BOSTON -- What they wanted Monday wasn't all that different from what the 36,000 people running toward them wanted. The 230 athletic trainers and their students working at the Boston Marathon yearned to finish the race and to do their best.
They were still helping to save lives. It just wasn't as obvious.
Inside a small, partitioned area of Medical Tent A in front of the Boston Public Library, the stone surface was slick with water that had sloshed out of ice tubs. Heat, not terrorism, was the chief thought on the minds of the volunteers working there as runner after runner was brought in with core temperatures exceeding 104 degrees. Some were delirious. One howled in agony for several minutes after he was immersed in the tub. Others struggled with heaving chests or looked hollow-eyed into empty space.
Shortly after 1 p.m., Ray Castle, Louisiana State University's athletic training program director, moved from tub to tub, helping scoop chilled water over the runners' torsos, wrapping damp towels around calves rigid with cramps, supporting one man's head and neck as another volunteer gave him sips of a power drink. "There you go, buddy, you're doing good," Castle said.
Castle was wistful when he first learned he wasn't reassigned to the finish line, where he'd been stationed in 2013. When the first explosion ripped through the spectator area last April, Castle used his medical shears to cut through fencing and waded into a sea of casualties. The experience traumatized him, then galvanized him to return. As soon as the runners began arriving in the hyperthermia area, Castle forgot everything except the patient in front of him.
"We're making a difference in here," he said.
The first responders of last year were everywhere, including nearly every athletic trainer who helped treat the wounded or manage the chaos. Many, like Marisa Love, an occupational therapist and athletic trainer from Connecticut, are veterans of past marathons whose anger and sorrow turned to determination.
"I didn't believe that should define me and my experience over the last eight years," Love said in a recent interview. Monday, she stopped to talk after helping a woman with blurred vision into the medical tent, one of numerous trips she made back and forth from the finish line.
Love found herself fixating on the backpacks some spectators brought to Boylston Street despite the pleas of public safety officials. She and a few fellow volunteers talked about it and then let it go. "It's nice to be here with someone who gets it and doesn't think you're crazy," she said.
Barbara Hemphill, who helped tend to several gravely injured spectators last year, also worked the finish line again "because I have to ... If we choose not to go back, then [the bombers] have accomplished their goal," she said before the marathon.
She admitted to some anxiety Monday as midafternoon approached, but then a runner needed her help back to the medical tent, distracting her from a time of day she'd been dreading.