in school at the time. Laura’s mother, father and father-in-law were watching the event avidly on TV, as were many friends and acquaintances.
In their Boston hotel room, the Nordbys received a frantic rush of phone calls. One was from her mother, en route to Duluth after watching the marathon. She was Duluth-bound because her mother was dying in a nursing home and did not have long to live.
“She’d heard the news about the bombings,” Laura said. “She pulled over on the road to call us. She was just shaking, I could tell.”
Needless to say, Laura’s mother and everybody else who knows the Nordbys were relieved to hear they were OK. A subsequent flurry of phone calls quickly filled in everyone with the breathless good news: “They’re OK.”
Because of flight-booking logisitics, Laura and Sam had to fly back to Minnesota on separate flights. When Sam arrived at the airport, someone from the FBI was asking passengers if any had taken photos at the Boston Marathon. Sam, who was aware earlier of the FBI requests, gave the agent his photos, not thinking there would be anything noteworthy in them. Later, as it turned out, one photo showed the bag that was about to blow up about an hour later. Nordby’s photo was widely seen, including on television.
Because she finished the Boston Marathon, Laura is automatically qualified to run it next year. She said she will definitely do it again, and her determination to run again in Boston has been strengthened even more by the cruel bombings.
Nordby gave a post-marathon interview with the Sartell Newsleader via phone from Duluth April 21. She was mourning and celebrating the life of her maternal grandmother, Evelyn Gooder, who died at the age of 103 Tuesday, April 16, the day after the Boston Marathon.
“She was amazing,” Nordby said. “One-hundred percent Irish. She was a nurse and then had five kids when she became a stay-at-home mom. Born in Duluth and lived there all her life. And her husband, William, was also a runner. Very athletic. Must be in the genes.”