Updated Tue, Apr 23, 2013 7:42 pm
An Ohio University alumna who crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon within seconds of the first of two deadly explosions says she is coping with the trauma by inspiring others to "get off the couch."
Demi Knight Clark, a 1999 OU graduate and North Carolina health coach, had just crossed to the right side of the course to wave to her husband and two young daughters when a large explosion jolted hundreds to her left as the race clock in at least one photograph read 4 hours, 9 minutes and 43 seconds.
"I had an official on the other side of finish line," said Clark. "I saw his face and I'll never forget it. It was the most horrified look I've ever seen in my life and I immediately turned to the left and there it all was."
Aerial race video captures Clark crossing the finish line at 4 hours, 9 minutes and 46 seconds, wearing an orange shirt and green hat and turning left to a graphic scene she says is indescribable to those viewing at home.
"It was people without limbs. It was people blown up against fences and just with their limbs jack knifed in ways that they're not supposed to be with the human body and just blood everywhere," she said. "It was a horrific scene that no one should have to go through."
A lifetime of emotions squeezed into just seconds.
"It starts with euphoria and relief that you're finishing 26.2 miles and being a little teary and emotional because you just waved at your daughters, and then the blast goes off and it goes to confusion to panic to terror, seeing that [official's] face, to horror, seeing the carnage and then to dead-on fear that this might be my last moment and my family's if the bleachers go up."
Clark rushed toward her family in the stands, her six and nine-year-old daughters still holding hand-written signs.
"I just remember this kind of silent scream," said Clark, who lost hearing and could only feel the vibrations of her own voice until hours after the blast. "My children were sobbing, I was sobbing and my husband was saying 'Get us out of here.'"
In the immediate hours and days following the blasts, Clark tended to her children, who are now seeing a counselor to help them deal with post-traumatic stress.
"The smoke kind of came out almost immediately to their vantage point, but then the chaos and then the fear and screaming and blood and people being wheeled around and just all of that they saw," she said.
Her nine-year old came home from school with a "WANTED" reward picture she had doodled of a suspect, fearful that the individuals responsible were now in her own town.
"She drew a reward wanted, $5,000. I guess she just picked that amount out of air and drew this very grizzly picture," said Clark "It was a sunny day in Boston so she drew a sun burn, he has an eye patch and it just says 'ugly man.'
It wasn't until days after that Clark had to time to internalize the event for herself.
"It's gone through my head a million times. That exact question. Why was I spared? To be the exact moment of going across the finish line with 26,999 other runners before or behind me. Why me? I think the answer to that question is that I'm here to inspire people to get off the couch," she said. "If you sit on the couch, then I don't have any other way to say it but the terrorists win."
She says this national tragedy can become a lesson for us all.
"We all have something like this happen in our daily lives, not at this magnitude, but little tragedies. You don't go upstairs and get in your bed and throw the covers over your head. You've got to keep moving," she said.
Clark's already followed her own advice, participating in two memorial runs for the victims of Monday's attack and preparing to run another marathon in the fall. She said she's also reprioritized what's important in her life.
"Would I get mad at somebody because they cut me off in traffic? Would that be my last memory?" she said. "No. That's not what my last moments are going to be about. I'm going to make it about spending time with my family, making memories, having balance and if I can inspire that in other people to just get fired up about something then anybody can make it through this."
She joins thousands of others who are committed to living meaningful lives for the Boston victims who no longer can.