Local doctor John Hood returns to Boston Marathon

Apr. 21, 2014 @ 12:10 AM

By the time he arrived home after participating in last year’s Boston Marathon, Dr. John Hood already knew he would make the return trip this year.

“Even if my mom called and said ‘I don’t want you to do it,’ I’d still do it,” Hood said. “Part of my soul is on that course.”

Hood, a Sevierville chiropractor, was standing about two blocks away from the bombing at last year’s marathon. It was the eighth time he had competed in the event, and there was never a moment of doubt in his mind about whether there would be a ninth.

“So many people ask ‘are you nervous, are you scared?’” he said. “Honestly, I’d be more scared of what I’d become if I didn’t go do it.”

When the bombs went off last year, Hood had already finished the race. He said the first explosion sounded like a cannon going off — similar to the sound one might hear when a player hits a home run at nearby Fenway Park.

“Anybody who knows anything about the marathon and the Red Sox knows that they play early, so there’s not a game going on,” Hood said. “So you don’t know what that sound was.”

Then, about 15 seconds later, another blast.

“You felt it, you heard it, because you couldn’t really see anything,” he said. “Once that second one went off, you knew something was wrong. Everyone went running toward the scene and cops were screaming, ‘Get out of the street!’

“I was thinking, oh my gosh, they’re going to start shooting somebody, there’s a terrorist on the loose. I thought I’d be more likely to win the lottery than witness a bombing at the Boston Marathon.”

Because he had already finished the race, Hood had his cell phone with him, and it was constantly buzzing with calls, text messages and Facebook alerts from concerned family, friends and patients. His phone had a low battery, and it soon died, so he asked to use the phone of a stranger on the sidewalk so he could call his mother.

“She answered and said ‘How’d you do in the race?’” Hood said. “She and my father had been out of town, so they were on the road as all of this was happening — they had no idea. I told her I did alright, and that I was OK. Then I said ‘Go turn your tv on.’”

Hood was eventually able to get the word out through both his personal and business Facebook pages that he was not hurt in the bombing. He and the friend he was staying with in Boston had planned to enjoy lunch downtown, watching other racers finish the marathon. They did manage to eventually meet up with each other after the bombing, but while it was originally supposed to be a celebration, the joyous mood of the entire event was ruined.

This left a stain on the positive memories Hood has of the city and the marathons he has enjoyed over the years, which is a major factor in his desire to compete again this year.

“I always remember the first one, it was my very first time in Boston, and I remember bits and pieces of the other ones,” he said. “Last year will forever stand out in my mind. I’ll never forget it, but I will not be deterred by it.”

He believes the legacy of the race — one of the oldest continuous sporting events in the country — is strong enough to rebound from the tragedy last year. “We need to keep this going, this very American event, and we can’t let anybody try to spoil it,” he said. “It’s the Boston Marathon, it’s the one race you want to brag about, it’s the one that makes you stand out. It doesn’t get old. It’s so exciting, those last two miles with 100,000 people cheering — it’s pure adrenaline.”

One of his favorite parts of the marathon — people on the sidewalks congratulating runners who have completed the marathon — became a surreal moment in the aftermath of last year’s race.

“For the first time I’m walking down the street and it’s just sadness, just blank stares,” Hood said. “I just think, are we back to 9/11? Are we going to go through that again?”

Although the marathon was a tragedy, positive things began happening almost immediately upon his return. He got involved with local high school athletics programs, lending his medical expertise, and two of the teams he worked with at Pigeon Forge High School, the baseball and wrestling teams, won state titles.

Hood has ramped up his training and running recently in preparation for the marathon, and he has also helped others who are training. One year has passed since the last marathon, and he hopes to cap it off with a race that leaves a better memory than the last.

“I want another marathon to go with those two state titles,” Hood said.

jold@themountainpress.com