Monday, July 29, 2013

On the Wings of a Dream - Boston 2013 Part I


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 

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. 

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.


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