Longtime marathon volunteer ready for her final race
April 20, 2014
By C. Ryan Barber, Cape Cod Times
Cathy Lohse was bouncing between tables, shouting herself hoarse as she urged on volunteers packing snack bags full of potato chips, fruit cups and cookies.
With just hours to fill thousands of bags, Lohse and her team of nearly 100 volunteers were locked in on their makeshift assembly line. But when the first blast rang out two blocks up Boylston Street, Lohse took a break to walk up and see what happened at the Boston Marathon finish line.
"We thought it was a cannon marking the four-hour mark, because we didn't know," Lohse said.
She was just a block away when the second bomb exploded.
"And then they said, 'Everybody leave.'"
The tragic 2013 Boston Marathon was supposed to be Lohse's last after 23 years of volunteering at the race, most recently as a team captain overseeing food distribution. But as the months went by, Lohse realized she was not ready to leave.
On Monday, she is returning to take her last lap as a volunteer.
"I was getting overwhelmed with coaching. I just kind of wanted to go up and enjoy Boston and cheer on my friends who were running, still be involved but in a different way," said Lohse, 41, who coaches the Massachusetts Maritime Academy's track and field team and is a teaching assistant in the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District. "Then, with everything that happened, I just didn't want to leave on that kind of a note. It was unfinished business."
When the bombs went off and the crowd scattered, many of her volunteers left. Lohse, along with her family, friends from the Cape Cod Athletic Club and two members of the academy's track team, were among the volunteers who stayed to prevent anyone but police and emergency responders from approaching the finish line.
"There was a small group of us that wound up staying as long as we could. I never had any worry," said Kristin Mattera, of Medford, who will replace Lohse next year. "We didn't know what was going on, but Cathy was there, and the situation was as under control as it could be given the circumstances."
Eventually, the group went to the Boston Common, where cellphone reception was not cut off. When Lohse pulled out her phone to send a text, she found about 75 messages asking, "Coach, are you OK?" and "Cathy, are you OK?"
She asked what was going on, and one member of the track team asked how close she was to the bomb.
"And I said, 'What bomb?'" Lohse recounted.
Driving back home to West Yarmouth, she saw police cars racing up Route 3 to Boston.
"You didn't realize how intense it was until after the fact," Lohse said.
Back in Boston, on her section of Boylston Street, Lohse left behind bags of food. In past years, she stayed until the very end to make sure it looked as though the team was never there.
And in the days after what was supposed to be her last marathon, she emailed volunteers to thank them and let them know services were available to them.
She never said goodbye in those emails.
"I didn't like leaving it like that. I felt like it was just unfinished, and I want to finish on a better note than that," she said. "I didn't want to do it by email. It's just not my style."
Lohse's service in the marathon started with friends in the Cape Cod Athletic Club heading up to volunteer and cheer on the runners. She was an 18-year-old single mother at the time, but it was just one day out of the year, Lohse said, and she thought she would lend a hand.
That day 24 years ago, she was swept up by the energy of the race, the excitement of shaking hands with the best athletes in the world. She has returned every year since.
And every third Monday in April for the past several years, Rich Havens said Lohse has essentially seized control over her section of Boylston Street. In a short time, she orchestrates about 90 people packing 30,000 bags of food, said Havens, the Boston Athletic Association's finish area coordinator.
She runs a lot.
"I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, and I go to each table and I take pictures and I just get everybody motivated and excited," Lohse said. "It can be tedious if you don't make it fun, so I try to make it fun. I think that's why they enjoy coming back year after year."
"She doesn't stop moving," added Mattera, who has volunteered on Lohse's team for seven marathons. "It's a very busy day, everyone's on their feet all day. She's really good at what she does."
Havens knew she was "thinking about making last year her last year." But when he called Lohse a few months after the 2013 marathon to ask if she would come back, Havens said she "came out and said it.
"She knew she wanted to give it one more year," he said.
In 2015, Havens will give Lohse one of his few invitation entries into the Boston Marathon. It will be her 25th marathon, but only her first as a runner.
"It's going to be bittersweet. It's going to be great to have her come across the finish line. At the same time, she's not going to be there," Mattera said. "Since I started, she's been a part of this. I hope I can do her proud."