Resilient marathon runner, 78, home after week in media storm
Bill Iffrig, the 78-year-old Lake Stevens man caught sprawled on the ground in the Boston Marathon bombing photo, has returned home. The picture went around the world, but he never saw it until Friday morning. Now it’s back to mowing the lawn.
Seattle Times staff reporter
LAKE STEVENS — The man who was in this week’s most iconic photo in the world finally got back home early Friday afternoon.
And it turns out that 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 viral around the world.
During all those TV interviews, the photo was on the screen for viewers to see, but Iffrig was standing on a street corner; he didn’t see it.
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.
It was while he and his wife, Donna Iffrig, also 78, were waiting early Friday morning at the gate for their Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle at Boston’s Logan International Airport that an employee for the airline handed him a copy of the latest Sports Illustrated.
There he was, on the cover.
“It’s beautiful,” Iffrig says about the photo. “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 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.
Still, Iffrig isn’t complaining about his moment as a media star.
“It wasn’t too bad. A few took us to out dinner,” he says.
“Nice Italian,” recalls his wife about one of the dinners.
There was that one incident in which a producer 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 in question.
The producer wasn’t there when he arrived, he had to pay the $10 fare himself, 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 trying to get exclusives, 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, and he certainly looks that way, slim and nimble.
This was the most notoriety he’s had in his life, says Iffrig. And it was all due to Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki, a 32-year veteran of the paper.
“I really was kind of floored,” says Tlumacki about why the picture resonated with so many people.
But then he took a longer look at the image.
“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,” says Tlumacki, 55. “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 upstart.
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,” says Iffrig.
Now it’s back to normal life for him, although outside his home there are the American flags and “Welcome Home” balloons left by neighbors.
All those messages on his home phone? Erased.
Try calling again, media types, if you’re still interested and haven’t gone on to the next trending story.
Time for everyday life to resume.
“I still mow my own lawn,” says Iffrig, “I’ve got a lot of yard work to do.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org