FORT MILL, SC (WBTV) - When the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon happens Monday morning, a Fort Mill family will be there again - together in Boston for the first time since the bombings in 2013.
"It's my hope that it's cathartic for them," said Demi Clark. "That they can close the door on it, like I was able to close the door in 2014, and now I can go back as more of a, 'wow, I'm just excited to meet all these new people and be inspired by them and enjoy this race and enjoy the people of Boston.'"
Getting back to running for the love of the sport has been a long road for Clark. The 2013 race was the first time she ran the Boston Marathon.
"It was a great race until the end," Clark said. "I was about ten paces from the finish line when the first blast went off to my left. It was about 15, 20 yards to my left. My family was in the public library stands so they were at the finish line – ten risers up."
Clark, her husband, and two young daughters all escaped physical harm, but not emotional scars.
"I didn't want to go back," Clark said. "I closed the loop on that one... just out of sheer protective safety value."
She recalls the thoughts.
"What could I have done differently? How could I have helped people? I ran and I got my kids. I didn't run and help administer first aid. I lived that – this massive guilt – this kind of survivor's guilt."
"Over the course of the next year, going through situations that were semi-trigger incidents - so say our therapist," Clark continued. "We would go to the movie theater and my daughters would see a policeman and it instantly took them right there because at that time they thought of police as drawing their guns and going to literally run to protect people from danger that happened – that was three months later."
But as time marched on, a swell began in her heart and mind - the 2014 Boston Marathon.
"Then I said I've gotta to go back. It wasn't about me at that point. It was about proving alongside everyone else in Boston that year that yes this is their day. They're going to get it back – it's going to be safe and no one can take that away from us. It was very 'American spirit' that way."
And, then there was the "Boston Strong" mantra.
"There was definitely pressure to go back," Clark said. "As an athlete, it just overcomes to say you're a runner first. This is going to be good for you. Whatever fears you have that day get out there and do it – just put one foot in front of the other."
Her young daughters didn't feel the same pull.
"They were seven and nine when they saw everything that happened so they were eight and 10 obviously a year later. It just wasn't enough time for them. They were still pretty young," Clark said. "They wanted to see me do it and they watched it on TV but they just didn't want to be there. I think there was still that fear of what could happen. Something could go wrong."
The 2014 race ended without problems.
"I got to finish with a V-pose and I was crying. It was the right way to go out so I thought I was done. I thought I was moving on to the next step of races," she said. "I closed the book, did what I needed to do here."
For the next three years, the Boston Marathon ran without her. Then, in 2017, Clark received a phone call.
"And it was Kathrine Switzer's team, and they said, 'hey we want you to run for us. Would you consider running Boston again?'" Clark recalled. "Automatically I said yes, absolutely. I just knew – gut instinct – I gotta go back. Never thought I would."
Kathrine Switzer, a marathon legend who was the first woman to run Boston with a numbered entry and now a 71-year-old icon, got Clark to return to Boston to run just for the love of the sport on a team with 45 women and men from all over the world, including India, South America, Australia, and New Zealand.
This time Clark is running with no pressure and no scars.
"261fearless.org is Kathrine Switzer's organization," Clark said. "What she does now - she started running clubs all around the world to inspire and empower women in all situations. Some at risk, in low-income situations – others not."
"She just does not give up. She's 71 years old. She's still running marathons. She's still inspiring all these women and men. She certainly has been an icon to me. For her to give so much of her life back to running and really to women, I feel like I had to say yes to this and it's the right time."
It just so happens the time evidently feels right for Clark's daughters also.
For the first time since 2013, her two girls will return to Boston to watch their mother run.
"I think it'll be best if I have a chance to go again this year," said 11-year-old Willa, who admits she's still nervous about returning to Boston. "The experience before has been surreal. The first year I went, when I got back, one of the things me and my sister wanted was them to have more security so I'd like to see then versus now and how much the security has improved."
"For them, it's probably how I was in 2014," Clark said. "A little shoulders around the ears - what's it gonna be like to step off of a plane and go back to a city where the last time I was here something pretty terrible happened."
When the 122ND running of the Boston Marathon ends in Copley Square in Boston, Clark will be looking to the future.
"I would love to bring a club to a Charlotte, to the York County area where I live in Fort Mill," she said. "So we'll see what comes of this summer. It's the start of something bigger."