Top of Utah family glad to be OK after Boston Marathon blast

Apr 16 2013 - 5:54am

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Ben Van Beekum (left) poses for a photo with his parents, Ron and Jacquie, Saturday at the Boston Red Sox game. Ben, a top area athlete, was going to run the Boston Marathon on Monday but decided just to watch from the stands because he is still recovering from surgery. His father, an officer with the Harrisville Police Department, says he has never seen such professionalism in his life after watching emergency responders at the bloody scene Monday. (Photo courtesy of Ron Van Beekum)
Ben Van Beekum (left) poses for a photo with his parents, Ron and Jacquie, Saturday at the Boston Red Sox game. Ben, a top area athlete, was going to run the Boston Marathon on Monday but decided just to watch from the stands because he is still recovering from surgery. His father, an officer with the Harrisville Police Department, says he has never seen such professionalism in his life after watching emergency responders at the bloody scene Monday. (Photo courtesy of Ron Van Beekum)

BOSTON -- One Top of Utah family is looking back on Monday's events here and thinking that their lives must still serve a purpose on this earth.

They believe this because there are too many variables that, had they gone a little bit differently for them at the Boston Marathon, they would no longer be around to speculate.

This family is that of Ben Van Beekum, a 29-year-old top area athlete who had plans to pace himself to be crossing the finish line precisely when the first bomb went off there Monday.

"You look back, and everything has a purpose," said Jacquie Van Beekum, Ben's mother. "Obviously, it wasn't our time."

Ben's father, Ron Van Beekum, said as spectators, the family missed the blast across the street, where they were watching, by three minutes.

But they were sitting directly above the spot where a bomb that failed to discharge was later found.

"We would have been right there," the father said. "The blast actually would have been across from us. The bomb that hadn't exploded, that they found, was right in the bleachers where we were. We were fortunate that we weren't in that area and we weren't affected by it at all."

Ben Van Beekum said he registered back in October for what was to be his second Boston Marathon, and he had trained to be competitive in the event.

He had purchased his hotel room and airfare months ahead of the race and was expected to be a real contender.

Back in 2009, in his first Boston race, the athlete said he was the first Utahn to finish.

But an injury to his knee, an iliotibial band that had tightened up on him, resulting in surgery eight weeks ago, reduced his expectations to a performance that was much slower than his usual pace, the family said.

On Saturday, Ben Van Beekum picked up his registration packet for the race and was set to participate in the event even though it wouldn't be his usual performance.

But something got in the way -- the logic of his parents.

"Thank goodness he decided to listen to us for the first time ever," said the father.

Ron Van Beekum said his son was set on running the race up until the day before.

"He kept saying, 'I think maybe I can still do this with an eight- or nine-minute mile. I said, 'What if you do more damage and hurt this whole year? You could possibly do some damage to your knee that could be irreparable.' "

And Ben Van Beekum said he has a big year ahead of him that, on Sunday, he decided he didn't want to risk.

"He wants to compete and try to win St. George," said the father. "We're just glad he decided not to run."

Ron Van Beekum said he got great seats for the event because of his status as a police patrolman for Harrisville city.

He said he flashed his badge at the Boston officers who were directing the crowd.

"The Boston police treat you like another brother," he said. "They took us right over by the main grandstands. We got to watch the runners come in."

And the family was there to root on Manny Cypers, of South Ogden.

The 36-year-old runner had flown in with Ben Van Beekum and was staying with the family.

Ron Van Beekum said the family watched Cypers cross the finish line and then waited around for their friend because he was riding with them to their hotel.

"He texted us and said he was in a medical tent getting an IV," said Ron Van Beekum.

And they were in the hotel that was soon discovered to also have a bomb in it, he said, when they met up with Cypers, gave him his change of clothes and then left just after the explosions occurred.

"At first, I thought it was a cannon," the father said. "Then it was all chaos."

The family headed out of the Weston Hotel parking terrace moments after the bombs had gone off and moments before that parking terrace was to be closed off to all activity.

"It was kind of scary," Jacquie Van Beekum said. "It didn't really hit us until we saw the police and ambulances going. The time hit us good. Everything was behind us, followed us by two or three minutes. We kind of felt blessed to have missed it all. I'm glad that we were together."

Ben Van Beekum said he was having a hard time realizing what might have been.

"I have a wife and three little boys," he said. "My little 6-year-old called me up to see if I was OK. My 4-year-old asked my wife if I was dead."

The athlete said knowing that his family was thinking of him hit home.

"That's my world definitely, those three little guys at home," he said.

As a police officer, Ron Van Beekum said he recognized many "amazing" things in the whole incident.

"An hour before, when the elite runners were crossing, that place was packed," he said. "You've got to look at some of the positive things."

The father said many had cleared out before the first blast went off.

And he said the professionalism of the emergency responders was remarkable.

"I've never seen such professionalism in my entire life. There were police officers and EMTs coming from everywhere. I would swear that every police car from Massachusetts was coming into that city."

He said pre-planning for such a disaster was evident.

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