Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Moments of Wonder, of Thunder

Last Mile, Boston 2013 (photo by guide Randy Spellman)
A few weeks ago I was seriously considering changing to the half marathon at Charlotte. I was struggling with my longs runs and more than that, down on myself because I have become so slow as gravity engulfs me in the vortex of aging. Usually this does not bother me in that I accept this is the way of life, yet I can feel the inner swift boy struggling against the ropes of time.

After all, Charlotte was planned to be part of my training, not my goal race, so why put myself through the marathon gauntlet if it didn't really matter?

*******

Several things helped bring me to my senses, to know that I would not take the easy out. One was coming to know more about sisters Nicole Gross and Erika Brannock and their mother Carol, and this story, "Portrait of a Rescue."

It all brought to mind the question of what-ifs. What if this would be my last race, how deep the arrow of regret would be if I gave up, gave into my weakness? As I ran down Coleman Blvd on a Sunday I knew I would not give in, I would run the marathon, that I would see the race to its end. That others had lost so much, lives and limbs, and I that I could run at all is one of the many small miracles I have been blessed to witness. There will be no compromise and no defeat.

I will be on that marathon starting line, taking the extra 30 minute head start to make sure I finish if the battle rages on. In my heart I know I cannot fail. I will finish the race. I will fight the good fight.

 
 *******

At moments of wonder, it is easy to avoid small thinking, to entertain thoughts that span the universe, that capture both thunder and tinkle, thick and thin, the near and the far.

- Pi, from "The Life of Pi" (Yann Martel)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

2 Weeks 2 26.2

Hill training
This time in two weeks I hope I will have finished the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon. I am using this race as training for Boston as it is hilly, nearby, and because my Boston guide and friend Mike Lenhart will be running with Janelle Tuck in her first half marathon.

Janelle and Mike
I have been doing the Ravenel bridge as part of my long run course nearly every week. I also do some hill training on my treadmill with one track session and the rest easy runs. My speed is just terrible right now; I feel I am working hard but my times are dismal. I'm very aware that I have to accept the inevitable reduction of times that comes with age; it does not mean I have to like it. In fact, I think that not-liking part is what drives me to do what I can to mitigate it.

That said, I have been experimenting with run/walk. I started with a two minute walk every mile, but another variation that seems to work better is a 6 minute run with 1 minute walk. I did a 10 mile easy run on Friday and that went so well that I will probably use it at Charlotte


*******

.After much thought I will be taking the early start at Charlotte. This gives me an additional 30 minute cushion should I have issues during the race. I do not think I will need it, but given my challenged marathon race times, nothing is certain especially at this distance.

I am seriously considering taking a leave of absence from marathoning after Boston next year. This is what I wrote to my friend Kelly Luckett:

With some certainty I think 2014 might be my last marathon until I retire. Since my workday is 9 hrs M - Th, I am losing my love for running by having to get it done at certain times, rather than looking forward to doing it. If I run after work it interferes with dinner and I hardly see Jennifer, and getting up at 4 am to get a longer workout in leaves me like a zombie later in the day. As much as I am looking forward to next April, the training is becoming far less fun and I have always enjoyed my training as much or more than my races. It also seems unlikely I will break into the professional ranks. :) Anyhow, I pretty much suck at marathoning (truth, not sour grapes!) and the 5k is more suited to me I think. Also with my knee I should be able to extend my career too. 


*******

I do love testing myself at the marathon distance, but I also like training for 5ks and miss doing the track sessions that are typically shorter and faster. I think by not doing this training the legs and body get accustomed to the slower running and it becomes more difficult to get speed back with age. I know by training and racing the shorter distances that I can run a faster marathon, something that has eluded me since becoming an amputee.

The majority of marathon and long endurance athletes face the balance of life, work, and training. The times that some post is astounding considering in many cases training is far from optimal. The love of running is what allows us to compromise here and there to have that special glory that is standing on the starting line and flying to the finish.

It strikes me many professional athletes retire from running and I cannot wait to retire to focus on my running.

And the sooner the better.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

DNQ

Pavement inspector at another race

Unlike the national news, bad news here gets little of the spotlight.

My half at Georgetown was a PW (personal worst). I finished 200th of 221 finishers, which conjured up thoughts of my high school track days. I knew there would be little chance of an amp PR this day, but why I ran so miserably is a mystery to me. I have some ideas of what may have contributed to this disaster of a race, but I don't want any to be thought of as excuses and do not offer them here. I will say this, Did Not Quit is the gold in a personal worst.

Instead, I need to change what I can and know in the past when I've had a bad race my next one is usually better. This does have me thinking that unless my training runs indicate this was a fluke, that I may change to the half marathon at Charlotte next month.

This is not the time to panic as my goal race is Boston next April. My training will increase in volume and intensity and I also have to guard against overtraining which can be worse than not doing enough.

So at the moment my plan is to take the early start at Charlotte and do a 2 minute walk every mile. I am not despondent over this last race but it is troublesome it was such a huge slowdown. That does come with age and we all face it, but I think and hope this was an anomaly and I can run better in the upcoming months. I will race sparingly and generally as part of my goal plan.

So there it is, a lot of work to do mentally and physically. I can't let bad races drag me down more than the gravity that is time. To put this in perspective, I'll offer a basketball insight. When I was younger I found dunking a basketball was beyond my ability. Despite getting close I just could not do it...then one day I rose above the rim and shoved the ball through the hoop. Done and always easy to do after that day. Now that I am older - and I quit basketball many years ago to focus only on running - I know the day would have come when I could no longer dunk, and know that there would be little reason to try.

The thing is, by trying I would still be rising. And this I intend to do for as long as this body will rise with me and go for a run. Today and tomorrow, I will rise.

*******

I want to congratulate Jennifer on her first place finish in the 12k. Jennifer will say there weren't many people in her AG, but how does that matter when others can't even get themselves to the starting line, often complaining with age as their only excuse? Well buttercups, we all face this ultimate adversary, so sleep in or get up and face life running. Jen wins!


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Half. Marathon.

We have a couple of races coming up, the Georgetown SC Bridge2Bridge on October 12 and the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon on November 16. I will be running the half marathon at Georgetown and the 26.2 at Charlotte. Jennifer has not decided which race she will do at the former but plans to run the half at Charlotte.

I selected these races with one thing in mind, to prepare better for the hills at Boston. For most of my running life I have trained and raced on the lowcountry pancake terrain (pancake? did someone say PANCAKE?) with an occasional bridge, earthwork incline, or treadmill session for hills. I don't think cramping was related to the downhills of Boston, but I do know hill training makes for a stronger runner and I will be stronger for Boston next April.

View from the long run course
Georgetown features two bridges will be cross back and forth on, so some decent hill work in a lowcountry race. This will help me prepare for Charlotte, along with my Sunday long runs where I traverse the Ravenel (Cooper River) bridge. Tomorrow (Sunday, Oct 6) will be my first 20 miler on this latter course.

*******

Janelle and her boys
I am looking forward to Charlotte for reasons beyond my goals, one is to see our friend Janelle Tuck finish her first ever half marathon. We first met Janelle at Getting2Tri and she was at Boston this year waiting for our finish. Fortunately she had left the area to recharge her phone's battery since I was having a slow race. I have described her as 'quietly fierce' and you will find her an uplifting soul who has faced adversity in a very personal way. You can read her story here.

At the marathon pasta dinner Nicole Gross will speak. Nicole, her husband Michael, and her sister
Nicole, Erika, and Carol
Erika Brannock were at the Boston Marathon finish waiting for their mom Carol when the bombs went off. The three were all injured and Erika required an above knee amputation, you can read more of their story here.

Nicole's talk will be very difficult for her and we want to be there for support and healing. The tragedy will never be undone, but in time those who remain can be hope's beacons to others facing the impossible, to help them see what can be. Different, yes, but more. Far more. Impossibly more.

*******

I know I will once again struggle through the marathon at Thunder Road. No doubt I am getting stronger, but I am doing very little to make myself faster at this point in training for April. Later yes, for now building mileage and strength is part of the plan. I have been doing some run/walking on my long runs, walking about 2 minutes after every mile. This has allowed me to complete the distance without tearing myself down as much.

I have not decided for sure, but I will likely run Charlotte in the same manner. My two amputee marathons have both been far slower than my half marathon times would predict, and I may even take the early start at Charlotte. I'll decide this closer to race day after I see how my training progresses.

Much will be happening between now and next April 21. I hope I can stay healthy and train smart to have a good race, but hope alone will not get us there without hard work. But together....impossible is nothing.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Day of Forevers - Boston 2013 Part VI



I will never have my first Boston finish.

We are left a half mile from the finish line. If only I could keep running, keep time moving and not stopping for any of us. To preserve this day as a monument of the glory, of the joy and happiness and celebration of life. In my mind I am never stopped. Until the tears come and the pain I feel for all of it.

All of it.

Here after time passing I have never felt remorse of not crossing the finish line. Many handle the tragedy differently, some later running the final mile for closure, others demanding to return to finish. For me I do not have those desires. I do not need nor want it.


It will not bring Krystle, Martin or Lu back to us.


It will not give Sean Collier another sunrise.


What I do feel is to come back, come back strong, run this race and remember it all. All of it. And when we cross that finish line in 2014 it will be enough. To be there. In the presence of these angels and those who survived to come back to us.

And when a child extends their hand to me along the course, I will extend my hand in return.





It will be.

A day.

Like no other.


***   ***   ***   ***

KMLS

 Unleash the pain
flee the suffering
escape this place
of broken hearts
ascend

leave these things to us
rise to where
you must go
we take these things from you, for you
our gift is
remembering
love's
 embrace

fly angels fly
fly
into glory





Monday, August 26, 2013

The Day of Heartbreak - Boston 2013 Part V

I begin running, marginally faster and for slightly longer periods. When I am forced to walk I keep a decent pace, I don't recall us stopping much for the debilitating cramping. We still have a few miles to the Citgo sign, but I know we will get a glimpse of it soon. This is my next small goal, to see that historic sign and run to it. To run up that hill Jason so often crested, to then know we'd have one more mile to go. The last mile and 385 yards.

Randy has told us the temperature often drops as runners head into Boston past Heartbreak Hill and today it is definitely true. We soon pull our gloves back on as we feel the chillier air. Given my slow pace, my sweat production is almost nil. I am starting to cool and look forward each time I can run to generate a little heat in my misfiring engine.

It is a long, slow slog toward Mile 25 and I try not to think about how far we have to go, only keeping watch for the famous sign. The Sign. And then after this long struggle, in the distance, it is there, still far away, but there and visible. I will finish this race.

I push on, trying not to think too much, just keep moving, closer to The Sign.



Evil has struck. We have not heard it. I am thinking I hope I can run up the overpass when we reach it, to not have to walk the incline. In thinking back I might have heard it, but I cannot say with certainty.



And then we are there, the foot of the overpast with Mile 25 mere yards away. I try to run up this short incline, thinking of Jay being here, of us being here, his brother Randy with us, guiding us to the finish. I cannot do it, my leg twinges and I walk.


I think of Jay, of him running with only his left foot, being at this very place. He is here. Mike, Randy, Jay and I crest the bridge together.

Our brother, The Greatest
And then, just like that, we make a right on Commonwealth, one mile to go. One mile. One more mile. I want to run, in my mind I want to be flying, picking up the pace, heading for home. I cannot do it.

I think ahead, of an underpass, at some point, a right turn. Hereford. A short straight. A left. Onto Boylston. I think...my leg will probably cramp. How will it be? How will it feel? How will it really be...? Those crowds. This day that was never to be. Glorious it shall be.

It will be...a day like no other.


*******

I have not been able to write this part for a long time. I have started, sometimes just opening the post to look at it and close it, other times to write a few words and stop again....


Ahead it seems the road is more congested, are the crowds pushing onto the course? I have been running bent at the waist, generally not looking too far in front of me, and when I look up it makes no sense. We slow. The screams of the spectators grow quieter.




We all walk and then come to a stop. For a moment I think there has been some sort of accident, perhaps a runner has died on the course, something Jennifer and I have seen happen.

It makes no sense for the entire road to be blocked...what....

Sirens. Helicopters. I recall someone saying the race has been stopped...it will not be restarted...there has been a bombing....people are dead...did I hear two people? A man shows us a pic on his cell phone, seems like gray dust is everywhere but I only get a glimpse of the finish line area on the tiny screen.


I curse. I am angry. How can this be? There is no way this should happen, be allowed to happen. Not today. Not at this race. I curse and curse and crazily apologize for my words. Scott appears and then heads off to find a ride to the hospital, saying his legs were hurting.

The sky is so blue. The day, beautiful. 

I must call Jennifer and tell her I am okay. I fumble with my phone and try to call but no connection. My battery is in the red zone despite being fully charged in the morning. I managed to get one text out.

"I am ok."

What I was saying was:

"I am not hurt."

And later:

"I am not dead."


Others were.


Krystle Campbell.

Martin Richard.

Lu Lingzi.

*******

I sit on the curb when the chill overtakes me and start to shiver, I try to stop but can't. Randy gives me the long sleeve shirt off his back and insists I take it. I am so cold that I put up little resistance and accept the gift.

I think about Kelly as the impact of what has happened seeps into my brain. I begin to worry about her, hoping she has finished and is not hurt. It does not occur to me that she might have been waiting at the finish line for us. What about Janelle? And Kim? Could Jennifer and the family possibly gotten transportation to see me finish? No....that just can't be. Can't be.

Randy and Mike try to make phone calls, Randy is able to talk to his wife. A volunteer comes by with water. I am not afraid. And the thought does not come to me that I have not crossed the finish line.

Our locations when we stopped

*******

We finally are directed to continue down the opposite side of Commonwealth to get back to the hotel. We were unable to find our gear bags after many bus drivers abandoned their stations; I overheard they had instructions to never do this, but given what happened I suppose they had personal reasons for doing so.

Back at the hotel I agree to give a phone interview to a local tv reporter, thinking it may ease some minds since it has been hard to make cell calls. I am not able to say a proper goodbye to Randy or Ashley or many others who came by our room after the race, but I was so happy when Kelly first appeared and gave me a crushing hug.

Everyone we know is safe. Alive. Intact. Janelle had left the finish line to go charge her phone, and Kim left to do some work seeing my pace had slowed.

So many stories of what-if. Too many of why.

*******

On the way home Jennifer tries to talk to me...I begin but find I cannot speak as I am overcome with what happened to the victims, the lives lost, the bodies torn apart, the bravery of those who ran to their aid. All of it and the immensity of allowed evil. All of it seems bursting in my heart and I cannot go on.

As we land and make our way to baggage claim, we see a television crew staked out near a door. I quickly exit to the bathroom, remove the jacket I had thought I'd never wear and stuff it away in my laptop bag. I will not be able to talk about this.

And many days I still cannot. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Day of Why - Boston 2013 Part IV

 I will only know this Boston. I will never know that Boston.




The spectators along the Boston course are legendary, yet until experienced it cannot be believed. Every adjective fails. They, however, are beyond failure. They are the best. THE BEST. And today they will prove this to be true.

*******

As we start I see several runners sprint ahead. For me, a too-fast pace will be a disaster and something I must avoid. Adrenaline can make those first few miles seem like a walk in the park and then reality sets the concrete in the shoes. I remain mystified why I am so calm; my only explanation is that I am in disbelief of where I am and what I am doing and this keeps me from coming out of my skin.

All I want today is to run the entire race and not be reduced to walking because of fatigue. I did not have time to prepare for the pace I wanted to run, but I did feel ready to go the distance. And on this perfect running day, I did not want to waste the gift that was given to us. My race would be far slower than what I had hoped to run, but I knew if I attempted my original pace, even having an otherwise extraordinary day, that I would blow up not too many miles into the race. Run smart, watch the quarter mile splits early, DO NOT GO OUT TOO FAST.

How does it feel to run the Boston Marathon, to be one of the leaders in the race even if given an early start and knowing most of the field will catch and pass you over the next few hours? It is beyond words, beyond reality. I could use surreal but that does not do the day justice either.

For me, it is a miracle.

It is emotional overload so as to numb the senses to the point of disbelief. It seems like an ordinary training run except you know what you are doing, what you have dreamed about, sweated, froze and cried about; done what it took and more than should have been asked to get here. But I did it. I did not question the why. I did it. Here I was running the Boston Marathon. This runner, all of his life, now without his right foot, I was running the Boston Marathon. How can this be?

In many ways it felt like that ordinary training run, today with my friends Mike and Randy. My pace is slow enough to talk comfortably; we chat and they keep watch for the wheelchair athletes that will be the first to overtake us at the fastest speeds of any elite athletes on this day.

It would seem like any day's run. My heart rate was not elevated, I was not anxious, and I had the best of company. I told the guys several times that it seemed so strange...running The Boston Marathon and we were nearly alone.

Nearly. The one thing that makes me realize this was no training run, no sweet dream I'd awaken from, was the crowds, the most incredible spectators of any race I have experienced in my life. Randy had a shirt made for the race, honoring his brother Jason Pisano and having the words "Go Richard" printed on the front. As we ran the crowds would scream, and I mean SCREAM GO RICHARD!!! GO RICHARD GO!!!

The cheers...I kept wondering who they were for.

Often I would hear their voices and wonder who was coming up behind us. There was no one, these cheers were for us, oh my god this has to be a dream, I cannot believe this, who am I to be here, for people to deafen us with shouts of joy and celebration on this day like no other?

My plan had to be run "quietly," to concentrate on my running and not be distracted as to elevate my heart rate and unnecessarily waste precious energy. Uh huh.

As we ran I found it impossible not to acknowledge these amazing spectators, it was difficult not to constantly wave a hand or give nod or touch hands or even speak a word as we ran by. Even now I think the energy they infused in us was far more than any I spent responding to their support of my band of brothers.

*******

My right hip is feeling sore. It works harder having to lift the dead weight of the prosthesis and was a source of prerace concern. This has happened on training runs and often simply goes away. As my body temp rises I remove my black gloves and tuck them over the front of my hydration belt. I noticed they flap as I run and I think the blackbird has come to be me.

*******

Just before the 9 mile mark we catch up to Shariff, The Singapore Blade Runner. Shariff, Kelly and I became FB friends a couple of years ago as we were planning on running the 2012 race. Now here we were running together; we are at Fisk Pond and this is one of the few places there are sparse spectators.


We grasp hands for a moment. Here we are, runners a world apart, South Carolina, USA, and Singapore, finding in our physical adversity a common ground we all can believe in. This is how we live. There is no other way.

*******

A bit later the elite women zoom past us. It looks to be a tactical race to me, none seem to be in distress in the lead group. As the still very fast women begin to pass, more and more say words of acknowledgement to us. I find this a bit hard to believe, these women are running extremely hard but find the breath to encourage us. As I wrote this I shook my head, thinking back to being there that day...

Grit and Jodi: TeamPisano Supporters Extraordinaire! 
This turned out to only be the beginning of the support not only the crowds but the runners themselves offered us. It would go on and on and on. All three of us were somewhat in disbelief of the camaraderie. These runners have all worked very hard to get here, qualifying to run this greatest of marathons.

And today we run as one.

*******

My left leg feels a little odd. Overall I feel strong, but I am getting a sensation something isn't quite right, that my leg is a bit lame.

As we run toward Wellesley I am on pace for what I felt I could run this day. My own prediction that I told Jennifer was 4:42 so they would know when to expect me at Mile 21. I am thinking of the legendary noise we are destined to hear firsthand, and I wonder if it will live up to the years of hype.

Oh yes, yes it does.



The only thing I recall hearing this loud outside of a couple of rock concerts were jet fighters winding up their engines. My god my right eardrum is quivering. It is hard to believe human beings can create such a ruckus, but there no denying this wall of sound emanating from these college women.

As we move on toward mile 14 my left hamstring is making it known in a way I know from years of running that it is going to revolt. The inevitable, utterly futile bartering begins, oh please go away not today, not today.

Yes. Today. NOW.

The muscle clenches in a tight knot and stops me in my tracks. I lean against Randy while Mike massages the leg. This is an industrial-strength-gotcha-sucka cramp that means business. I know in these few seconds there will be no good finishing time today, and we haven't even hit the Newton Hills yet.

"Impossible is Nothing" Randy tells me. Jay's words. The Greatest. I clench my jaw and screw my eyes shut willing away the pain. It finally eases.

We walk on. I run a little. The hamstring quivers. I walk. I am walking in the Boston Marathon.

TeamPisano member Kelly Watts joins us for a while; I am in the slow grip of disappointment as we move on. We are constantly shouted words of encouragement and we still comment just how often they come. Yet I feel a sadness that on this most perfect day at the greatest marathon on the planet that I do not belong here, among these best of the best. What am I doing here in this dream, walking. I should wake up and go to work and remember this dream I had where I was leading the Boston Marathon only to have to be reduced to an old man's shuffle....

*******

Boston volunteer PT tries to help with cramping
We are now in the midst of the bulk of the runners. I generally keep to the left side of the road more out of habit than anything else. We have to stop numerous times as I feel the twinge that precedes a cramp. The flock of runners glide by in bright colors befitting the celebration of this day.  Run a little, maybe 100m, then walk until I can go again. I stop often.

So many words of encouragement from the runners...in truth I am unhappy I have been reduced to long walks and short jogs, the feeling I do not belong here. They tell us otherwise. Today we are all Boston marathoners. Every one of us. Yet the pang of disappointment remains though pushed aside.

My residual now serves notice it is uncomfortable. Not a specific pressure point, but something akin to friction or positive pressure. So both of my legs are taking the stage of revolution and we are only around mile 18. I fleetingly wonder if I will literally be reduced to crawling. Mike tells me about Deanna Babcock, a fellow Getting2Tri athlete, who he had once encouraged to remove her prosthesis to "reset" her leg. I hear him but in this runner's mindset find I do not want to stop for one second more than I am forced to even given the large chunks of time I am losing from walking.

The sensation grows in my socket and I am wondering if sweat is building within. I see I have vacuum so it should be pumping the moisture out. What is going on, I have never felt anything like this. A shroud of despondency grows over me, more that I am wasting such a perfect day to run and beginning to doubt I can finish this race upright. My leg feels like it is going to explode. Is it swelling?

Finally with insistence from Mike we pull over to remove the prosthesis and I am shocked at what we find.

Nothing.

There is no sweat, no skin abrasion, completely opposite of what I expected. My skin is bone dry; all of the lotion I apply to provide the interface with the liner is gone. Mike is able to track down some vaseline for me as the small tube of ointment I had has fallen out of my hydration pack. He is also able to get us some pretzels for the salt content. A volunteer comments I am not sweating, I explain my pace is slow and the temperature is cool so I am not working hard enough to bring those tears to the cooling glands.

Suddenly BethAnn, Kelly's guide, appears and asks what is going on, am I hurt or what? She says Kelly wanted to come over but she insisted that Kelly kept running while she checked on us. This is how a great guide does their job....

We quickly explain it is not an injury, just a reset and for them to keep on running. Appeased, BethAnn heads back out to Kelly who is having a very good day on the course.

*******

Donning the prosthesis, the sensation has disappeared and my leg feels completely normal. No burning, no pressure, in fact it feels better than when I started the race. The left leg also feels better; although it twinges often it does not fully cramp again.

Yesterday I was 7

In my mind I see the picture of the day I was running as a child...and I did run whenever I could get away with it. Over 50 years separate the boy running around The Battery to the man running The Boston Marathon. Well, running some, walking more now.

The thought comes now to get to Mile 21, to see my family who have been waiting a long time. To see Jennifer and John Ryan and Kristen and Jack and to see our Ashley, who has come all this way to support me as I run to raise funds for the IFOPA. This is what keeps me moving, this thought, to see my family. I need to get there.

*******

I am barely aware we are heading up Heartbreak Hill. You will hear various stories of this famed rise. Some trail runners like to point out how it is not so steep compared to the mountains they run - and walk - in. Others understand the historic significance of this place, where it comes on the course and how its name came about. It is a little steeper than I expected and I walk a little more. Up. Up. Up.

I keep thinking soon I will see my family and then nothing else matters, each step is closer to them and whatever happens afterward...happens. I will get there. I will.

I start scanning the crowd. Walk. Walk. Run. Walk. Where are they? Walk. Run. Walk.

Location of my family
I don't remember if it was Randy or Mike, but someone points them out to me. There they are not far over the crest, all decked out in the bright green shirts that depict my blade with "RUN RICHARD RUN" or "RUN KINGPOP RUN" emblazoned on the front.

My race pace would have had me here much earlier so they have waited a long, long time. I stop and lose it, emotion overtakes then overwhelms me. I take time to speak to everyone, trade hugs, and refill my heart with their love. I tell Ashley "we will get to that finish line" not really meaning the one on Boylston, but the one where we find the cure for FOP.

A final hug and words of encourage from my Jennifer and we are off. I am refreshed, my left leg feels stronger, and I can now run more before the twinge warnings. My next mini-goal is to see and then run by the Citgo sign at mile 25.

It is a place I have long thought about because of a photo of Jay Pisano climbing that bridge incline with the sign over his right shoulder. I want to run over the bridge and into Boston. I want to honor this day, running to the finish line, not walking, my head up, my dream embraced on this day like no other.

We run on.



My family
A quick hug with Jack

Restored



All In #BostonStrong


Moments ago I completed my registration for the 2014 Boston Marathon. Jennifer and I already have our room reserved and plane tickets purchased, so now I must train hard and stay healthy until the race.

I am once again overwhelmed by emotion...remembering what happened just over 4 months ago, it seems so distant yet so newly raw. Yet what I feel is insignificant over the dear ones we lost that day...Krystle, Martin, Lu, and then Sean. The lives forever changed physically, emotionally, mentally and spirtually.

We will never give in and never give up. We will remember and the love will go on and on.

This is true, this is in our hearts.

We remain BostonStrong.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Day Like No Other - Boston 2013 Part III

I am here. Wake Up.

I often thought about how I would feel about being at Boston. I could only think it would be a day like no other. Whenever I imagined being on that starting line in Hopkinton and then leading the race for those first few miles with my fellow mobility impaired friends, well, it was beyond what was possible. It had to be a dream. Yet I hold my race number in my hands on the morning of April 15, 2013:

21202.

Pink sticker.

9 a.m. start.

How is this possible? How is this not a dream?

*******

"Tightening of the laces. Serious stuff." - Jennifer
I woke up one minute before my alarm went off, 3:44 am. I took my time getting ready, a little spacey but not so much as to not go through my checklist to make sure I had all I needed. Randy came by our room and we talked about pace, what camera he would take, and other details for the race. He also changed his left shoelace to the Terry Fox one I had given him.

I make a last weather check and decided what clothes I would need and what I could leave behind. What I leave behind could have caused big problems.

*******

We leave to go downstairs to meet Kelly and BethAnn at 5 a.m. I am mostly calm, still not quite sure of this reality, this strange world I am passing through. Photos, a hug and kiss to my sweet wife Jennifer, and we begin our dark walk to the buses. For Hopkinton. To run The Boston Marathon.

On our way
Jennifer is going to meet the kids and Ashley around mile 21 to watch the race. I know this will be a good place because it is just beyond the crest of Heartbreak Hill. Either I will be struggling and will need love's lift, or I will be running well and will get that boost to drive myself home.

Kelly leads us to the buses. I don't have a good idea of how far we have to go, but fortunately the walk is shorter than to the expo. We board quickly which surprised me, and soon we are on our way. To Hopkinton. To the start of The Boston Marathon.

Kelly and me
We exit our bus in a chill air and enter the Athlete's Village for the must-have "It All Starts Here" photo. My sweatshirt is one Jennifer gave me from her college, and I love that I was reading "Again to Carthage" once more on our trip up to Beantown.

We walk over to the school gym where the wheelers and other early start MIs gather to prepare themselves for the race to come. Along the way we meet John Young, who hoped to be the first person in his category to run this greatest of races.

First Boston for John and me
I set up shop next to Scott where some power outlets are so I can put a final charge on my prosthetic vacuum pump. The time goes by quickly. I snack on a bagel with peanut butter as I make final adjustments. Donning my leg I realize I am missing something...my extra prosthetic socks. I need one single ply to snug up my fit but have none. If this was a 5k I'd not be concerned, but I go into a mild panic thinking of being uncomfortable for 26.2 miles.

My residual is long and Scott's socks are too short, but I add a longer, thin sheath and that will have to do. The mental note is made in big red bold letters for next year. Bring the $%&! extra socks.

One last pit stop and a note on Jay's poster Randy has taped to the wall: One More. My first Boston, One More for The Greatest. I would not lack for inspiration this day, in fact, it was endless.

*******

Who I Am
I remember walking out of the gym, seeing the Hoyt sculpture, and briefly waiting until we were lead to the starting line. I wore our beloved Don Pablo's bright orange collar on my right wrist and my "Cure FOP" bracelet on my left.

It seemed like any other race. Maybe I was overwhelmed. Maybe because there was only us MIs, perhaps 20 altogether, that we didn't have the buzz of a huge corral. This just couldn't be happening to me. I don't have a foot. I am in Hopkinton. On the starting line. Of. The. Boston. Marathon.

It is announced that there will be 26 seconds of silence for the 26 victims of Newtown. The crowd hushes. I bow my head. My thoughts wander then grow quiet. Into my mind a vision appears, that of children. I see them above. A boy. Not sure, but maybe a girl out of focus on his left. And then I hear singing, the high, sweet sonorous singing of children. It is all in my mind. It is what I believe. In a few seconds this vanishes.

*******

We begin the 2013 Boston Marathon. Mike, Randy and I turn our backs to Boston, facing Hopkinton, taking the first few steps as Jay would have done, running backward in his chair. We turn and run in near perfect conditions, far from the furnace of last year.

It will be a day like no other.


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Day Before - Boston 2013 Part II

Sunday was filled from morning to night.

Registration for Persons with Disabilities (Jennifer & Randy on far left)
Jennifer and I had breakfast with Kelly Luckett in the morning and I presented her with the medal I had made, and gave her another to give to her friend and guide, BethAnn Perkins. From there Jennifer and I headed to the expo while Kelly went back to wait on BethAnn who would be arriving at any minute.

Shariff and me
The walk to the expo was far longer than I preferred. My plan was to be on my feet as little as possible on Sunday and I didn't do too well on that account. I remember walking under the stands on south side of Boylston Street and seeing how open they were, thinking there wasn't as much security there as I would have expected. We did see many law enforcement and military personnel about, so I didn't feel unduly concerned.

The Mobility Impaired registration is in a smaller room adjacent to the main hall. Randy and Mike were not there yet but we immediately meet Shariff Abdullah Peters, a.k.a. The Singapore Blade Runner. We chat a bit and took some pics before he had to return to the North Face expo display. Shariff is a wonderful ambassador for his country of Singapore, and faces quite a challenge being an amputee runner in the nearly year-round heat and humidity of being so close to the equator. We experience a similar climate here in the South for about 3 months, so we understand how difficult it is for him.

Kelly (L) 7 BethAnn (R)
Soon my friends who would be my guides arrived, Randy Spellman and then Mike Lenhart with his girlfriend and fellow accomplished amputee athlete Janelle Hansberger. Randy is probably the most experienced guide ever at Boston, and being Jay Pisano's blood brother I was extremely honored he would be running with me. Mike, the founder of Getting2Tri, has been a guide for many amputee runners at other marathons, including the likes of Richard Whitehead, Scott Rigsby, and Jason Gunter. I would be in the best of hands. The very best.

Janelle would be waiting for us at the finish line.

Soon Kelly returned with BethAnn to round out this august group. I handed out additional commemorative medals as we all finish up the registration process. Kelly has been an amputee since age 2, and is a fount of knowledge of amputee running and all things a Boston a MI runner should know or be aware of. I felt little anxiousness of being at this greatest of marathons because Kelly had answered so many unknowns for me.

*******

I have a moment of being in this dream, for how can I be here, at the Boston Marathon, picking up my race number?

It is not possible.  It cannot be.

"Dude, I'm afraid your running days are over."




From left: Mike Lenhart, me, and Randy Spellman

*******

Randy and I meet Dick Hoyt
We retrieve our numbers and head into the expo. My main objective is to get my Boston jacket which, thankfully, is not sold out in my size. I also purchase a couple of shirts, a coffee thermos mug, and a visor cap, my head gear of choice for everyday running. They had sold out of the shorts and tights I had wanted, so I ordered those later.

Randy and I sat while Jennifer made the expo rounds. It is by far the best expo I have ever experienced and wished I could have spent some time visiting the booths, but decided rest was best for me. We did make a stop at the Team Hoyt booth and chatted with Todd Civin, who co-wrote Rick and Dick Hoyt's "One Letter at a Time" book. Photos are taken and Randy shows everyone the poster he has made in Jay's honor that will go with us to Hopkinton.

*******

The expo is on April 14, the date of my Ampiversary. On this day in 2009 I was in surgery having my foot removed. On this day a few (!) years earlier, Mike Lenhart was born. I have to say it again, I believe Mike cried more than me on this day.

Randy, Jen and I head to the California Pizza Kitchen near our hotel for lunch. In hindsight we should have taken a taxi, I was walking far longer than I had wanted to. My residual was also a little sensitive, which was a definite red flag being raised. We did have a good lunch, the pasta and chicken was precisely what I wanted for this meal.

*******

That evening we attended the Achilles International pasta dinner. Achilles assisted Jay with his later Boston races and Eleanor Cox gave a heartfelt speech honoring The Greatest. She talked about how Jay lived life to the fullest, always wanting to do "one more" of whatever it was he was doing. One more drink. One more marathon. This reminds me of Enzo in the book "The Art of Racing in the Rain":

"One more lap, Denny! Faster!"

We also get to meet Kimberly Gulko, friend and a believer, like me, that Jay did embody his "Impossible Is Nothing" in action, not just words. I still recall Kim's words in her memorial video: "Go Jay go, you changed my life...and we love you."

Jay did this by what he did in action, not what he said. "The way to do is to be." To be.

Kim would be waiting for us at the finish line.

Achilles Dinner - John Ryan and Jack
My stepson John Ryan Nevill, his lovely wife Kristen, and my little training partner/grandson Jack joined us which again gave me moment for pause...am I really here? My family is here to...see me run the Boston Marathon? How can this be? Here...in this room...?

How strange, how foreign I feel.

I speak very briefly to Dick Traum. I mentioned we had spoken after my surgery and he had sent me a signed copy of his book. Dick Traum was the first amputee to run a marathon, and he helped inspire Terry Fox many years later to begin his Marathon of Hope. Dick is the founder Achilles International, the premier organization for supporting disabled people in the world of athletics.

That is what he did with a badly dealt hand.

******

The Gift
Back at our room I laid out what I expected to wear and take to Hopkinton in the morning. I have a list and it helps to check things off. What it does not do is pack anything, leaving that essential detail to me.

I have been sleeping well leading up to the race, and I do not feel any prerace jitters that would portend a restless night. My only negative thought is I have spent too much time on my feet, but it wasn't that bad (was it?) and a good night's sleep will ease any residual fatigue.

I close my eyes, thinking briefly about what I will do tomorrow. I am aware of how calm I am, and think it is because I was so ridiculously excited last year and then, out of the blue, an injury requiring surgery ended that improbable dream. Still, why am I so calm?

I see myself on that starting line and the butterflies stir.

No...no...stop...don't think, you must sleep.


Dear God. These are my guides. Randy and Mike. Please be with them tomorrow. Keep them strong and and safe and free from harm. I know if you do this I will be protected. Amen.


Into dreams I fall.

Once Upon A Time

Thursday, August 1, 2013

262 Days


Only a few moments ago I received my deferred runner registration email for the 2014 Boston Marathon. I am lost for words to say how I felt when I read it...probably an indication of how it will feel to be there next April. Thank you BAA for all you have done and are doing to bring us together.

Jennifer and I have our room and flight reservations already set, coming in the Friday before the race and leaving the following Tuesday. Every day, every run I think about coming back to Boston, being on that course, hearing those spectators who I know will be impossibly louder than before.

I see those faces before me now, those of Krystle, Martin, Lu, and Sean. I think of those stories I have been following of the victims, of where they have come from on their long roads of recovery. I think on the courage of the first responders and of law enforcement who indeed live the verse, "no greater love."

Although we are with you in spirit always, I look forward to us coming together in person next April 21 as the BostonStrong nation.

We rise as one.


Monday, July 29, 2013

On the Wings of a Dream - Boston 2013 Part I

Martin

It will be impossible to separate what happened on April 15 from everything before and after the race. The smoke of those bombs has attached itself to everything it touched.

There are thousands of what-if stories, and almost all could have been true if this or that had happened. Two people were there waiting to see us, in the very places the explosions occurred. What if I had been on pace? What if a cell phone had not needed charging? What if a quick work break had been missed?

Yet for many there was no what-if. There is only the why. Why did four people die, others lose limbs, and scars that will last forever for all those who were there? If some were spared, then who decided to take these lives?

"I can tell you this, thousands on that day have your experience too. Mike's girlfriend had just left that area to charge her phone, again because we were going so slow. Is all this why I was meant to be there this year and not last? I cannot say because I cannot believe, then, that little Martin was marked to die on this day. How is that reconciled? I can't do it. I see his face and think of me at that age, of running every place I went, of the joy of life. And now his is gone. Who decided he should die and we should live? I can only think evil decided this, and those brothers, for whatever reason, chose evil over good. Evil people did this."


 *******

After the huge disappointment of missing the race last year, my enthusiasm for this year's race was tempered. In the back of my mind I knew something out of the blue could again conspire to stop me from ever seeing that starting line in Hopkinton. The two things I was most concerned about was the continued swelling at the distal end of my fibula on my residual limb, and the potential for sickness after my training. And although I don't like to dwell on it, I could not help but think of the relatively short lives of some family members.

It simply seemed like a dream, one I knew it was real yet could not believe it was going to happen. I knew my training was not going to be good enough to run as I always wanted to, but I did believe I had time to do enough quality workouts to not be reduced to a shuffle.

SuperStar Ashley Kurpiel and her medal
My last long run, a 20 miler, had gone well and in general everything seemed to be clicking into place. I picked up my race day singlet; I had planned to unveil it on the starting line but could not contain myself and posted a pic on Facebook.
I also was happy the medals I had made as a surprise for our teams and friends turned out well. Jennifer and I wrapped them in small boxes with a Terry Fox shoestring (one only for the left foot) and an IFOPA International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association) bracelet as ribbons.

During the week leading up to the race we hit then exceeded our goal - $2620 - for the IFOPA. The group of donors who made this happen was relatively small and many had given multiple times in the past. From TeamAshley, TeamPisano, international friends, family, and many others, we raised over $5000 from the Charleston Marathon through this effort for the Boston Marathon. The love was not in the giving as much as gifts of the heart.

*******

One person made my Boston experience seem more familiar and hence less stressful was our good friend Kelly Luckett. This being her 9th Boston, she is probably the most knowledgeable MI runner at the race. As a side note, the reason guides have bibs on their front and back is because of her; this is so the faster runners realize a slower MI runner is ahead and can avoid collisions.

It is possible Kelly was more excited for me than I was for myself. I was oddly (and mostly) not the bundle of nerves and anticipation I thought I would be. I think had this been the 2012 race I would have been out of my mind. Mainly it seemed more than ever that this was really a dream and I would wake up and that would be that.

Our flight from Charleston to Boston on Saturday seemed very short. Everything about the race seemed to approach quickly instead of the slow march that time makes for many anticipated events. In our only bad travel experience, the cabby ripped us off for our fare which we didn't realize until later.

Dinner at Maggiano's
We had a fun dinner that evening, meeting some old friends and new. Ashley was there with the Lawlers, the family she was staying with near Boston. The Lawlers who also have a child with FOP. It was the first time we met my guide Randy Spellman and visually impaired challenged athlete Rhonda-Marie Avery. We had a few extra guests so when Scott and his guide arrived a bit late they were seated at a nearby table.

I had two "allergy" moments that evening. First, Ashley was wearing a tee shirt she had made for all of my family that had a picture of my blade with "Run Richard Run" splashed across it. My mind can't quite place that Richard and the one that is me, who in the world would wear a shirt with my name on it?

A bit later Randy gave me two gifts. One was a bottle of bath salts that were handmade by friend and TeamPisano member Jodi Blyler. Jodi is good friends with Grit Rorrio and both are dedicated members of TeamPisano. Next I unwrap an amazing picture of The Greatest, Jason Pisano, with a Terry Fox dollar below it. When I first opened this I first saw what was inscribed on the back:


The Runner's Prayer 

Lord, 
Watch over me today as I run. 
This is the day 
and this is the time for the race. 

Watch over my body. 
Keep it free from injury. 

Watch over my mind. 
May I listen to the signals from within 
as I enjoy the scenes from without. 

Watch over my spirit. 

Watch over my competitors. 
Remind us that we all are struggling equally. 

Lord, 
Let me win. 
Not by coming in ahead of my friends, but by beating myself. 

Let it be an inner win. 
A battle won over me. 

And may I say at the end, 
"I have fought a good fight. 
I have finished the race. 
I have kept the faith."

*******

We didn't get to talk to everyone nearly enough, but we did get to spend some precious time together. I look around, all of these people, and see Jennifer at my side enjoying the evening. It is always hard to attend a race you do not run, but I watch as Boston works its special magic over us all: everyone involved in this historic event on any level comes to love it. 

Boston is a race like no other. Few come to the race not knowing how special it is and respect its traditions and richest history of all marathons. For most runners, Boston is the race dreams are made of, and many dream of running it someday. 

I had dreamed of running Boston when I was fleeter of foot and on the bubble of the qualifying time. My first dedicated attempt at the Chicago Marathon would also be my closest. I was certainly fast and fit enough to have done it that day back in 1997, but hamstring cramping late in the race would crush my dream. 

About two weeks after that race my right ankle swelled, very unusual in that I could not recall rolling or otherwise injuring it. It would be the first real indication that something was wrong with my foot outside of its deformity. 

I would never run a marathon faster than Chicago. Boston would have to remain a dream and I had to accept this, did accept it, and then my life changed when my body did.

A little over 13 years later, after my foot amputation and a marathon taking over 6 hours to finish, I would qualify for the Boston Marathon. In a state of near-shock I realized I, as a mobility impaired runner, could run the greatest marathon on the planet. And start first. Before the wheelers, before the elites.

We MIs start first.

*******

I often have a dream - probably not an uncommon one among runners - of being in a race where I am out front, leading the entire field. I run without effort and am flying. Suddenly I realize I am off course, lost, or sometimes running through a building where I am uncertain where to turn next. I feel horrible that I was having such a good day running - winning - and now I have no idea where I am and no one else seems to know how to direct me back to the race. I never finish.

*******

All of this personal history, all of these plans, none of it would prepare me or any of us for what would happen on Patriot's Day. Even now it is hard to believe, as this has been a dream to me all along.

Yet as surreal as this all has been, I was there. We were there. 

I do not want to remember and I do not want to forget.

This dream.

Love


Boston Marathon 2013

Today I will begin my posts on this year's Boston Marathon. It has taken a long time to write because once I arrived at the point the race ended it seemed I could not go on.

I found my voice after posting Kelly Luckett's race story here. I still feel I have left out large portions of my own story - so much happened in so short of time. I think of that day every day. It seems more real in memory then it did in reality.

There will be 6 or 7 posts in this series, beginning today and posted every Monday at 2:49 pm until they have ended.

I dedicate my story to Krystle, to Martin, to Lu, to Sean, and to the victims of the bombings and their families who have walked through the very fires of hell. We think and pray for you always, and know we stand with you every day.

In our hearts, in our minds, yes, in our souls we stand BostonStrong.

Photo by Kimberly Gulko



Friday, July 19, 2013

Boston 2013 - By Kelly Luckett

Before the race from left: moi, BethAnn, Kelly, and Randy
Photo: S&L Photography (Jennifer)

(RB note: This article first appeared in The Darkside Running Club's newsletter, Issue 46, Summer 2013)

 Boston 2013
By Kelly Luckett

Boston Marathon 2013.  Those words can never be spoken, written, or read without thinking of the unspeakably horrific events that happened April 15, 2013.  Lives were lost and lives were changed forever.  The fact that the marathon was hijacked for the runners is understandably upsetting, but that is insignificant compared to the deaths, grievous injuries, and severe emotional trauma the bombings caused.
Because I feel so strongly that those killed and injured should not be forgotten, and that their stories are so much more important than mine, please take a moment to respect them by reading their names and brief information listed below:

LIVES LOST:
Martin Richard, age 8.  Third-grader , athlete.
Lingzi Lu, age 23.  Student at Boston University.
Krystle Campbell, age 29.  Restaurant manager.
Sean Collier, age 27.  Police officer (in the line of duty on 4-18-13, related to the bombings).


A FEW OF THE SERIOUSLY INJURED:
Jane Richard, age 6.  Little sister of Martin Richard.  Leg amputation.
Denise Richard, mother of Jane and Martin Richard.  Vision loss in one eye, head injury.
Bill Richard, father of Jane and Martin Richard.  Shrapnel injuries, burns, hearing loss.
Karen Rand, best friend of Krystle Campbell.  Leg amputation.
Adrianne Haslet-Davis.  Leg amputation.
Adam Davis, husband of Adrianne, returned from Afghanistan duty 2 weeks prior.  Foot injury.
Erika Brannock, Leg amputation, serious injuries to remaining leg, burns, hearing loss.
Nicole Gross, sister of Erika.  Multiple, severe injuries to both legs, damaged ear drums.
Michael Gross, husband of Nicole. Shrapnel injuries, burns.
Roseann Sdoia.  Leg amputation, injuries to remaining leg, shrapnel injuries, burns.
Heather Abbott. Leg amputation.
Mery Daniel.  Leg amputation.
JP Norden.  Leg amputation, shrapnel injuries, burns.
Paul Norden, brother of JP.  Leg amputation, shrapnel injuries, burns.
Jeff Bauman.  Double leg amputations.
Celeste Corcoran.  Double leg amputations.
Sydney Corcoran, daughter of Celeste.  Torn femoral artery, leg and foot injuries.
John Odom.  Shrapnel injuries; severe nerve and artery damage caused by the blasts.
Marc Fucarile.  Leg amputation, serious injuries to remaining leg, shrapnel injuries, burns.
Christian Williams, multiple injuries to both legs, de-gloved fingers (skin torn from his fingers).

Most of the injured individuals have fundraising pages (many of them on gofundme.com) to help cover the necessary lifelong medical care, prosthetics, possible modifications to home and vehicle, and at least temporary loss of income.  Please consider making a difference by contributing to any of their fundraising pages.  At least, please pray for their healing and peace, as well as for those who were first responders, and the families and friends of those injured or killed.  Thank you for your consideration of those who were there to cheer for us runners at the Boston Marathon but who left with devastating injuries or lost their life.

My experiences at Boston 2013 seem so unimportant in light of the deaths and injuries.  I just feel blessed to have left Boston with my life and all the limbs I went there with.  However, I know many people want to hear my story, so I’m writing about my experience so others can understand a little more about what happened that day, and honestly, it is good therapy for me.

Race morning for the Boston Marathon 2013, my 9th consecutive Boston, started out very well.  Everything went smoothly getting ready at the hotel that morning, and I had the added excitement of having my dear friend and fellow leg amputee, Richard Blalock, there to run his first Boston Marathon.  We would both be starting at the 9:00am Mobility Impaired (MI) Division start.  Sadly, the MI start gets little to no media attention, even though there are usually about ten of us and our guides there at the start line, and I personally believe ours are some of the most interesting and inspirational stories among all the Boston Marathon runners. 
To understand a little about the MI Division, you need to know a couple of things.  One, we have to qualify to run Boston.  We do not get automatic entry.  We get an extended qualifying time, based on our level of mobility impairment, but we have to work hard to qualify, just as most of the other runners do.  Second, there are many reasons why most of us have a guide (or two; we are allowed up to two guides. The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) strongly encourages the MI runners to have a guide).  We start earlier than the other participants, but we are not as fast as they are.  Once we are out on the course, we soon have athletes in the handcycle and wheelchair divisions flying past us.  If we are in their way, it would be very dangerous for us and for them.  Same goes for when the elite women and elite men pass us, including the media trucks that drive in front of the elites, with camera men and women and photographers on the back.  Then there are the remaining packs of runners, in three more waves throughout the morning.  Most all of them are faster than your typical marathon runners.  Not only do we MI runners have to make sure to not get in the way of the faster Boston marathoners, it’s also difficult to get to the fluids at the aid stations, since we don’t want to move over in front of the faster runners and impede their progress.  It’s like trying to merge in and out of traffic that’s going 80 mph when you can only go 45 mph.  Having a guide to watch out for us and help with these things is a huge help, not just to us MI runners but all the other participants.  The guides wear official race bibs that say “GUIDE” on their front and their back, so the other runners coming up on us know that there is a slower runner ahead.

At 8:50am, and Richard and I are at the start line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, along with several other MI athletes, most of them with guides.  My dear friend and three-time guide, BethAnn Perkins, is with me, and Richard’s guides are Mike Lenhart, founder and director of the Getting2Tri Foundation, and Randy Spellman, the most experienced MI guide at Boston.  For many years, Randy had been one of the guides for Jason Pisano, who completed 52 marathons, including 15 Bostons, despite having cerebral palsy and being in a wheelchair.  Jason was able to be mobile by pushing himself backwards, in his racing chair, with only one foot.  For 26.2 miles.  Up hills.  Backwards.  With one foot.  I think that bears repeating: The entire 26.2 miles, he propelled himself backwards in a wheelchair while pushing himself with one foot.  His guides were there to make sure he didn’t veer over into anyone, especially on the downhills.  Tragically, Jason passed away last year on April 30th, just two weeks after completing the 2012 Boston Marathon.  He was a bright star and one of the greatest inspirations in my life.  Richard wanted Randy to be one of his Guides for this year’s Boston, as tribute to honor Jason.

You can imagine how emotional it was for us at the start line.  Remembering and honoring the life of our fellow athlete, Jason Pisano.  Celebrating that Richard was getting ready to run his first Boston Marathon, something he had wanted to do all his life as a runner.  Ironically, Richard was never quite able to qualify for Boston when he had two legs, but after having an amputation a few years ago, he was able to qualify with a prosthetic leg.  He was qualified and registered for Boston 2012, but had to have knee surgery in February of that year and was not healed in time for Boston.  So, now, here he was, after all the years of waiting.  His delightful wife, Jennifer, was going to be cheering for him along the course, and her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were there as well. The weather was nearly perfect.  There were 26 seconds of silence before the start to honor every person who was killed in the Newtown shootings.  During the silence, I thought about what a senseless, horrible tragedy that was, innocent children killed, teachers died while trying to protect their students, all because of one mentally ill, misguided individual.  It seemed so awful and so senseless, yet honestly so distant from our focus that morning.
At 9:00am, we were on our way after a verbal 10-second countdown and start command from race director Dave McGillivray. 
People have asked me how my race went, up until the tragic bombings.  My answer is honestly “it was one of the best races I’d ever had.”  I felt great the whole way, struggling mostly just on the hills in the last half of the marathon, which I expected since I hadn’t done much hill training in Savannah.  However, I was able to power-walk those hills at a pretty good clip.  On the downhills and relatively flat stretches, I was able to keep a good running pace (for my abilities) and felt good, happy, and life was just grand.  BethAnn is an excellent guide and knows how to keep me motivated, and never lets me go out too fast in the first half.  She’s one of the best coaches and pacers you could ask for.  We were having fun.  It’s always so thrilling to run Boston, and much of that is due to the cheers from the crowds.  It’s always exciting when the elites run by us.  How many marathoners get that experience, to be one of the lead runners in the Boston Marathon for a few miles, then have the elites pass right by you?!?  Yep, it’s as cool as it sounds!
During the marathon, I kept thinking that part of why I was running so well was because I did not carry my phone, as I always do in training and in races, and the missing weight of an iPhone in an OtterBox cover was allowing me to run faster!  Hey, whatever works, right?  I’d decided to not carry my phone since BethAnn would carry hers, and I’d told Brian the night prior to the race that I’d call him after we finish and that it would be from her phone (a number unfamiliar to him), so to be sure to answer when I call.  At one point in the later miles, I was feeling so good for it being so late in the race, I remember distinctly thinking “not carrying my phone was one of the best decisions I ever made.”  Well, that would soon come back to haunt me; more on that later.
All was well until around mile 21, when I looked over to my left and saw Richard sitting on a bench alongside the course, with his guides.  “Oh no, BethAnn, there’s Richard!” I was worried because he is a faster runner than I am, and if he was on the pace he’d hoped for, he would have been finished or close to it by that time, not at mile 21, and not sitting on a bench.  All I could think of is how hard he’s trained, how many obstacles he had gone through to get there that day, and how excited he was to finally run the Boston Marathon.  I wanted everything to go perfectly for him.  I was veering over to go see what help he might need, but BethAnn told me to keep going and that she’d check on him and catch back up to me.  I argued, but she insisted, and I listened.  However, I slowed to a walk and kept looking over my shoulder to make sure he was ok.  I started to turn around and go back to him, but right then, BethAnn got back on the course, motioned for me to keep going, and soon caught up to me.  She said he was just making an adjustment on his prosthesis, and Mike & Randy were taking good care of him.  She said he was in good spirits and was going to get going again very shortly.  I told her how upset I was that he obviously wasn’t going to have the finish time that he’d trained for and planned, and she said “Kelly, there are only 5 miles to go.  You know he can walk it if he has to and he’ll still have plenty of time to finish.  You know he’ll finish.”  I knew she was right.  I knew Richard would crawl those 5 miles if he had to.  “Yeah, you’re right, I just wanted him to have the race he’d hoped for and that he’s capable of.”   I continued on, knowing he would finish. 

We kept up our pace, running more and walking less, for the most part.  There were the expected rough patches in the later miles, but nothing as bad as it usually is for me at that point in a marathon.  It was emotional for me when the iconic Citgo sign was in view, and we saw the “One Mile To Go” printed in large letters on the road, knowing how cool it would be for Richard to very soon see those things.  Crowds are cheering and music is playing.  Life was good.  We made it to the 40K timing mat in 5 hours and 43 minutes.  We knew it would be very, very close to make it to the finish in under 6 hours, but it was within possibility if I could pick up the pace a little.  We talked about it, and at that point, I predicted that we’d finish in 6:02 or 6:03.  I tried to run as much as I could without walk breaks, but had to walk for 30-60 seconds (ok, usually 60 seconds) every few minutes.  I remember thinking whether I finished in 5:59 or over 6 hours, it was all good.  To finish the Boston Marathon, for the 9th time, on a prosthetic leg… Richard soon to be crossing that finish line as well… it was all good.

We were approaching the Massachusetts Avenue overpass, where there is a dip in the road as the runners go under the overpass.  It’s one of the most anticipated spots on the course, because you know that as soon as you get out of the little tunnel underneath the overpass, you then have the legendary “right on Hereford, left on Boylston” which immediately gives you one of the most amazing and emotional sights you can imagine:  The Finish Line of The Boston Marathon.  Something you only dream about until you actually see it, and once you see it, there is no doubt that all the training, pain, everything was worth it.

Just about the time we were saying something about how close we were, with the overpass right in front of us, I noticed there were runners slowing down.  I remember thinking that was odd, since I didn’t recall the runners getting bottlenecked before going under that overpass.  Then I noticed the bobbing runners’ heads stop.  I was so confused and in a panicked tone said “BethAnn, they’re stopping.  BethAnn, why are they stopping?”  Of course, she didn’t have an answer.  Why in the world would all the runners be stopping in the Boston Marathon?  There were probably only 25-50 runners in front of us who were already stopped.  Suddenly the answer hit me like a ton of bricks.  There must be a runner who’s had a heart attack and is down, underneath the overpass, being revived or waiting for help to arrive.  That was absolutely the only possible explanation for why THE BOSTON MARATHON would be stopped.  It seriously did not occur to me that I wasn’t right.  It made sense, since the road under the overpass is closed in, like a tunnel, and there would be nowhere for the runners to go around a fallen runner at that spot.  That had to be it.  I remember having a flashing thought was that as long as the runner would be revived and live, I didn’t mind that my finish time was going to be longer than I’d thought.

I told BethAnn that it had to be a runner having a heart attack, and worried aloud that maybe he was dying.  I was so upset at the thought that someone was dying of a heart attack a few yards away from me, I started sobbing uncontrollably.  BethAnn started praying.  I know she knew at the time that it had to be something more than a runner fallen from a heart attack to stop the marathon, but since there was no better explanation at that point, she prayed for whomever it may be and that help would get to this person quickly.  We walked over to the curb and cried and prayed.  Within a few minutes, we overheard other runners and some spectators on their phones, saying something about an explosion at the finish line.  BethAnn and I looked at each other with great surprise and disbelief.  Could that really be true?  When we heard a couple of other people saying the same thing, we figured it was probably accurate.  I just assumed it was some sort of sewer line or electrical explosion that just created some debris at the finish area that they had to clean up before letting us continue on.  My exact thought was, and I said it out loud, “Oh thank God no one was having a heart attack.”

It was around 2:55pm when we were stopped, at the Massachusetts Ave overpass, which is approximately a half mile, maybe as much as 7/10 of a mile, from the finish line.  Beth Ann’s Garmin showed 25.8 miles, and I’ve read that several other runners’ GPS devices said the same thing.

An official spoke briefly a few times on a megaphone, but it was hard to hear.  We just heard something about a situation at the finish line and that they were trying to get it under control as soon as possible.  We were asked to stay were we were.  We heard ambulance and police sirens... lots and lots and lots of sirens.  And more sirens.  I remember almost constant sirens for nearly an hour, I think. Lots of police cars and motorcycles whizzing by on the road just beside the one we were on.

During the time we were held, some other runners and spectators who'd been at or near the finish line started walking back to where all the runners were stopped on the course.  There were thousands stopped behind us... over 5,600 runners were not allowed to finish.  Keep in mind I started at 9:00am since mobility impaired runners get an early start, and the other runners' start times were in waves from 9:30am to 10:40am.  We overheard, and sometimes directly asked what happened, and kept hearing things like “multiple fatalities” and "body parts everywhere." We still didn't believe it could be that awful and just assumed it was the media blowing things out of proportion.  It started to sink in somewhat only after hearing the same scenario described by about 50 different people.

At that point, we wanted to call our husbands to let them know we were ok.  Remember how I’d said I didn’t carry my phone that morning and had thought it as a great decision since I didn’t have a phone bouncing around in my pocket?  I had never wished more than at that hour that I’d carried my phone, because BethAnn tried to use hers and the battery had been completely drained.  Ugh.  We had no way to let them know we were ok.  In my naivety, I thought maybe we could get back to the hotel before this would even be on the news.  At that point, we just were not able to comprehend the gravity of what had happened.  We asked a few people with phones if we could borrow theirs, and most people said their battery was dead or that the cell towers were so jammed that calls weren’t going through.  One woman told us her battery was low but that we were welcome to use her phone to try to call our husbands.  I asked her “do you think this is on the news yet?” and she answered, “oh yes, this is all over the news.”  Her tone was full of compassion, which I now know was because she realized that I was just not able to grasp the situation.
We tried to call, but the calls would not go through.  I thought one of my attempted calls to Brian went through, but I heard nothing on the other end when I kept saying “Hello?  Hello?”  We soon learned that the secret in this situation is TEXTING. Texts go through much faster in that situation, so keep that in mind if you are ever in a widespread disaster. Text, don't call. Texts went through pretty normally. We finally found a woman, named Janet, who let us use her phone to text our husbands.  My text to Brian was “It’s Kelly from a kind stranger’s phone.  I’m ok and so is BethAnn.  Love you.”  He immediately texted back “Thank God. Everyone is calling.”  BethAnn was able to text her husband, Gary, as well.

While we were stuck there on the course, we finally realized it was bombings and that it was likely terrorist-related.  It was pretty terrifying knowing that we had no way of knowing if another bomb was going to go off where we were, or where our several good friends were farther back on the course.   At that point, we were pretty numb to the reality of the fatalities and injuries.  Throughout the whole ordeal, BethAnn was my rock.  She kept me calm, and made sure I was ok, made sure I stayed warm (I was never so happy to have worn my Mizuno Breath Thermo shirt), and had I needed water or food, she would have made sure I got it.  We stood for a while, sometimes on the road, sometimes in the grassy triangle beside the road, and we sat on the curb for a while.

We were held there until around 4:10pm at which time we were told by an official on a megaphone that the marathon was cancelled, and we were instructed to walk east along the Commonwealth Avenue mall (a park-like walkway to the north of the course) to our hotels or to Boston Commons.  This was parallel to Boylston Street and the finish line, just one block north.  Fortunately for us, our hotel was not far past the finish line, so we were headed in the direction that would get us to our hotel.  As we walked along, BethAnn held onto my arm and it was very comforting to have her with me; I could tell her priority was to make sure I was safe.  We talked about how awful this was, yet we still had no idea just how horrific it really was.  We talked about how disappointing it was for this to happen for Richard’s first Boston Marathon. 

Not long after we started walking to our hotel, volunteers came by on bikes with backpacks full of heat blankets, and that was the only time I saw runners acting rudely and selfishly.  I think I ended up getting one only because one of the volunteers saw that I was the only one who wasn’t selfishly grabbing and knocking people out of my way, so he handed one specifically to me.

Once we got back to our hotel, the news was on a TV in the lobby and lots of people, including runners who had finished wearing their medals, were intently watching.  We glanced over and it was too horrific to believe… reports of people dead and injuries so horrible I still could not absorb the reality.  We hurried up to our room.  BethAnn plugged her phone in the charger and I got mine out of my purse and called Brian.  We turned on the TV in our room, and as we saw and heard the details of the fatalities and injuries, BethAnn accurately commented that it seemed so surreal, so hard to comprehend that what we saw on the news just happened a few blocks from where we were sitting in our hotel room.  It seemed like a world away on TV.

I texted Richard and Jennifer to make sure they were ok and see where they were, but I didn’t get a response.  I finally went upstairs to their room and knocked at the door, and Richard answered.  Seeing him and knowing for sure he was ok was the first time I became emotional.  I hugged him so hard I was afraid I’d break a rib.  Soon Jennifer and her family got back to the room, and it was wonderful seeing that everyone was ok.  Randy was there too, and some of his friends showed up.  The support from everyone was amazing.  

I was incredibly touched to have more texts, voicemails, emails, and Facebook messages and posts than I’ve ever had in my life.  I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, but it was a wonderful way to let hundreds of people know all at once that we were ok.  I returned texts and emails as quickly as I could that evening.  The outpouring of concern and love was wonderfully overwhelming.  Between texts and emails, I watched the news.  It was just too much to absorb.  Just too awful.  

Our early morning flights home the next morning went out as scheduled.  We were lucky that our hotel was just outside of the lockdown zone, so taxis were able to get to our hotel to pick us up.  Security at the airport was definitely tighter.  I’d describe the process as more deliberate and slow.  Of course I always get manually searched anyway due to my prosthesis, but everyone else seemed to get a more thorough screening than usual.  When BethAnn and I had to part ways at the airport to go to our separate flights home, it was very hard for me to leave her.  I’d felt safe with her, and I didn’t want to be alone so soon after what happened.  But, reality was that she and I both needed and wanted to get home, to Michigan and Savannah, respectively.

I was never happier in my life to return home.  Seeing Brian and my dogs was wonderful and comforting.  Brian told me that for 40 minutes he thought I may have been at the finish line in the bombings, because the phone call I’d made to him but didn’t hear him on the other end actually did go through, he heard me but I obviously couldn’t hear him.  After the phone went dead, he thought I’d called to let him know we finished and that the call simply dropped.  Only a couple of minutes after that brief call did he find out that something terrible had happened… he got a CNN text alert on his phone saying “Explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.”  Until he got the text from me 40 minutes later saying I was ok, he was trying not to think the worst.  During that time, he got many calls from frantic family and friends wanting to know if we were ok, and he didn’t know what to tell them.  I hate that he went through that worry, and I’m very appreciative to his brother, Steve, and our friend, Nicole Chamberlain, for helping him through that tough time of waiting to hear that I was indeed ok.

A local Savannah runner and friend, Tony Varney, organized a Boston Memorial run for that evening to honor those killed and injured in the bombings and to celebrate my safe return home.  I was exhausted in every sense of the word, but was so touched, there was no way I was going to miss being there.  I am glad I went; it was much-needed concern and support from my local running community and friends.

I returned to work the following day, Wednesday, only two days after the bombings.  My coworkers were amazingly welcoming and offered support and compassion.  I’ve never been so happy to be ok to return to work after taking time off!

In the following days and weeks, the reality of the deaths and injuries started to sink in.  The things I’ve had the most difficulties dealing with are the death of the eight-year-old little boy, Martin Richard, and the fact that there were so many people who lost one of both legs in the bombings.  As of this writing, 16 people lost one or both legs.  There may be more since some of the victims have leg injuries so severe, their limb might not be able to be saved.  The concept that I (and Richard and other amputees) run the Boston Marathon with one or both prosthetic legs, something so positive and inspirational, the same marathon where there were bombings that caused people to tragically lose their limbs, is just something I cannot process.   I qualify for the Boston Marathon only because I have lost a limb, and at that same event, people very traumatically lost their limbs.  I can’t find any words to describe the emotional torment this causes for me.  The sadness and grief has been intense.

I think my significant emotional struggle with this has been not only because I was there, not only because of the normal human compassion for the victims, but because I have the obvious connection with the bombing victims who became amputees.  It is just so wrong on so many levels. It used to be that when anyone used the phrase “the Boston Marathon amputees,” it was I and other runners with prosthetic limbs that they were talking about, and it was inspirational and positive.  Now that phrase means something entirely different, something tragic.

My other struggle in dealing with the aftermath of the bombings is due to the many runners who were not allowed to finish and were demanding in their requests to the B.A.A. that they get their medal, finish time, and a guaranteed spot for Boston 2014.  I’ve also found it insensitive for people to ask me if I finished and/or if I got a medal, in the case where I’d already explained that I was stopped about a half-mile from the finish line.  Do these people not understand there were people who died, people who lost limbs, and that the finish line and the course along Boylston Street was all a federal crime scene? 

My perspective is that a finish time, a medal, or anything concerning the race is petty in comparison to the horrific injuries and mental trauma to those who were injured or directly affected.  I continue to think of the first responders… just the photos I've seen will haunt me the rest of my life, I can't imagine seeing that in person and somehow still managing to help those who were injured.  The people who jumped in and helped the injured are absolute heroes.  I am just so happy and so blessed to have come home with my life and all the limbs that I went there with.  I would feel selfish to be concerned with my nine-year streak or finish time or a medal.  However, that being said, in addition to the deaths and grievous injuries, the experience of crossing the finish line was hijacked for over 5,600 runners.

The B.A.A. did decide to send medals (courtesy of FedEx), give us projected finish times (as long we had crossed at least the half-marathon timing mat), and a guaranteed spot for next year.  All of those things are very much appreciated, and the B.A.A. handled the communications very appropriately.  I am impressed with their strength in dealing with the tragedy and their patience with the impatient runners who were demanding things.  I cannot deny that getting the news from the B.A.A. that my projected finish time (6:02:42) would be considered “official” and they would allow it to be used for purposes of a streak was wonderful news for me.  It somehow made me feel that what we went through as runners that day was validated. 

I continue to pray for peace and healing for those injured.  I will reach out to those who lost limbs to offer support, when the time feels right, after some of their current support network may have moved on.  I have spoken with a counselor who is very compassionate and has given me solid guidance on working through my emotional difficulties from the bombings.  I also have a dear friend, Bradley Fenner, (a Darkside member) who had direct losses in 9/11 (his company had an office in one of the towers and lost one employee, as well as, obviously, their entire physical office), who gave me excellent advice:  Don't try to make sense of this, because it will never make sense to anyone who is sane, and don't try to find closure, because you never will.  Just know that it is a horrible situation that really sucks, it will get easier to deal with over time, but it will in some way haunt you the rest of your life. Once I accepted that, and stopped struggling to somehow understand how anyone could have done this intentionally, the emotions started getting a little less raw at times, although I still have very difficult times.  Sometimes I can talk about the Boston events without getting emotional, but often, it is still very difficult.


I don’t know how long it will take for the victims to heal enough to really move forward with their lives, but many of them have already started the process, and that gives me hope that they will eventually be ok.  I don’t know how long it will take for me to feel less of the heartbreaking grief that I still experience.  I know that things will eventually get better.  I will return to Boston in 2014 and run my 10th consecutive Boston Marathon.  My friend Richard will also return and experience his first time crossing the Boston Marathon finish line.  Completing the Boston Marathon will not give either of us closure from this year’s tragedy, but it will give us hope that things can once again be a celebration of the human spirit.  Hope.  No one can take that away.