Boston U. women, in first race since bombings, get warm welcome

Nikko Brady (right) hands the baton to Boston University teammate Gemma Acheampong in the 4x100 at the Penn Relays. BU placed 34th. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Nikko Brady (right) hands the baton to Boston University teammate Gemma Acheampong in the 4x100 at the Penn Relays. BU placed 34th. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 27, 2013

In any other year, their red uniforms would have blurred into the kaleidescope of color at the world's oldest and largest track and field carnival.

This year was different for the women who wore those bright tops emblazoned with six large letters: "B-O-S-T-O-N."

"Everybody was saying something to us," said Boston University's Nikko Brady, a senior from New Castle, Del., who ran the opening leg on the Terriers' 4x100 relay team at the Penn Relays on Thursday. "Everybody was like, 'We got you, Boston. You go, Boston.' "

The race on a breezy, brilliant afternoon in Franklin Field marked the first time the Boston University women were back on the track since their city was shaken by the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Their campus is about a mile and a half from the marathon's finish line. There were Boston University student trainers at the scene, "seeing things they'll never forget," said women's track and field coach Robyne Johnson.

Brady and teammates Shelby Walton, Julia Mirochnick, and Gemma Acheampong were locked down with the rest of the city during that tense manhunt last Friday, stuck inside as sirens sporadically sounded outside their dorm rooms and apartments.

"I don't think I'll ever hear sirens again and not think about the last two weeks," said Mirochnick, a senior from Hingham, Mass.

Said Acheampong, a sophomore from Waterbury, Conn.: "You're watching everything on TV and you hear the sirens and it's like, 'That's real life out there.' "

The Terriers were supposed to compete in a meet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last weekend. But that event was canceled after an MIT security officer, Sean Collier, was killed, allegedly by the suspected Boston Marathon bombers, on a street adjacent to the outdoor track, according to Johnson.

"It's great to just escape from it a little bit," said Walton, a senior from Danbury, Conn. "We come down here and everybody is just so supportive of us."

After their heat, the Boston University women were greeted by Penn Relays official Tom Meagher, who was the coordinator of the finish line at the Boston Marathon.

Meagher, a starter at the Penn Relays, couldn't talk about what he saw when the bombs exploded on that afternoon.

"I did a couple interviews and then the FBI told me to . . . " Meagher said, buttoning his lips in pantomime. "They said I'm a potential witness."

But the 67-year-old life-long Bostonian, who is an assistant dean of students at a private school in the city, nearly broke down in tears when asked about the support the Boston University women received from runners and others at the Penn Relays.

"It's overwhelming to see," Meagher said, patting his heart.

Like those major-league baseball games after 9/11, like the London Marathon last weekend, the Penn Relays this weekend provides an opportunity for a large public gathering at a sporting event in the wake of a terrorist attack.

There's a mix of defiance and remembrance in the air, a return to what now passes as normalcy in an age of long security lines and extra precautions.

Inconvenience is part of the deal: Those lengthy lines that snaked down South Street on Thursday morning had anxious athletes backed up hundreds deep. Some of them seemed frantic they would miss their events.

But there's also a strong sense of camaraderie.

Nothing symbolized that more than the "thumbs up" signs and "I see you, Boston" comments that greeted the four women in the Boston University uniforms as they made their way through the crowds.

Nothing much better happened on the first full day of the 119th Penn Relays than that show of support for a relay team that finished seventh in its heat but still made its mark, and that wore red amid a riot of color but still stood out.

"We feel loved," Brady said.

Contact Phil Anastasia at

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