Essays that earned Marathon spots

Dan Benshoff, 48, West Hartford, Conn.

I was laying on my back in the medical tent when the bombs went off. Under a heap of blankets surrounded by medical workers I was wracked with cramps and feeling sick. An hour earlier I crossed the line on Boylston disappointed with my finishing time. This was my first Boston Marathon and I thought I had it all figured out. I put the training hours in and was convinced each marathon I ran would be faster than the last. The course had other ideas and somewhere near the top of Heartbreak Hill I cracked. My legs were shot and my mind was in a dark and painful place. I managed to haul myself across the line under my qualifying time thinking I would have another chance to prove myself but laying on the cot I wasn't thinking about that. Numerous medical volunteers attended to me that day. They massaged my legs, administered anti-nausea pills and fed me grapes and broth like I was a kid home from school. Mary, my nurse, was at my side the entire time. The mood in the tent quickly changed when we realized what was happening. Anticipating cots would be needed, Mary helped me up and towards the entrance on Boylston. As we walked down the center aisle, I saw horrible and unspeakable images that to this day I can't fully comprehend. I was also witness to some of the most heroic acts of bravery and compassion imaginable. With adjusted qualifying times, I missed the cut by twenty seconds. In 2014 I would be honored to come back and run, not for me or my time but for the volunteers.

Editor's note: Dan Benshoff is Creative Director for ESPN Digital Media.

Sarah Bordua, 28, West Roxbury, Boston

If debilitating blizzards and World Series road closures don't keep me from my work as a nurse at Boston Children's Hospital, why would a killer on the loose in the city of Boston? As an "essential city personnel," I am accustomed to trekking into work in any scenario. City lockdowns don't apply to nurses, so I made my trip through battered Boston to work my night shift April 18, 2013.

I was greeted at the hospital entrance by armed guards with assault rifles. I began my night at work with a heavy heart. Shortly into my shift, I learned that there had been gunshots fired in Cambridge. I switched on the TV in my ICU patient's room and caught glimpses of the rampage that was occurring outside. I felt sick. My heart started racing when one of the nurses said that the hospital was on lockdown and we had to run into the middle of the unit so that every nurse could be accounted for. We heard that there were bomb threats being called in to the hospital and there was rumor that shots were fired in the ER. Even though it was the middle of the night, I called my husband and my brother and told them what was going on.

Miraculously, the longest night shift of my life ended and everyone was okay. The city could resume regular life, as people woke up and discovered that the killer had been caught. I don't know if the city I have called home for 10 years will ever feel the same. I do know that we are more united, experienced and STRONG as a result of April 15, 2013.

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