Koy Saath counts himself twice a survivor.
“I think I had yet another chance. I survived in Cambodia, and I survived in Boston.”
The 59-year-old runner was just minutes out of harm’s way when the twin blasts erupted at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon on April 15. Three people were killed, and 183 injured. After four days of endless media speculation, online sleuthing and conspiracy theories, it emerged that the bombers were the brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who both emigrated from Russia as children about a decade ago.
The first bomb exploded at the finish line minutes after Saath finished the marathon, while the second bomb exploded just down the street from where he had been running moments before.
“I was walking at the finish, where they gave me a blanket. I walked to get my medal, then ‘boom’,” said Saath, who added that he was about 100 meters away from the blast.
Saath said that he was tempted to slow down toward the end due to cramps, which could have cost him his life.
“I didn’t run fast that day; I was cramped up. But luckily, I did not stop at the finish line. People were yelling, ‘There’s the finish line. Don’t stop!’”
When he heard the explosion, Saath instantly knew it was a bomb.
“Some people thought it was fireworks, but I realised no, it’s a bomb.”
Saath, who was a 21-year-old student at the Royal University of Law and Economics in 1975, said he experienced bombings on a regular basis prior to the fall of Phnom Penh on April 17.
“When I was young in the ’70s and we were fighting the communists, there were rockets. A lot of the time, you would be out riding your motorcycle when the bombs would come.”
Luckily for Saath, he left Cambodia two months before the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh with the intention of studying in France. But he soon found himself a refugee in Thailand when the Lon Nol government fell. Needing a more permanent home, he emigrated to the United States.
The rest of Saath’s family perished.
“All my family – two brothers and four sisters – were killed by the Khmer Rouge. No one survived as I know.”
After spending time in a refugee centre in Pennsylvania, he was accepted to the University of Rhode Island and received a degree in electrical engineering. He also met Luisa, a young Portuguese immigrant whom he married. In 1980, Saath took a job at an electrical company in Ohio, where he has lived and worked since.
It was at this time that he discovered a passion for running during community fun runs.
“To me, it keeps your mind and your body in balance. You got to keep yourself in shape; you just got to keep healthy. That’s my main goal.”
Saath said he loves the Boston Marathon for its inclusiveness and camaraderie.
“There are so many people from all around the world. The marathon fans cheer for everyone, they don’t care if it’s their families or whoever. They just cheer anyone.”
He has run regularly for the past 30 years, with his personnel record set at 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) in three hours and 24 minutes. This was Saath’s fourth consecutive Boston Marathon, and he has vowed to return next year. In fact, he’s already qualified.
“In Cambodia, you could not stay inside your house when the bombs came; you had to go live your life. You’ve got freedom in the US, so you have to keep going.”