Back to Boston -Spring 2014

by: John Stanton

Elle Foley’s first thought was for her mom. She was on track to finish the Boston Marathon in around four hours, until the bombs put an end to her race just before she made it to Copley Square. Her brother had already finished and was sitting on the makeshift stands on Boylston Street with her 83-year-old mother, close to the explosions.

“They got my mom out. I knew where they were but just couldn’t get there,” said Foley, who jumped a fence and tried to make it to Boylston Street to see if her family was OK, but police stopped her. Eventually they all made it to a Boston restaurant that had always been their meeting place after the race.

“My mom, at 83, shouldn’t have to see that,” Foley said. “This year she said she just can’t be there. I totally understand that. But I’m running. All those people who were injured, you have to do it for them.”

Even casual fans of the Boston Marathon, those of us who only thought about the race one day a year, who saw it as a sort of free-ranging civic get-together as much as a race, know the names. Johnny Kelly, who won twice and ran it when he was 84 years old. Bill Rodgers, who won four times in the late 1970s.

Dr. Tim Lepore’s son called his cell phone while he was running to tell him about the bombings.

“TJ called me at about 18 miles and said there’d been an explosion,” said Lepore, who was running his 45th Boston Marathon. “All of a sudden police cars started going by and at 19 miles they stopped us and we sat around until about 7 p.m. and they bused us downtown.”

We remember Joan Benoit coming down from Maine to win the women’s division in 1979 and going on to the win the first-ever women’s Olympic marathon gold. We know about Boston Athletic Association official Jock Semple, trying to rip the official race number off Katherine Switzer, who in 1967 had to register as K.V. Switzer to receive an official number. It would be five more years before women were officially al-
lowed to run. We remember Rosie Ruiz, who actually got up on the award stand to claim her victor’s wreath after cheating by jumping into the race someplace along Commonwealth Avenue.

We remember Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley in 1982, battling each other step for step, no other runners in sight, over the last nine miles, in what might be the greatest finish to any marathon ever.

And then last year the memories turned ugly. Homemade bombs exploding on Boylston Street, just before the famous finish line. Three dead, 264 wounded. Terrorism had come to our race, to our fun springtime get-together.

“What can you say, there are bad people in the world,” Lepore said after last year’s race. “Hopefully, we’ll deal with them in summary fashion.”

Now the memories made way for images of courage in the face of carnage. Now we had a new marathon term – sheltering in place. Now the stories were about citywide police dragnets, of shootouts. The city burst into a delayed celebration at the news that police had killed one bomber and captured the other.

“What happened last year was horrible,” Lepore said. “But nobody who got to a hospital alive died. It was a tremendous response by the hospitals.”

that hasn’t really healed yet. I am more excited about being able to do something to help other people by raising money for Spaulding. I am more excited about doing something with Adriene and Kari.”

The Harveys being the kind of family they are, everyone has been a part of Robin’s training. Her daughters, both excellent athletes, have been with their mother every step of the way.

Again, from the “Running with Island Grace” blog: “We can’t do this alone. A lifelong mantra for our family. We need to lean on one another, to find our center of gravity.”

They used Hal Higdon’s marathon training for novices program, as well as workshops at Spaulding. E.J. went along on some training runs.

“They have you do the longer runs on the weekends, say 15 miles,” Robin said. “Then a day of rest, then a cross-training day where maybe you swim or ride a bike, then a three-mile day, then five miles, then eight miles, then bump it back up to a long run on the weekends.”

They ran the Hyannis Half Marathon Feb. 23, along with other members of the Spaulding Race for Rehab team, and on March 29 they had one final, major, marathon prep with a 20-mile run.

The first week of March there was a fundraiser held at The Chicken Box nightclub to help Robin, Adriene and Kari reach their pledge goal of $20,000 for Spaulding’s Race for Rehab team. Robin has always been civic-minded, serving on boards and committees and coaching basketball. She has always been willing to volunteer to help out. Since her injury her friends and neighbors have been reaching out to help her. Over $30,000 was raised that night at The Box.

It is part of life on this small island, the urge to help your neighbors. Still, the Harveys were pleasantly stunned by the outpouring of people offering their help in any number of ways. You get the feeling that Robin is much more comfortable being the one doing the giving, rather than the one getting the help.

There are, of course, moments of doubt.

“Sometimes I think, what if I can’t really do this? But I just try to think about something else,” Robin said. “Then I think that I survived whatever I survived and there are people out there who are really sick and not surviving. So this race is something I can finish.”

In the end, this is a story about bad moments and pain, about the awful potential for loss and the thrilling hope of recovery, about having family around to help pull you back into life, and about how running the Boston Marathon can pale in comparison with the sort of test that life might provide at any moment.

“You know, I think its very impressive, her recov- ery,” Lepore said. “It really is amazing. I knew she was tough before the accident and I’m just more impressed every day. She really is my hero to come back from something like that. Of course, I’d prefer she didn’t beat me at Boston, but I think she might.” ///

John Stanton is a writer and documentary filmmaker living on Nantucket. His most recent film is “Wood, Sails, Dreams.”

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