The photo that saved a life - Off-Ramp for April 20, 2013

The Boston Marathon runner from Studio City and the photo that may have saved her life

Photo courtesy of Renee Opell

Renee Opell with friends Phil Kent and Jennifer Hartman at the Boston Marathon, mile 25. This photo was taken just minutes before the first blast.

David L. Ryan/Boston Globe, used with permission

The chaos Monday at the Boston Marathon, with Renee Opell and her group indicated by the yellow circle.


Studio City resident Renee Opell had come to Boston for her 40th marathon with friends Phil Kent and Jennifer Hartman. It was a "privilege and an honor" to run in the Boston Marathon, Opell says.

"Boston is very prestigious and all marathoners dream of coming to Boston. It's not something everybody gets to do and you work really hard to qualify and then when you get here, it's kind of like the victory lap to your running season to be able to participate in that event."

"We were having a glorious day, the weather was perfect and we were moving along at a pretty steady pace," Opell remembers. But then, at mile 25, Phil's wife Sharon pulled them over to take a picture. At first, Opell was too focused on finishing the marathon to stop. "Come on let's go, we're almost done," Opell told her friends. But she gave in and paused for a quick photo. That pause may have saved their lives.

After the photo, Opell and her friends continued on their way. They were in the home stretch, planning their finish line photo as they ran.

Then the first explosion went off -- just 30 yards from where they were.  Opell and her friends knew they had to get out of there and, holding hands, they moved away from the blast and down a side street.

But what if they hadn't stopped for that one picture? It's a cosmic question that Opell and her friends can't avoid.

"It is the best picture of my life, no doubt about it, and I kind of chuckle when I think about telling them to hurry up. But honestly, it kept us away from a bad place."

Opell, like so many others, was never able to cross the finish line. Amidst the horrific death and destruction that occurred, there are also the crushed ambitions of marathon runners who were never able to finish. For them, the asterisk that will forever be attached to their race record may become a symbol of silent commemoration: an asterisk.

Opell says, "I was saying to a friend I'm going to have my first DNF, which is a Do Not Finish, and it's going to be in the Boston Marathon.  And somebody said, 'Yeah, but it's an asterisk, and it's probably the best one you could ever have.' I said fair enough. I'll take that asterisk, absolutely."


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