April 13, 2013, is a day Americans will never forget. 40,000 runners from around the world gathered for the Boston Marathon. At 2:49 p.m., two bombs exploded about a mile away from the finish line nearly three hours after the winner crossed over. There were still more than 5,700 runners left in the race. Birmingham pulmonary specialist Jack Hasson, MD had yet to cross that finish line.
"At first, I didn't know there was anything wrong," Hasson said. "You always hear ambulance sirens during a race, and you get used to it. I was coming over Heartbreak Hill when I heard more and more sirens. I didn't have any idea what was going on until we were stopped about a mile away from the finish line where they told us about the bombing. That was a horrible feeling. My brain wanted to slip into doctor-mode, but there was nothing I could do to help."
Hasson first began running the Boston Marathon in the late 1970s when participants numbered around 5,000. In those days, his wife would meet him at the finish line. But on this particular day, he was relieved that she wasn't waiting for him.
"My wife was safe back at the hotel, thank goodness," Hasson said. In the 5,000-runner days, she could find him at the finish line, but now with 40,000 runners, it was best to wait elsewhere.
With the sun setting and no cell service, Hasson had to navigate his way through the chaos of a city under siege to find his way back to his hotel and his wife. It was a long 45 minutes.
"Considering where they placed the bombs on the route, it is a miracle that more people weren't killed or injured," he said. "It could have been much worse, and I consider myself very lucky not to have been any closer.
"These days, we live with the threat of mass shootings, but you can't allow these things to affect how you live. You can't stop doing what you enjoy."
After participating in 130 marathons in his life, Hasson has shortened routes. He now runs about nine half-marathons each year.
And running isn't his only outside activity. He became interested in art as a teenager, but he didn't practice it regularly. He took formal lessons for the first time when he was stationed with the Air Force in Warner Robins, Georgia. What began as a once-a-week class eventually turned into a passion of putting brush to canvas.
"About 15 years ago I decided if I was ever really going to do this, I had better get started," Hasson said. "So I started taking lessons at the Birmingham Museum of Art. I took drawing lessons first, working with live models, which helped me learn to look at something with a different light. You learn to break things down. Green is not green on a tree, but yellows, reds, browns. You get more perceptive of colors, light and dark, shadows. I look at a scene completely different now than I ever used to."
As motivation to continue painting, Hasson joined the Watercolor Society of Alabama, which has given him the opportunity to exhibit his work, and he is now a Bronze Signature Member.
"Now I have motivation to continue to improve because I get to exhibit with real artists," he said. "I enter my work into these exhibits now. I take photos in different angles and light -- something I'd want to paint later. Being able to take photos and paint has given me a fresh look on the things in front of me. The challenge is to be able to capture it again."