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UMass helps with healing after week of tragic violence

  • University of Massachusetts football players Randall Jette, from left, Brandon Howard, Rob Blanchflower, Stanley Andre and Klysmann Afonso wear special jerseys for the spring football game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. They recognized the victims of the  Boston Marathon bombings and the city's response to the events of the past week. <br/>SARAH CROSBY

    University of Massachusetts football players Randall Jette, from left, Brandon Howard, Rob Blanchflower, Stanley Andre and Klysmann Afonso wear special jerseys for the spring football game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. They recognized the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and the city's response to the events of the past week.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts football player Brandon Howard tosses a ball during the spring football game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. Howard honored Lu Lingzi, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombings, by wearing her name on his jersey.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    University of Massachusetts football player Brandon Howard tosses a ball during the spring football game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. Howard honored Lu Lingzi, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombings, by wearing her name on his jersey.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts football players stand for the national anthem   before the spring game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. UMass honored victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

    University of Massachusetts football players stand for the national anthem before the spring game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. UMass honored victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt.
    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • University of Massachusetts football players Randall Jette, from left, Brandon Howard, Rob Blanchflower, Stanley Andre and Klysmann Afonso wear special jerseys for the spring football game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. They recognized the victims of the  Boston Marathon bombings and the city's response to the events of the past week. <br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • University of Massachusetts football player Brandon Howard tosses a ball during the spring football game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. Howard honored Lu Lingzi, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombings, by wearing her name on his jersey.<br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • University of Massachusetts football players stand for the national anthem   before the spring game Saturday at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst. UMass honored victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent manhunt.<br/>SARAH CROSBY

The 47-year-old from Holliston was closing in on the finish line April 15 when race officials stopped him and hundreds of others from proceeding down Boylston Street following the explosion of two bombs that killed three people.

Until he runs that final stretch, Frost said he won’t really have closure.

But on Saturday he was one of six runners who came to Amherst for the University of Massachusetts annual spring football game. The event was originally scheduled to be a standard intrasquad scrimmage with some alumni participation.

But after the bombings, Minuteman coach Charley Molnar wanted to use the event to “honor the people who lost their lives and celebrate those who trained for the Marathon and didn’t get a chance to finish.”

A runner himself who plans to compete in his first marathon this summer, Molnar invited anyone who was unable to complete the Boston Marathon to “cross the finish line” at UMass.

“I’m really thankful UMass is doing something like this,” Frost said. “At some point in time, I’ll go run that last half mile and I’ll have that closure. This was just nice to be part of.”

All six runners ran into McGuirk Stadium through the south entrance. They went three-quarters for the way around the stadium before concluding at midfield. The final 50 was through two lines of players, alumni and youngsters all reaching out to high-five them.

Frost was joined at UMass by his girlfriend Lori Mitchener, who had actually just finished the race when the first bomb exploded.

“I was just at the point where they give out the medals. I heard the first one, turned around and watched the second one,” said Mitchener, who ran at the UMass event despite finishing in Boston. “My mom was in the bleachers. That was my first thought. And I didn’t know where Tom was on the course. It was bad.”

Mitchener found her mother, who escaped the nearby bleachers unharmed, fairly quickly. But she and Frost were not reunited for another two hours.

“The thing that was really hard was we didn’t know what was going on,” Frost said. “There were rumors going around that a transformer had blown up then the term pipe bomb started getting thrown around. I knew Lori and her mom were in that area so I got really worried.

“It was tough I had run almost a full marathon and got stopped, no food, no water, nothing and we’re all shivering by that point,” he continued. “It was two hours before I finally found Lori. I was physically pretty sore and mentally pretty drained.”

Also mentally drained for most of the week after being stopped four miles short of finish line near Boston College was runner Lisa Lunt.

“They started yelling that the Marathon was over, get off the road. We followed the police cars,” she said. “Some people gave me a sweatshirt. Someone lent me a phone. I couldn’t remember anyone’s number. I went to a bar where they fed me and I watched what was happening on TV.”

After a “surreal and unproductive” week, Lunt said the end of the manhunt late Friday night helped bring her closer to normalcy.

“I feel like a new person today,” she said. “Nothing will bring the people back, but I really feel like being able to maybe get some answers and putting people’s minds at ease about their safety, we can start to heal and move forward. We can focus on coming back next year to really honor our city, our people and first responders.”

Lunt, a 2005 alumna of UMass from Shrewsbury, was running her second marathon raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. She ran the entire distance carrying an American flag with names sewn on it.

“I carry the flag for our service members that are currently serving or who have died overseas,” Lunt said.

She liked the UMass offer of a finish line.

“There’s other things going on in Boston. But this place is special to me. I wanted to come and finish it here. I want them to cross the finish line,” she said motioning to the names on her flag. “They’re my heroes.”

Lunt had added four names to the flag — Lingzi Lu, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, the three people who died in the explosions at the Marathon, and Sean Collier, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer who was killed by the allege bombers Thursday night.

Those same names were on the backs of four UMass football players, replacing their own names. Senior defensive end Stanley Andre and freshman wide receiver Klysmann Afonso each represented someone from their hometown. Andre wore fellow Dorchester native Richard’s name and Afonso wore that of Campbell, who also was from Medford.

Brandon Howard represented Lu and Randall Jette replaced his name with Collier’s. Senior captain Rob Blanchflower had “#BostonStrong” in place of his name.

Afonso said he was proud to be included.

“Some of my friends know (Campbell) and her family. They said she was a great girl, a joy to be around. I was just so proud to have her name on my nameplate,” he said.

“That was a huge honor to me to represent Medford and her and the bombing victims,” he added. “Everybody back home gets to see that we care and support Medford. Having an opportunity to do this is unforgettable. I’m not going to forget this for the rest of my life.”

Molnar said he was pleased with the event.

“We started out with just a small thought trying to honor those who lost their lives and to celebrate those who trained for the Marathon and didn’t get a chance to finish,” he said. “As those runners came around that final turn and through that tunnel, the outpouring of emotion from not only the runners, but our football team and our alumni and fans, really tugged at my heart. The whole day was a great experience.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

AMHERST — When the annual University of Massachusetts spring football game was over Saturday, Gary Menin and Randall Jette shared a short conversation and then a hug on the McGuirk Stadium field. The 30-year-old tax attorney from Milton and the University of Massachusetts freshman cornerback had never met before Saturday when they were united by Sean Collier, the police officer …

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