"Every year there's a banner for all the runners to sign at the Boston Marathon Expo. This year, I signed it, 'With gratitude and love.' Every word is true."
I met Jennifer back when I was playing college rugby at the University of New Hampshire. She was a good rugby player, but more importantly, a great teammate with dedication and drive. After college she became a cardiac surgical nurse at Mass General in Boston. In 2013, I watched Jennifer raise funds for a children’s cancer fund as part of the Mass General Boston Marathon team. That year, Jennifer was only able to run 26.18 of that race and witnessed one of the most horrific scenes imaginable.
“My athletic career, so to speak, began when I was about six years old. My parents signed me up for youth soccer without telling me, but it was probably one of the best gifts they ever gave me. I wasn't great at it at first, but eventually youth soccer turned into summer leagues, districts, and high school varsity soccer. I was in a sea of competitive girls, with a few standouts, who all loved being on a team.
I was not talented enough to join the soccer team at UNH and I felt I wouldn't have been able to carry the course load and the demands of a varsity sport, but I realized I missed being on a team. A few friends convinced me to join the UNH Women’s Rugby Club. Again, another sport I knew nothing about, but one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was active again, learning a new sport, challenging myself, and hoping and praying I didn't chip (or lose) a tooth.
After graduating and entering a physically and emotionally demanding profession, I stopped exercising. Running for the MBTA was about the most exercise I got because of an unpredictable and varying schedule. One morning, I woke up and decided I was going to start running.
I loved it. My first race was a 10K and my second race—ever—was the Marine Corps Marathon. I trained for it, but I had no idea what I was really getting myself into. After I crossed the finish line, I knew that I was not 'one and done.'
By 2010, I had dozens of races and half marathons under my belt and had started working at Massachusetts General Hospital. In November, I received an email about joining the MGH Marathon Team, which raises money for the MGH Pediatric Oncology Clinic. Donations help support programs at Mass General, including clinical trials, lab research, a brain tumor program, a long term survivor clinic, Child Life and Child Psychology specialties and the HOPES program, which provides art, music, and massage therapies for all the children at the clinic. These programs are not supported by the hospital or insurance, but all supported by philanthropy. After submitting my request, I was told that the team and the waiting list were full. My heart sank. I continued my winter running routine but I wasn’t really training. Thankfully in February a spot opened up on the team, and thus began my absolute love for the MGH Marathon Team, my city, and the Boston Marathon.
2011 was a picture perfect day with a tail wind.
2012 was 89 degrees. Hot and unforgiving.
2013 was life changing. I was on Boylston Street and had run 26.18 miles of a 26.2 mile race when the first bomb went off. At first I thought it was a cannon, but then I realized what it was. I immediately stopped running.
Standing in the middle of the street, I was suddenly surrounded by throngs of spectators, who had stopped cheering and were eerily quiet. The second bomb went off. Among the terror and chaos were five of my friends waiting for me right outside of the Forum. All were injured, but one friend got carried to the street by a stranger, lifted onto a back board by two fire fighters (one of whom was lost in the fire in the Back Bay almost a year later) and taken to my hospital in the back of a paddy wagon, where my friends and coworkers did everything they could to help her. Unfortunately she lost one of her legs, despite everyone's best efforts.
2014 was electric. This city was ready to reclaim the finish line.
2015 was amazing. My friend who had lost her leg ran down Boylston St. with a friend who was on the 4/15 Survivor Team. I didn't get to see it, but I saw the joy and enthusiasm on her face when I joined them after I crossed. I will never forget her radiance in that moment.
Many other wonderful events happen because of the Boston Marathon. I am happy to report, that my Patient Partner, who has been cheering me on since 2013, is over one year cancer free. In addition to running Boston for my Patient Partner, I had the unique opportunity to run the New York City Marathon in 2013 to raise money for my friend who was injured at the finish line.
Every year, there is a banner for all the runners to sign at the Boston Marathon Expo. This year, I signed it, 'With gratitude and love' and every word is true. Because of running, strangers have become friends, friends have become family. I am a better daughter, sister, friend, and nurse, all because one day, I decided to lace up my sneakers and get after it.”