When the terrorists’ bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line on April 15, 2013, Andover’s Arianna Miliotis stood along the race route, and watched as the city erupted in panic.
Four days later, when a fatal manhunt for the suspects culminated in a shootout in Watertown, Miliotis watched from her windows as terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was taken to justice just down the road from her home.
After twice witnessing the horrors of a terrorist attack, Miliotis could be scarred by the fear, and wish to stay as far away from the Boston Marathon as possible.
Instead, it inspired Miliotis to take to the streets of Boston, to run without fear, and in memory of her sister.
“I was there for the bombings and I live in Watertown so that (shootout) had a huge impact on me,” she said. “It was all surreal. It was terrifying to wonder what might be happening. But it was so inspiring to watch the city rally around the victims. I decided that, if I could get a number, I wanted to run the Marathon.”
On April 18, Miliotis will run the Boston Marathon in memory of her late twin sister, Alex, who died of cancer in 2002, when the girls were Andover High sophomores. Proceeds will go to Alex’s charity, Alex’s Team.
“The reason closest to my heart that I am running is in memory of my sister,” said Arianna.
“She didn’t get the opportunity to fulfill her goals in sports and other aspects of her life. I think of this as something I can do for her. With Alex in my heart, I know I can’t fail.”
While countless athletes dream of running the Boston Marathon, for years it was far from Miliotis’ mind.
No Marathon plans
A 2004 graduate of Andover High, Arianna was a three-sport athlete for the Golden Warriors. She won a state title as a senior with the girls basketball team, played goalie in soccer and was a defender in lacrosse. But the Marathon did not seem in her future.
“I thought people that ran the Marathon were crazy,” Miliotis said with a laugh. “I never imagined myself running the marathon. Running was a punishment in sports. I was never a fan.”
But Miliotis found herself fascinated by the event as her best friend, recently-enshrined Andover High Hall of Famer Ashley McLaughlin, chose to run the 2013 Marathon in memory of Alex, who passed away following a long battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia.
Arianna and McLaughlin dreamed of the celebration on April 15, 2013, after McLaughlin crossed the Boston Marathon finish line.
Instead, the two found themselves in the middle of a national tragedy.
Miliotis was standing in Cleveland Circle, watching the Boston Marathon pass by and speaking on the phone with another Andover Hall of Famer Rachel Fox, when the bombs exploded.
“I was watching the race when Rachel said to me, ‘Are you watching a TV? Look at the TV and see what is happening,” she said. “I couldn’t see what was happening, but I could see the commotion and all communications were shut off. I knew Ashley was close to the finish line and her family was there. I couldn’t call or text anyone.
“They told us to get out of the city. I think we got a cab and took that home. Everything was such a blur that day. It was terrifying.”
Center of media
Miliotis and her now-fiancee Ryan Wilson made it home safely, and learned that McLaughlin and her family were unharmed as well. But their neighborhood would soon because the center of the media world.
During a manhunt following the fatal bombing, suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fled to Watertown, where he was tracked down by authorities.
Police, swat teams, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Guard and others converged on the scene.
Miliotis, living just a few houses down, found herself watching the event play out from her windows.
“The shootout took place in our neighborhood,” she said. “We couldn’t go out on our porch because we were ordered not to leave the house. There were swat teams and military everywhere. Dzhokhar was about 50 yards from our house. It was unreal.”
Miliotis watched as Tsarnaev was taken into custody. He was convicted of the bombing and on April, 8, 2015.
But instead of allowing the incidents to haunt her, Miliotis found herself inspired. After a period of consideration, she began to train to run the Marathon herself.
“I was very touched by how everyone reacted to the tragedy,” said Miliotis, a graduate of Amherst College and Smith College who works as a project manager for the Boston Public Schools. “There were a lot of levels of inspiration. There, of course is my sister. And Ashley never got to cross the finish line after the marathon. So I want to do it for her.
“Running has become a very acquired taste. I’m lucky to live in the Boston area. I love running around the Charles River, which is kind of a fakeout because it is so flat. I have also been very lucky because we had so little snow. And I have had a lot of injuries over the years, like two torn ACLs, so I was lucky to be healthy.”
Miliotis will run for “Alex’s Team,” which has raised over $200,000 this year and benefits Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School among others.
“Doing this for Alex and ‘Alex’s Team’ always means the most to me,” she said. “I may run by myself, but she is always with me when I am out there. She pushes me along to succeed.”
Reach sportswriter/videographer David Willis on Twitter at @DWillisET.