Ewing resident Thomas Starnawski was running the Boston Marathon when two explosions turned the race into chaos
Tomasz Starnawski was nearing the last mile of the Boston Marathon April 15, when he got a call from his fiancee, Eva Tkacz. She had been waiting for him at the finish line when she saw the bombs go off, one after the other.
She had a clear view of them from where she stood, on the other side of the street from the blasts that killed three and injured hundreds.
That was how Starnawski found out about the explosions. He was less than nine minutes away from crossing the finish line when the phone in his pocket rang.
“There was drama in her voice,” he said.
Starnawski, 41, and Tkacz, 33, are both Polish immigrants who live in Ewing. Starnawski works as a roofer and is an avid runner. The Boston Marathon was his eighth.
Instead of finishing the race, Starnawski’s new goal was to find Tkacz and leave town. After asking for directions from a police officer, he met her downtown after about half an hour of searching.
Starnawski’s marathon lasted another four miles as he and Tkacz made their way on foot to their downtown hotel. After a quick shower and change of clothes, they drove back to Ewing. The couple had planned to stay the night, but now they wanted to put as much distance between themselves and the mayhem as possible.
“Eva doesn’t want to talk about it,” Starnawski said. “She just wants to forget about it.”
The Boston Marathon wasn’t Starnawski’s first brush with disaster. On a rainy April night in 2006, Starnawski got in a minor car accident, rear-ending another driver at a stop light. As he waited on the shoulder for help to arrive, another car hit him. His injuries were massive, and doctors had to amputate his left leg above the knee.
The amputation was devastating for a man who spent so much time on his legs. He had always preferred to work outside, and enjoyed running and playing soccer. He was determined not to give that up.
“Running is my passion,” he said. “I played soccer for 12 years. I was active all my life.”
What followed was years of physical therapy. Bordentown resident and physical therapist Stacey Halvorsen, who runs the Walking Tall Charities, literally helped Starnawski get back on his feet by finding funding to buy him a running leg and helping him learn how to use it.
Eventually, Starnawski began running marathons again, this time with the Achilles Foundation, a group of runners who are also amputees.
He got a new job as a roofer, although balancing on rooftops dangerous ands painful with the prosthetic leg, and he can only work three or four days a week. The rest of the week, he trains.
As he found out, running in a marathon with a prosthetic is a bit different than it was when he had both of his legs. Marathons provide runners like Starnawski with guides to help see them through the course. He also finds it more tiring than he did before, and occasionally has to stop and walk, although that problem is not unique to amputees.
Starnawski had planned for the Boston Marathon to be his last for the year. But because of the bombing, he is now running again, in the Long Branch Marathon May 5, in honor of the victims of the Boston bombing. He is not afraid it will happen again.
“There are a lot of races, and this was one time. I’m not going to think of the situation. This is not good for you,” he said.
Starnawski was horrified about the bombing, especially since so many people lost legs to the explosions.
“These people need therapy, but this is not the end,” he said. “You will need a lot of help and you will have a lot of problems. But it’s not the end of your life … It’s a new life.”