Opinion: Boston scene turns ‘surreal’ for wife of KU soccer coach

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Entrant No. 17700 in the 117th Boston Marathon, Tiffany Francis of Lawrence, was feeling good about exceeding her expectations by finishing in 3 hours, 35 minutes. She drank her fluids, received her medal and retrieved her baggage from the bus that in the morning had transported her and other runners to the starting area.

From there, she set out for the pre-determined street corner to meet her daughter Carlin and her daughter’s friends on a beautiful Boston afternoon. They had been visiting for about five minutes when a sunny day took a sharp, dark turn.

“We heard this explosion, and it was surreal,” Tiffany said Monday night by phone from her daughter’s Boston apartment. “Everyone stopped for a second and thought maybe it was a celebration for the elite runners. Then about 15 seconds later, the second explosion went off. They were saying on the loud speakers, ‘This was not planned.’”

Carlin saw the reflection of rising smoke in the tinted windows of a high-rise building catty-corner from where they stood, and that was when, “We knew something not right was going on,” Tiffany said.

The first explosion took place about 500 feet from where she stood with her daughter and friends, Tiffany said, the second about 250 feet (less than the length of a football field). She praised the job Boston police, firemen and race volunteers did in getting the streets blocked off. Public transportation shut down, and taxis were difficult to flag, so Tiffany Francis had a long walk ahead of her to her daughter’s apartment after running 26 miles, 385 yards.

“It was pretty horrible,” Tiffany said of the scene. “It went from an extremely positive, unbelievable day to pandemonium within seconds. People were trying to find out where the runners they were supporting were to make sure they were OK. I’m so blessed I was able to be with my daughter.”

They shared a 21⁄2-hour walk that started about an hour after Tiffany’s 31⁄2-hour run had ended.

“It was only about six miles, but they were blocking off certain parts of the city, so it took longer,” she said. “We were on a subway for one stop.”

But that closed, and she said she didn’t want to be a part of a mad rush of bodies to get onto another one. They walked, growing closer to their destination and each other with each step.

Back home in Lawrence, Tiffany’s husband, Kansas University soccer coach Mark Francis, experienced a level of stress far deeper than when watching one of his players blast a shot over a net guarded by an out-of-position goalkeeper in an important match.

Two bombs in Boston that caused a confirmed three deaths and injured an estimated 100 others and ensuing jammed phone lines sent the soccer coach’s anxiety level soaring.

Francis was in his office when he received a text from a friend inquiring, “Is Tiffany OK?” When the coach wondered the reason for the question, he was told to “turn on CNN.”

“So I turned on CNN, and I was like, ‘Holy (cow)!’” he said.

For the next hour-and-change, his efforts to reach Tiffany and Carlin failed.

“It was scary,” KU’s 14th-year soccer coach said after putting his team through a chilly afternoon practice.

Thanks to a cell-phone app his daughter had pointed him toward, Francis, after entering Tiffany’s bib number, had received updates of her pace and ultimately her finishing time.

After the app informed him his wife had finished the race, Francis called his daughter, and they both shared how psyched they were at Tiffany’s strong performance. Carlin told her father she was headed to the finish line to find her mother and would call after they met.

“Then I never heard back from her,” Francis said.

Roughly an hour after the explosions, Tiffany was able to send a text message informing that they were OK and together.

I asked Tiffany if she had taken a nap.

“No way,” she said. “I’m just so blessed and lucky to be here with my daughter.”

Grateful for life and having family to enrich it so made a woman who should have been exhausted too exhilarated to sleep.