Just several yards short of the finish line, 78-year-old runner Bill Iffrig was knocked to the ground by one of the two explosions to strike the Boston Marathon Monday.
His experience has now become an iconic image that’s gone viral both in video and via this still photograph captured by Boston Globe Photographer John Tlumacki and Tweeted thousands of times:
“I had just come around the last corner, heading for the finish line. I was within 15 feet of the finish line and all the sudden this blast went off, and oh my God it was so loud,” he told Seattle’s KOMO News.
“I didn’t even have time to think about what it was about. My whole body started getting woozy and my legs were wobbling and I knew I was going to hit the deck,” he said.
After falling to the ground, he realized he had just a scrape on his knee, so with the help of race assistants, he got up and crossed the finish line.
This was the third Boston Marathon for the Lake Stevens, Washington runner who says he has previously run in 45 marathons.
He described his experience to Piers Morgan of CNN (video can be seen below):
I got down to within 15 feet of the finishing apron and just tremendous explosion, sounded like a bomb went off right next to me. And the shock waves just hit my whole body and my legs just started jittering around. I knew I was going down and so I ended up down on the blacktop. And I didn’t feel any severe pain but as I rolled over I seen a little scratch on my leg but nothing too bad so I laid there just momentarily.
Iffrig said that though a Marathon official insisted he sit in a wheelchair after the ordeal, the veteran runner said he could manage the six block walk to his hotel where he met up with his wife.
This video from KOMO shows Iffrig falling from the impact of the blast (images begin 42 seconds into the video):
Boston Globe Photographer John Tlumacki had staked out a position to capture the celebratory images characteristic of the finish line, but instead captured the terrifying moment.
He told CNN, “I was focused on a couple children coming over the finish line. And then the blast occurred, and everybody was just screaming,” he said.
Tlumacki explained that Iffrig “fell in front of me and then the Boston police officers that were near him started drawing their guns. It was just a panic on people’s faces.”
“What a way to end a marathon with a bomb blast. I mean think of all of those thousands of people who come to the Boston Marathon every year,” the photographer said, calling the race “a Boston treasure.”
“This is something that may never be the same for us. I’m just so saddened by what happened. My images are haunting to me and they’re haunting to everybody else and it’s too bad they couldn’t be the regular joyous celebratory images I take all the time for the Globe,” Tlumacki added.
Iffrig told The Herald of Everett, Washington that he believes he saw a remnant of the bomb, a casing resembling coffee can.
“Then all this smoke was coming from someplace, and I wasn’t able to see too much,” he told the paper.
“The officials came flying out there and they stopped the race and they wouldn’t let anyone through. And then the place got busier all the time after that,” the veteran runner added.
Even before the race, Iffrig demonstrated impressive determination. He says he has logged every mile he’s run both in competitions and practice, totaling more than 46,000.
“Not many old guys are as fast as me,” he says.
His son Mark Iffrig echoed that sentiment, saying, “He’s a hell of a runner.”
“He’s run a lot and he’s fast,” he added.
His running partner, Doug Beyerlein, 62, told The Herald, “He’s one of the top runners in the country in his age group.”
Iffrig’s granddaughter Amanda Kilburn said she was relieved to learn Iffrig was safe: “I was walking across campus (at Central Washington University) and somebody ran up to me and asked if I’d heard about the bombing at the Boston Marathon.”
“I kind of freaked out and ran home to call my dad. He said my grandpa was OK,” she told the paper.
His son Mark told The Associated Press that he only learned about the bombing when he logged onto Facebook to post that his father had finished the race.
He says he recognized his father immediately in the viral Boston Globe photograph.
Mark Iffrig says of his father’s experience: “It’s horrible. He said it was quite a concussive blast. He was a little dazed.”
Runner Iffrig says the experience won’t deter him from running future marathons. Not surprising for the competitive racer who despite the blast finished second in his division with a time of 4 hours, 3 minutes, 47 seconds according to the Washington paper.
Watch Iffrig and Photographer John Tlumacki’s interviews on CNN: