Commentary

Marathon a rush of positive energy

With so many inspiring stories, Boston's big race never gets old

Updated: April 19, 2010, 9:27 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Marathon turned 114 years old on Monday, but it never gets old.

It is ours, and one needed to simply walk up and down Boylston Street and stand at the finish line, feeling the spirit and energy of the day, to understand why that is a good thing.

That is where you meet people like Bob Fortune, an 87-year-old from Park Ridge, Ill., who arrived at the finish line with the aid of a walker. He wasn't participating in Monday's marathon, but a big part of him was because his son, Tom, was running it for the first time.

Getting here wasn't easy, but he figured if his son was determined enough to try five times to qualify, he had to do his part.

"I had a lot of desire to do it because I'm so proud of him, that he was able to stick with it," said Fortune, hunched over his walker and bundled up with a scarf and hat to combat the cutting winds.

Fortune was one example of how perseverance wasn't displayed solely on the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston, a father's love for his son shining through at the finish line as he watched him finish in 3:54:44.

While some might lament the domination of international runners or traffic detours, it is stories like Fortune's that better reflect what this race is about, and why after all this time, it still remains a vibrant part of the local community and reflects so positively on the city.

While the story of the day was Kenya's Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot smashing the men's course record (2:05:51), one didn't have to look far to find even more meaningful stories.

A bit further up Boylston, where runners take the turn off Hereford Street, Boston resident Leslie Barron stood on a ledge that allowed her to look over the spectators in front of her. She called it the best spot on the course, allowing her to see the 559 runners she was cheering on from the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge.

[+] EnlargeDick Hoyt
AP Photo/Lisa PooleDick Hoyt pushes his son Rick Hoyt in a wheelchair at the start of the marathon in Hopkinton.

Barron volunteers in memory of her husband, Tim, who died of multiple myeloma in 2004. She had told doctors that their challenge was to keep Tim alive long enough to finally see the Red Sox win the World Series, which they did by nine days. When Leslie told the Red Sox her story, and how she wanted to give back, they told her about their support for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber. She has volunteered since, attempting to run the marathon in 2007, and said Monday that "triumph has many faces."

Linda Zack of Brookline was yet another, as she crossed the finish line pushing her 31-year-old son, Noah, who has severe physical and developmental disabilities. It marked the final leg of a relay from Hopkinton to Boston, as "Team Noah" was raising awareness and funds for the Noah's Ark Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of disabled adults by subsidizing residential homes and day rehabilitation programs.

The faces of triumph come from far away, too.

Ron Millett of Midland, Ontario, had attempted to qualify for Boston nine times, failing each time. The 10th time was the charm and he finished in 3:48:44, cheered on by his wife, Donna. The couple had never been to Boston and decided to stay an extra day to attend Tuesday's Red Sox game. The city, she said, has welcomed them with open arms.

The Milletts are now part of the tradition that seems to be infectious to many. There is something about the screaming fans from Wellesley College to Boston College, and then the cow bells ringing down Boylston, that makes this marathon different from the rest.

"What separates Boston is that the whole course is behind it, all the people cheering," said Timothy Stickney, a 28-year-old Brookline resident who finished in 2:41:11, running side by side with a fellow member of the Greater Boston Running Club.

Growing up in Boston's western suburbs, a "Marathon Monday" wasn't complete without seeing the father-son duo of Dick and Rick Hoyt making its way through Framingham. Spending this year at the finish line, not far from where the Red Sox were playing their annual morning Patriots' Day game at Fenway Park, offered a different perspective.

It's where you meet people like Andy Bassock, Scott Grodsky and Josh Rutberg, friends who have been volunteering as part of the finish-line security team since the 1990s. "It's like a yearly reunion for us," said Rutberg, who grew up in Natick and regularly attended the race as a spectator, but now travels from San Francisco each year to volunteer.

It's also where 40-year-old Chris Mueller of Durham, N.H., shared a touching embrace with his wife, Alyson, and children Owen and Olivia after running a personal best and qualifying for the New York Marathon, and where Jody Wolk, a 34-year-old from Los Angeles, completed her first Boston and said: "You could feel the vibe out there, the energy."

But maybe it was Sal Spinnato of Westwood who said it best.

Anticipating the arrival of his son Michael at the finish line later in the day, he talked about the tradition of the Boston Marathon and how it's nice that as fast as things change these days, some things remain the same.

"It becomes a part of you," he said.

So true, and Monday provided another reminder of why that's a good thing.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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