Runner home after race, blast, fame

Man whose photo was seen worldwide tells of experience

By

Published:

 

LAKE STEVENS -- The man who was in this week's most iconic photo in the world finally got back home early Friday afternoon.

And Friday was the first time Bill Iffrig -- the 78-year-old Boston Marathon runner in the orange vest, knocked to the ground by the shock wave from the first blast -- saw the picture that went around the world.

In all those TV interviews, the photo was on screen for viewers to see, but Iffrig was looking into the camera.

Since the bombings Monday, his name has appeared in at least 20,000 online news articles, in languages ranging from English to Chinese to Arabic to Spanish, about the white-haired man who got up after the blasts and ran the few yards left to the finish line.

While he and his wife, Donna Iffrig, also 78, were waiting early Friday for their flight to Seattle, an Alaska Airlines employee handed him a copy of the latest Sports Illustrated.

There he was, on the cover.

"It's beautiful," he says. "It's almost like it was staged, it's so real."

Maybe Iffrig isn't quite explaining it in art-review language, but you get the idea. It is a photo that viscerally grabs you.

Iffrig didn't even know his name had been invoked by President Barack Obama during the interfaith service Thursday in Boston: "Like Bill Iffrig, 78 years old -- the runner in the orange tank top who we all saw get knocked down by the blast -- we may be momentarily knocked off our feet, but we'll pick ourselves up."

But then, this week has been one big media blur for the Iffrigs, who, after the race, ended up spending a lot of time in their hotel room. Iffrig walked back to the hotel with only a scraped knee.

Their cellphone filled up with messages, as did their home phone. The hotel suggested they simply turn off their room phone at night so they could get some sleep.

"It wasn't too bad. A few took us to out dinner," he says.

"Nice Italian," recalls his wife about one dinner.

There was one producer who kept begging Iffrig to do a live interview at a street corner where all the TV vans were parked.

"She told me she'd pay for my cab," says Iffrig. Oh, OK. So he got a cab to the corner.

The producer wasn't there when he arrived, so he had to pay the $10 fare, and then had to go from van to van to find the right crew.

Iffrig laughs when remembering how cutthroat some of the TV producers were in asking him not to talk to anybody else.

Sheesh, he can't even remember who he talked to.

Well, he remembers Anderson Cooper. "He was real nice."

Other CNN crew members conducted interviews, but Cooper "shook my hand, and I told him I watch him every day, and he thought that was OK."

The Iffrigs have been married 58 years, had three kids and have lived in the same home Iffrig himself built 50 years ago. He is a retired carpenter and mason.

He took up running more than three decades ago to stay in shape.

This was the most notoriety he's had in his life, says Iffrig. And it was all due to Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki. "I really was kind of floored," says Tlumacki, 55, about why the picture resonated.

But then he took a longer look at it. "You have three police officers running, pretty much startled. You have smoke from the explosion, and debris on the track. You have a runner down. You have that female police officer with her handgun drawn, which suggests violence. Your eye goes around the photo and sees all that," he said. "That picture says it all in one photo."

This Boston Marathon was Iffrig's third. He finished fourth in his category, the 75-79 age group.

He isn't planning to run the marathon next year, but not because of anything to do with the bombings.

It's because in 2014, he'll be 79, and fears he'll be beaten by some 75-year-old.

But in 2015, when he's 80, he'll be running in the 80-plus group.

"I'll be the youngest one, and have a better chance."