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They Fought the Good Fight, They Finished the Race

Wed, Apr. 20, 2016 Posted: 11:04 PM


One hundred twenty years of history were packed into Monday’s running of the most famous marathon in the world. More than 30,000 athletes ran and wheeled their way into history, with half a million enthusiastic spectators cheering them on at every step along the 26.2-mile route. With fluctuating temperatures ranging from the 40’s in the early morning up to around 70 in Hopkinton at the start of the race, and back down to around 50 at the finish line by the official close, runners had to deal with a variety of conditions, but the sun was bright and spirits were high.

For some it is a fun run—like the guys in tutus or the Elvis impersonator. But for many, it is a very sacred event. They run to overcome personal challenges, to honor a loved one, or to raise money for a cause that is dear to their heart. My friend Kristen Havey was running with the Race4Chase team, to support the CMAK Sandy Hook Memorial Foundation, in honor of Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski. As Kristen explained, “The CMAK foundation is named after a talented runner and passionate little boy named Chase. Chase was my daughter Livvie’s age when his life was tragically taken as an active shooter entered his school on December 14, 2012. As both a teacher and a parent, the events on this day were heartbreaking for me, but the resilience of those affected was inspiring.” Kristen raised over $8,500 to help CMAK in its mission of serving children and families.

Another friend, Paul Reardon, ran for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital’s Race for Rehab team, and also in memory of his mom: “This year not only am I running in honor of my mom but also for those who can’t; those who are fighting their battles with debilitating illness and injury. Those who themselves may have a dream of one day running the Boston Marathon or just going for a walk in the park.” In two years of running with the Race for Rehab team, Paul raised over $15,000 to help Spaulding “improve the quality of life for persons recovering from or learning to live fully with illness, injury, or disability.”

Always on this day we remember the awful events of Marathon Monday 2013. Two survivors of the Marathon bombings, Patrick Downes and Adrianne Haslet-Davis, ran the race on their prosthetic legs—proof that their spirit, and the spirit of Boston, could not be broken. Patrick’s wife, Jessica, who lost both legs in the bombing, was there to greet him at the finish line. Adrianne almost had to drop out, as her prosthesis dug into her stump and caused unbearable pain. But through her own grit and the sustaining power of her many supporters—including President Barack Obama, who tweeted at mid-race, “Thank you, Adrianne, for being Boston Strong. Terror and bombs can’t beat us. We carry on. We finish the race!”—Adrianne did finish the race.

Another amputee who made it all the way against the odds was Earl Granville, a friend of my daughter Christine. Earl lost his left leg and sustained severe injuries to his right leg in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan in 2008. Two years later, he lost his twin brother and fellow soldier, Staff Sgt. Joe Granville, who took his own life. Since then, Earl has been a spokesman and advocate for veterans as a member of Operation Enduring Warrior. He has rucked many miles raising money for veteran causes and has run countless obstacle races, encouraging others to overcome their challenges. Two weeks before Boston, Earl broke his hand in a crash while guiding a blind amputee doing a half marathon on a handcycle. And two days before Boston, he did a Spartan obstacle race. Nevertheless, even drained and one-handed, as well as one-legged, he completed the Marathon on a handcycle. He fought the good fight and finished the race!

Andi Marie Piscopo also did the Marathon back-to-back with another grueling event. On Saturday, she did the 25-hour, 40-mile GoRuck Heavy. Then on the morning of Marathon Monday, she wrote, “I promised to carry a few names for some people to honor their sacrifice, but each one of these names listed, will be carrying me. They will motivate me when it hurts, when I want to stop. Well, not today...For You I Will Not Quit.” And she did not quit!

Another remarkable event was also taking place on the Saturday before the Marathon. Since backpacks are no longer allowed at the Marathon, members of the military, along with first responders and civilian supporters, now do the Tough Ruck, a 26.2-mile hike along the Battle Road Trail in Concord. Each one carries a 30+-pound pack and a ribbon with the name of a fallen service member or first responder. As their website says, “It is an honor for Ruckers to wear the name of a Fallen Hero on their Ruck Sack and carry that name 26.2 miles and across the finish line.” My daughter Christine did the Tough Ruck for her second time, one of many rucks she has done for veterans.

I wish I could stop to talk to every runner; each one has a unique story. When the runners start flooding in we have only a moment to put the medal around their neck and give them a smile and a word of congratulations and maybe a hug, but there is a connection in that moment and a sharing of their elation. Here are some vignettes:

We always get great appreciation from the runners, but this year I had the honor of receiving a very special gift. After I gave a Korean runner his medal, he handed me this exquisite gold-plated bookmark from the Goodwill Art Shop in Korea. The words on the card read

for your special memory
always you believe,
anything you hope,
bookmark it in your life!

Last year I featured Randy Pierce, a blind runner from Team with a Vision. Here is another blind runner, Michael Somsan, with his teammates. Michael was a medical officer in the army with plans to be a doctor when he lost his sight. Instead of becoming a doctor, he went to law school and now has his own practice as an attorney.

When I saw a runner with “27 in a Row” on his t-shirt, I asked if I could take his picture. I later learned he is Dr. Stephen Reed, age 68, of Wiscasset, Maine. In addition to his twenty-seven consecutive Boston Marathon finishes, he also has a nearly forty-year streak of running at least a mile (and usually three) every day!

When I saw this man, I thought at first that he had ditched his shoes after the race. But no—he ran the whole race barefoot…for the fourth time…at age 74!

And of the tens of thousands of loyal volunteers, some stand out above the rest. Larry Gagnon has been doing it for a long time—it is his nineteenth year with the Boston Marathon, his fifteenth as leader of the medals team—but his enthusiasm never wavers. His motto is “Live life with passion!” and he instills that same zeal into the whole team. (Larry, someday you’ll get those purple-for-passion jackets!)

Another Marathon has come and gone, but the runners will carry the satisfaction of their achievement forever, and we will continue to be inspired by their stories. You may never run an actual marathon, but you undoubtedly have daunting challenges in your own life. You can tackle them with the same resolve and commitment and passion as these athletes, so that, like them, you will be able to say,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
(2 Timothy 1:7)

To read my reports from previous marathons, see “Terror at the Marathon” (2013), “United We Stand” (2013 follow-up), “All Shall Be Well” (2014), and “Let Us Run with Perseverance” (2015).

Diane Castro