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Boston native Ethan Zohn was at mile 22 of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and wounding 264 others.
On Monday, he will join the Universal Sports Network as their social media correspondent to act as the “eyes and ears on the ground” for the 118th running of the historic race.
On Friday, it was announced that The Shield star and Boston native Michael Chiklis will narrate a three-minute opening sequence, to start the race, that will air at 9:28 a.m. ET on Marathon Monday. The theme of Universal Sports Network program this year is “run as one,” focusing on uniting people together in the aftermath of last year’s tragedy.
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Rather than just a physical challenge, it was 40-year-old Zohn’s dream to run the Boston Marathon and follow in the footsteps of his father, who died when Ethan was 14. “The marathon itself meant so much to me for so many reasons,” said the Survivor winner from Lexington, Mass., who was captain of the Grassroot Soccer running team for last year’s race.
“It was a perfect day, then the bombing happened — and it suddenly became very strange and surreal,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was there for a lot of beautiful things, then this horrible terrorist attack occurred.”
Far enough away from the blast not to be hurt, Zohn says that he didn’t even realize there had been an explosion at first. “For the next three minutes, it was like nothing happened. Then at mile 24, people started talking about bombs going off, but I was still in my own head. I was just ready for the thing [the race] to be over,” he explains.
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Soon the grim reality of the situation set in: “When I got to mile 25, there were police barricades and people were pulling me off the course, and I realized how serious it was.
“Seeing the people coming back [from the blast zone] and the silence when they should be celebrating this wonderful life moment was so scary,” Zohn tells THR, adding that one member of his team was present when the bomb went off. “He was in all the footage. That made it very real.”
Even for those who weren’t hurt, they faced an ordeal trying to get out of downtown Boston to safety after running the grueling course. “I couldn’t get in touch with my mom, all the cell phones were shut down, there was no food or public transport. You’re freezing and tired and realize that people were injured or killed,” he explains. “The world knew about the bomb quicker than the runners did because we didn’t have our cell phones, so I had no clue what was going on.”
Amid the terror, “what was wonderful was how people came together … the community of this group of runners and of Boston. It was beautiful in a time of sorrow.”
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Zohn, a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009, had been planning to run the 2014 marathon but got sidelined by injury two months ago. “I had to back out, which I hate doing. So I am really excited to be part of the marathon in some small way,” explains the athlete, who ran the New York Marathon following successful chemotherapy.
Instead of lacing up his running shoes, “I will be working as the official social media correspondent for the Universal Sports Network. I will be right there at the finish line and sharing what is going on at that moment with tweets and on Facebook, and sharing the stories of the inspirational athletes. I will be the eyes on the ground for Universal. For me that is pretty cool to be part of it in a pretty big way,” he says.
“The marathon this year will be a really emotional experience. There will be people celebrating their life, people running who were injured, people who lost loved ones last year … it’s going to be a special day, and it’s going to be hard to get through.”
Despite the sadness, he is looking forward to seeing the sporting community come together — not to erase what happened “but to show how strong everyone is and the resilience of this city.”
STORY: ESPN’s ’30 for 30: Soccer Stories’ Tells the Horror of the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster
The 36,000 runners (which marks the second largest field in the history of the event) will all be running for something bigger than themselves, says Zohn. “Everyone out there is a hero for the day.”
One runner that Ethan is especially inspired by is Heather Abbott, a 2013 survivor who lost part of her leg in the blasts.
“I can’t even predict how I am going to feel watching everyone cross the finish line, but I am not afraid to cry — a lot!” he admits.
Universal Sports Network will air a preview show on April 19 and then the prerace, starting at 8:30 a.m. ET on April 21, followed by live coverage from Copley Square.
Jackie Mansky contributed to this story.
Watch video of Heather Abbott’s road to recovery below:
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