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Paducah runners to return to Boston Marathon

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

Few experiences could match the high Steve Powless felt last year as he neared the Boston Marathon finish line for the first time.

Powless, CEO of Computer Services, Inc., was about a half-mile from the finish with two other Paducah runners, Dr. Bob Haugh and Ken Hunt, behind him. He sent his children, Ryan, 29, and Ashley, 26, a text that read, "Here I come."

But the runner's euphoria quickly turned to dread around 2:50 p.m. when the runners in front of him halted, and then started moving backward.

"(I) just didn't understand what happened, because you don't just stop a marathon," Powless recalled.

Ryan Powless, who was stationed with his sister about 300 yards from the finish line on Boylston Street, sent a text to his dad, telling him there had been an explosion and asking if he was all right. Another bomb went off a few seconds later, and cell phone networks were soon taken down for fear a phone would be used to detonate more bombs, Steve Powless said.

He went from running in one of the world's most prestigious races to scrambling to reconnect with his family and friends in the aftermath of the explosions, which killed three spectators and injured about 260 other people. It took Powless about an hour and a half to reunite with his children.

"It was an eerie sense of helplessness," Powless said. "I lost track of time. I was just going on adrenaline."

More than 23,000 people ran the marathon that day, and 5,000 didn't cross the finish line due to the bombings. The Boston Athletic Society invited the runners who didn't complete the race to return this year, Powless said.

The three runners from Paducah will return to Boston to finish what they started on April 15, 2013. Powless said he expects mixed emotions during the marathon on Monday.

"I've relived that (moment) in my mind a number of times," he said. "When I cross that spot where I stopped, I think I won't be able to help but remember it."

Powless said the tragedy brought out the best in those around him. In the midst of the confusion after the twin bombs detonated, the people of Boston assisted runners who were stranded on the course. They opened their homes and offered rides, food, water and blankets to the remaining race participants, he said.

He thinks the resilience of Bostonians and the spirit of camaraderie surrounding the 2014 race will make for an incredible event.

"In some ways, there may be a little bit of bitterness, defiance. I don't want terrorists to define how we find happiness," he said, referring to suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The former died in a shootout with police, while the latter could face the death penalty if convicted of the 30 charges placed against him.

An estimated 1 million spectators and 36,000 runners will turn out for the 26.2-mile race, and Boston police have heightened security in preparation. Spectators and runners are discouraged from bringing backpacks to the race site; last year's pressure cooker bombs were hidden in backpacks.

"I think (Boston) is probably going to be the safest place in the country on Monday," Powless said.

The confidence comes in spite of a hoax reported this week when a man with a rice cooker in his backpack was arrested near the marathon's finish line. Boston police detonated the bag, which belonged to 25-year-old suspect Kevin "Kayvon" Edson, and another that had been left behind by a journalist. Neither bag contained explosives. Edson is said to suffer from a mental illness that led to his actions, the Associated Press reported.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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