SOUTH PORTLAND — On April 15, 2013, South Portland paramedic firefighter Matthew Cox was cheering on a friend as she crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Eight minutes and two deadly explosions later, he left his loved ones and raced toward Boylston Street to help care for the more than 200 runners and spectators wounded by an act of terror.
Exactly a year later, Cox, 34, set off on a three-mile run around Bug Light Park as part of his last week of training for the 2014 Boston Marathon on April 21.
He was selected to run this year after marathon organizers opened up a limited number of slots to those affected by the bombings; Cox is using his entry to raise money for the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation, a charity started by the parents of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the bombings.
Cox, who moved to Wells from Oregon two years ago, said preparing for his second marathon and fundraising for the charity have become his coping mechanism.
“When you’re running, you’re visualizing yourself running the marathon on the day, so every run has been bringing me back and dealing with it,” Cox said. “That’s part of why I’m doing it, it’s part of the healing process.”
Cox had been a paramedic for two years at the time of the bombings. After receiving information from his parents, who were watching the news at home, and seeing police began rushing toward the scene, he said he knew he had to do something.
Cox’s wife, Cheryl, and their friend who had just finished running the Marathon, Jennifer Myers, of Oregon, both remember his immediate instinct to run toward the carnage while urging them to seek safety.
“My heart just dropped. I knew he had to go, that’s who he is, he has to help people. But it was a horrible feeling. He’s my rock,” Cheryl said.
“I remember all of us standing on the street corner, we all hugged and he just ran off to go help,” Myers said. “It’s a scary moment because you don’t know the extent to everything that’s happening. You don’t know if you’re going to see that person again.”
Cox worked with other emergency medical service providers in a triage tent to stop victims’ bleeding for nearly three hours, although he said the incredibly organized response team at the marathon had most injured people out of the streets in a half hour.
“Looking back, I wish I could have made it to the actual scene, I probably could have done more,” Cox said. “A lot of lives were saved that day. I’m not saying I saved any, but Boston EMS was amazing.”
Cox returned to his wife and friends at a nearby hotel and the group went to Cox’s parent’s house in Andover, Mass. When they turned on the news and saw Martin Richard’s face, their hearts sank.
“He was right there,” Cox said. “We were standing right across from where he was killed.”
“It definitely had an impact on him,” Cheryl said of her husband’s demeanor that evening. “He probably hasn’t even told me all the feelings he’s had surrounding it; it was a very traumatic experience. But I’m very thankful he was there to help.”
Cox has worked with children’s charities and camps for children with serious illnesses for much of his adult life, and said he dreams of one day starting his own therapeutic recreation camp for children affected by violence and trauma.
He said Martin Richard’s sister, Jane, who lost a leg in the bombing, and those affected by the Sandy Hook shootings, are the perfect examples of children who need special places to learn to be kids again.
“Those kids need camp,” Cox said.
Those dreams sparked his fundraising for the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation in this year’s marathon.
The Richard family promises on their website that the nearly $1 million collected so far “should honor Martin’s message of peace by investing in education, athletics and community.” Cox said he hopes to one day meet the family, and perhaps get them to support his camp idea.
So far, Cox has raised more than $2,000 for the foundation. He said he hopes to meet his goal of $5,000 by Monday. The South Portland Fire Department union is sponsoring his run, and he’s also selling space on the shirt he will wear in the marathon.
“I think Matt running for the Martin Richard charity speaks to his character 110 percent,” Myers said. “He’s always believed in helping kids and always done fundraisers. It really speaks to his heart.”
Myers had a qualifying time for this year’s race, but she chose not to participate.
So this year, Cox will be the one heading for the finish line, where Cheryl and their two children (Cadence, 6, and Owen, 3) will be there cheering him on from a safe distance.
His only hope for the marathon, aside from raising money for the Martin Richard Foundation, is that “all goes safely.”
“I want it to be the day that we take it back and that the survivors get the closure they deserve,” Cox said.
Matthew Cox, a paramedic firefighter at the South Portland Fire Department, was invited to run the Boston Marathon on April 21 after being a first responder in the bombings last year. Cox, who hopes to raise $5,000 for the family of Martin Richard, an 8-year-old victim of the bombings, ran three miles around Bug Light Park Tuesday in his last week of training.
Matthew Cox at the South Portland Fire Department. He’ll be running the Boston Marathon on Monday.