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BOSTON — At least two Charlotteans were among those injured in the Boston Marathon explosions Monday afternoon, according to a family member.
Nicole Gross, 31, a personal trainer at Charlotte Athletic Club, was at the finish line with her husband Michael when the explosions went off; they were waiting for her mother to complete the 26.2-mile race. The couple was separated in the blast.
Michael was released from the hospital Tuesday after receiving treatment for burns suffered in the blast.
NBC Charlotte was told Michael is focusing now on his wife, Nicole, who is now recovering from surgery.
“As many of you have read and seen, Nicole Gross and Erika Brannock (Nicole’s sister from Maryland) sustained severe injuries during the bombing of the Boston Marathon. Both Nicole and Erika’s injuries have required multiple surgeries. They remain hospitalized and anticipate long recoveries,” the Gross family said in a statement.
Both women remain hospitalized. Brannock had her left leg amputated below the knee. Gross suffered a severed Achilles tendon and two broken legs.
“You know, when you get the news that a tragedy like this happened in our country, on our soil, it hits home because your family members are involved,” said Brian.
He said his brother, who is the general manager at Charlotte Athletic Club, has burns and other injuries to his head from the blast. Michael is a former Charlotte Firefighter in SouthPark, Brian says, and there has been an outpouring of support from local firefighters.
A Boston Globe photographer snapped a picture of Nicole on the ground just seconds after the blast. Looking at it for the first time, Brian said, “Just to see the debris and to see Nicole like that is traumatizing to me [at first].”
Nicole is expected to be released to come home later in the week.
“You know, you wonder why people do this. I’m the type of person who wants to fix things, to help people, and right now I’m kind of stuck,” said Brian.
Nicole’s sister, Erika, was with them during the race and lost her leg from the knee down, according to Brian.
“Her sister is at a different hospital, they were able to locate her last night, it took all day,” Brian said Tuesday morning to NBC Charlotte. “She is in critical condition, both legs were injured. From what I understand, my brother said, one of her leg’s was amputated from the knee down. The other, well, they are just watching it right now.”
Brian said he was at work when he first heard about the bombings, and shortly after that his phone and e-mail was flooded with concerned family and friends.
“I did end up hearing, shortly after the bombs took place, that my brother, Nicole and her sister, Erika, were injured. Erika and Nicole, Micheal was not able to find them.”
The Gross family said they’re thankful for all the love and support they have received from the Charlotte and Boston communities.
“In tragic times such as this, the outpouring of assistance offers from family, friends, and others, and their thoughts and prayers have been wonderfully overwhelming and are greatly appreciated.
“The caregivers at the scene and the hospitals, and the efforts of local, state, and federal agencies, have been professional and comforting during the worst of times,” the family said in a statement.
Charlotte runner shaken after witnessing bombings
Charlotte runner Denise Derkowski already was wearing her finisher’s medal when she heard the explosion just five minutes after completing her race.
“Nobody knew what it was,” said Derkowski, 47. “Then when I saw the smoke, I was like, ‘That is not right.’ But it was surreal. After running that far, I was just like, ‘That can’t be what I think it is.’ And then I saw the second one I’m like, ‘This is not good…’ ”
Mark Ulrich, a Charlotte software architect, had finished earlier Monday afternoon and was back in his hotel getting ready to celebrate his first Boston finish with friends when the first explosion went off.
“It was loud. It sounded almost like a transformer blowing, but it was louder, and we were like, ‘That sounded like a bomb … like something blew up,’ ” said Ulrich, 40. When he and his friends looked out the window of his room at the Westin Copley Place, about half a block from the finish line, “we could see a big puff of white smoke.”
Like Derkowski, he was much more worried about the second boom.
“It’s kind of like the World Trade Center (attacks) – when it happens once you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe it was just something weird.’ Then when it happens twice, you’re like, ‘No, probably not,’ ” said Ulrich by cellphone; sirens could easily be heard in the background.
“We turned on the TV and it took about 10 minutes for them to pick up, but there were instantly sirens everywhere, and you could tell that they had blocked it all off and there was no more finishers coming through. At that point we knew: Something bad happened.”
Dave Munger, 46, of Davidson, didn’t hear the explosions from the park bench he was sitting on in Boston Common, a nearby public park. But not long after, he heard lots of sirens.
“It just puts everything in perspective. I had a lousy race, but it’s like who cares at this point,” said Munger. “Mainly what we’re doing is trying to find out on Facebook if our friends are OK. … Maybe we’ll try to find someplace that’s open for dinner, and that’s gonna be that. It’s tragic, and it’s just such a horrible kind of blight on what’s supposed to be a really great day.”
The Charlotte Observer contributed to this story.
As Good As It Gets
Looking for Inspiration? What one runner did for another in Boston
Laura Wellington, a 25-year-old Cambridge claims adjuster, was one of the runners who didn’t get to finish the marathon. She was stopped a half-mile from the finish line and, when she learned what happened, panicked, knowing that her family was waiting for her in Copley Square. As she walked down Mass. Ave, Laura made frantic calls and was finally able to reach a friend, who was with her family and assured her they were OK. Here, in Wellington’s own words, is what happened next:
“I was just so happy … that I sat down and started crying. Just couldn’t hold it back. At that moment, a couple walking by stopped. The woman took the space tent off her husband, who had finished the marathon, and wrapped it around me. She asked me if I was OK, if I knew where my family was. I reassured her I knew where they were and I would be OK. The man then asked me if I finished, to which I nodded ‘no.’ He then proceeded to take the medal off from around his neck and placed it around mine. He told me, ‘You are a finisher in my eyes.’ I was barely able to choke out a ‘thank you’ between my tears.”
They separated, but after the initial shock passed, Wellington thought about the couple and how much that gesture meant to her. She posted her story on Facebook in the hopes that she might find them and tell them.
“This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be OK,” she said.
By yesterday afternoon, her story had nearly 250,000 “likes” and had been shared more than 150,000 times. At around 1 p.m. yesterday, Kailee Cunningham posted to Wellington’s page saying, “That’s my mom and dad!”
Wellington was able to contact Brent and Karin Cunningham, who live in Alaska, and say a proper thank you.
In an interview with a local radio station, Brent said he gave Wellington his medal because “I just had to.”
It’s not about whether or not you cross the finish line, it’s about why you race and who will be there waiting for you.
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“I got my medal and she didn’t,” he said. “It was like, I cannot not give it to you, you deserve it. And she just started bawling.”