Lehigh trainer honored for heroics at Boston Marathon bombings

Posted: January 29, 2014

THE MEMORIES don't come back in only images. There are also sounds and smells - unpleasant reminders of a tragic day seared into the consciousness of Jack Foley.

"What was so real to me were the sounds and the smell," said Foley, a 61-year-old athletic trainer from Bethlehem, who was one of the first responders to the tragic bombings that shattered the 2013 Boston Marathon. "The smell was pungent; well, I shouldn't say pungent, but it was strong.

"I was very much aware from the second blast that the sounds were getting louder, and they were about people screaming in horror. They were about fear. They were about pain. They were about looking for help."

So often in sports, we look at a play on the field or a moment of athletic artistry and use the word heroic.

We do it so often, we sometimes take for granted what true heroism is.

Heroism isn't sinking the last bucket, hitting a game-winning home run or throwing a touchdown.

Heroism is having the world around you erupt into chaos without warning, and then heading directly into the unknown, without considering the potential dangers still around to do what you are trained to do - help others.

That's what Foley and more than five dozen athletic trainers who were some of the first to react on the horrific day in April did, when terrorists struck at one of America's greatest sporting events, leaving three dead and more than 250 injured.

That's why Foley was presented last night with the 2014 Most Courageous Athlete Award by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.

"I was both honored and humbled," said Foley, the director of sports medicine at Lehigh University, where he has worked for 27 years. "I thought it was a great way to keep the memory of those less fortunate among our thoughts and prayers.

"It's obvious to me that this award is not about me, but about the hundreds of people who ran toward and not away from the blast.

"It represents thousands of first responders throughout this country, many of whom do it every single day of their lives. They are the real heroes. I'm just humbled to be able to say a few words of gratitude to them and for them."

We imagine how we would react when high-stress situations suddenly occur. We like to believe we know, but the truth is we cannot.

Who can imagine starting a day stationed at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, prepared to assist runners who might be in distress from the race, and then being thrust into the middle of what had to seem like a war zone?

When the first of the pressure-cooker bombs exploded, Foley, who graduated from Bishop McDevitt High School, said he thought it was a blown transformer.

He saw people fall and immediately rushed toward them. About 12 seconds later, the second bomb exploded, and then everyone knew it was an attack.

Without knowing whether there were more bombs, the first responders worked to treat the injured as chaos engulfed the area.

"I don't think any of us know exactly how we will respond," said Foley, who has been an athletic trainer for 35 years and has worked numerous Penn Relays. "I think [it is] my upbringing from my family.

"I never thought about that. I just believe it was my inner fabric from growing up and the training I have from my profession. We have medical training to react to emergency situations. We are taught to recognize and refer.

"I can sit here and tell you that, when I was going in, I don't have all the tools to do what I want to do. You feel kind of helpless until others arrive, and then you can stop the bleeding, immobilize and then move [the victims] out.

"People ask if there is something you can take from this. Life can change in an instant, and the question is, how will you react? It certainly will define you in a large part, from that moment on."

According to accounts citing officials at the Boston Marathon, first responders such as Foley were able to evacuate 97 victims from the first bomb site, triage and get them to ambulances to nine Boston hospitals. They did that within 22 minutes, and all of the victims who were sent to hospitals survived.

There are scars. How could there not be?

"It's still very recent," he said. "I can certainly tell you that when I first got back, I was not ready to go back to work. I needed to process.

"There were certain days when a fire whistle would blow and an engine came down the street; it took me right back there.

"That was one of the impressions as we were leaving [the blast area]. It was three or four streets long, fire engines; three or four streets, ambulances; three or four streets long, military; three or four streets long, police.

"As you were leaving, you were in a gantlet, because they were all waiting, should something else occur."

Foley said he will return to Boston in April to work the marathon again

"As I say to people who ask me if I wish I hadn't have gone there," Foley said, "no, I'm glad I was there. I'm glad I made the right decision. I'm glad I went the right way."

The honorees

Here are the winners from last night’s Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet:

Team of the year:  Boston Red Sox

Philadelphia Pro Athlete:  Danny Garcia

Outstanding National Pro Athlete:  LeSean McCoy

Native Son:  Bo Ryan

Living Legend:  Bill Barber

Athlete Good Guy:  Jason Avant

Amateur Athlete:  Rondell White, West Chester running back

Lifetime Achievement Award:  Bernard Hopkins

Ed Snider Lifetime Distinguished Humanitarian:  Jim Murray, former Eagles GM, founder of the Eagles Fly for Lukemia campaign, founder of first Ronald McDonald House

Penn Relays Frank Dolson Award:  Emily Lipari, Villanova

Army/Navy Game MVP:  Keenan Reynolds, Navy quarterback

1973 and 1974 Stanley Cup Commemoration:  Bernie Parent and Bob Clarke

Special Achievement Awards

Wayne Hardin:  Temple and Naval Academy football coach; College Football Hall of Fame inductee

Tim Van Liew:  Rutgers-Camden track & field

Denise Dillon:  Drexel women’s basketball coach

Jay Greenberg:  Former Flyers beat writer for Daily News; Hockey Hall of Fame inductee

Eastern High School Field Hockey:  14 straight N.J. State Field Hockey championships and this year won N.J. Tournament of Champions

Honored guests

Joe Conklin:  comedian & radio personality

Ryne Sandberg:  Phillies manager

Ruben Amaro Jr.:  Phillies general manager

Lou Guzzi:  PGA Teacher of the Year

Cody Asche:  Phillies third baseman

Dr. John Giannini:  La Salle men’s basketball coach

Chris Albright:  Former Union defender

Jerome Allen:  Penn basketball coach

Carolyn Gray:  Philadelphia & Boston Marathon runner

Brandon Matthews:  Temple golfer

Michael Mills:  Penn fencer

Alfredo Santana:  La Salle men’s track

John Robertson:  Villanova quarterback

Mo Hawkins:  St. Joe’s women’s soccer

Ken Tribbett:  Drexel men’s soccer

Kristen Blye:  Phila. U women’s basketball

Marcelin Withler:  Rowan running back

Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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