In my opinion, April 15, 2013 is similar to September 11, 2001. A regular day taken by cowards who sought to invoke extreme forces of evil on innocent people by bombing a sporting event; a world renown road race nonetheless. Fear was instilled on thousands as bombs went off and ripped apart bodies and lives. Immediately, however, the strength and determination that is not only the bond of the running community, but also of the Boston community, proved to be tantamount to the acts of stupidity carried out by two lost souls seeking to gain their moment of fame for an extremist view.

 

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A year later, resilience and perseverance shine brightly as the families of those who were lost that tragic day last April find their ways to navigate a world without their own. The injured survivors remain in search of new patterns of *normal* with missing limbs, damaged hearing, and constant physical pain, all of which are daily reminders of how their lives were forever changed by simply being a part of a bond; an inspirational race which delivers its own form of resilience and perseverance.

After watching the horrific events unfold last year from afar and feeling the pain, the suffering, the anger, the disbelief, and the entire range of emotions that surged through my heart, I knew I had to be in Boston in 2014. The gravitational force, if you will, that pulled my heart strings back to Boston were intense.  I somehow had to find a way to not only be present in Boston in 2014, I had to make the 26.2 mile trek with purpose, with strength, with determination, with resilience and with perseverance.

Aside from being emotionally pulled by the lure of my home state, the signs were ever-present; symbols compelling me to face my fear and participate in the 2014 Boston Marathon. In less than two months after the bombings of last year, I reached a critical milestone in my breast cancer battle – five years with no evidence of disease. I would be cancer free, crossing what my oncologists deem most important finish line – the golden ticket for a form of breast cancer that statistically has the highest rate of recurrence.

In January 2014, I turned forty. Yes! Forty! My sister always told me her thirties stunk and that life truly started at forty. I was ready……a lot of garbage happened in my thirties and I was ready to close the chapter on that phase of my life. Forty! What better age, nearly twenty-four years after my first proclamation that I would someday do the Boston Marathon, that I seek to cross that finish line. Now or never, people.

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My mother passed away suddenly, two days after the bombings last year. She and I had had a tumultuous few years since she and my father had lived with my family during some health crises they both had. As a result of her mental illness and her abusive behavior towards me, particularly during my breast cancer battle and pregnancy, we were somewhat estranged when she passed away. We had evolved to a cordial relationship post-breast cancer, simply so that my children would be able to have better memories of their grandmother than what had transpired during her residence with us. However, I kept my distance from her solely because it took me losing a few pieces of my heart to understand that just because she was the woman who birthed me, that fact alone did not give her the entitlement to treat me poorly. In any event, the emotions that surfaced with her unexpected passing caught me a bit by surprise, perhaps because I was already so emotional by what had transpired just a couple of days earlier in a race so near to me and on my home soil.

I am going to run from Hopkinton to Boston in less than a week, simply because I can. As much as running this race may be about me: all the emotions, all the signs compelling me to be there, all the adversity I have faced and conquered……this race is really not about me. Each mile will progressively get harder than the last and the pain will surface, causing me to question my ability to undertake such a monumental effort. After thirteen miles in or so, the mental game will kick into high gear and the self-doubt will try to shift into place.

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There are so many reasons why………..and these reasons will carry me through. The factors that compel me to put one foot in front of the other are as follows:

Mile One:  Dedicated to my friend, Jacqueline Skinner LeBlanc. Jackie just recently lost her battle to her breast cancer. We became friends and bound by the ties that bind in the brutal world of fighting breast cancer. Our journeys were parallel; yet, for some reason our destinies were vastly different. I will start this race with the strength of Jackie to propel me forward for the long haul.

Mile Two: Dedicated to Cara LeBlanc Kelly. Cara was younger than I was in school, but I could never forget her beaming smile. Fast forward some years and this smile was present again as she taught my oldest daughter at her elementary school. Our paths crossed yet again as Cara was diagnosed and fought a tremendous cancer battle of her own. Despite the valiant battle Cara waged, she managed to give me her radiant smile with every meal that I delivered. We shared cancer war stories and again, our destinies were vastly different. My mind does not quite process the reason behind who gets to survive and who does not, but I do know that this early mile of my journey to Boston will be fueled by the energy of Cara’s smiles that I banked in my memory.

Mile Three: Dedicated to the remaining cancer warriors that fought their own valiant battles and little do they know, they continue to give me strength when I am looking for it the most:  Dad Dickinson, Tony Menendez Aponte, Donna Fontaine, Patti Brown, “Robie”, Ruthie Tumenas, “Ro” Boissoneau, and Rhonda Richards.

Mile Four: Dedicated to Roseann Sdoia, one of the first survivor stories that captured my heart as I drove up I-95 last year to return to Massachusetts from a week away. For some reason, Roseann could have been me and I latched on to her story of recovery shortly after my donation to her GoFundMe account.  My decision to follow her thereafter resulted in a continuance of inspiration and perseverance as she began life anew and with a new leg. Roseann was at the finish line to watch friends come by, an annual tradition. Read more about her here: http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/losing-part-my-leg-doesnt-change-who-i-am

Miles Five, Six and Seven: Dedicated to Jaqui Webb, JP Norden, and Paul Norden, who were all watching the 2013 Boston Marathon from the sidelines waiting for a friend to pass the finish line when they were impacted by the second of the bombings to go off. Both JP and Paul, brothers, lost a leg in the explosion whereas Jaqui was significantly injured and required several surgeries. Today, on this one year anniversary, the Norden brothers are walking the marathon route – on their prosthetics because they can. Follow them here: https://twitter.com/WCVB/status/456061394266251266/photo/1

Mile Eight: Dedicated to Martin Richard who was 8 at the time he lost his life in the explosion on Boylston Street last year. My heart breaks still for the Richard family of Dorchester. How do you ever move forward with the loss of your young son? How do you not harbor extreme hatred towards those cowards who carried out this disgusting and inexplicable crime? How do you pick up the pieces of your shattered hearts and help Martin’s siblings enjoy their lives, now also riddled with reminders of that day as young Jane demonstrates her new prosthetic leg? You just do. Support them here: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/martin-richard-family-healing-year-bomb-article-1.1755927

Mile Nine and Ten: Dedicated to my breast cancer while pregnant girls, Rebecca Byrne and Adrienne Toth. When diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at fourteen weeks pregnant, I thought to myself briefly – boy, what did I do wrong to deserve this? Are there any others out there that would have the misfortune of having to battle cancer while pregnant? Of course there are! Statistics show that it can be as common as 1 in 3,000! I recall when my littlest was two, a woman from Framingham reached out to me and wanted to chat because she was newly pregnant and had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was adamant that we meet; not because I wanted her to see how well I was doing, but that I wanted her to see my little miracle and have that reassurance that her miracle would be okay, too! Rebecca’s little peanut is beautiful and Rebecca is doing rather well, herself. A high school classmate of mine made the connection via Facebook for another young woman who was also battling while pregnant. We chatted and I wanted to give her hope, give her inspiration, and make sure she knew it would all be okay! Her little miracle boy is quite possibly the cutest baby I have ever seen! Unfortunately, Adrienne’s cancer has recently returned – simultaneously with her boy turning one. My heart hurts for her, but I have no doubt that she has the strength, determination and perseverance to prevail. ❤

Mile Eleven: Dedicated to cancer survivor, Danielle Russo. Danielle beat stage 3 melanoma last year but has remained riddled with the “collateral damage” that cancer survivors deal with after their treatment has ended. A form of post-traumatic stress disorder, if you will, “collateral damage” is the pain that continues physically and emotionally once the chemotherapy stops coursing through your veins. “Collateral damage” is the new “normal” one must persevere through as their body, once taken for granted, no longer acts or moves the way it used to before that dark day when you were told you had cancer. Beating cancer is not a sprint, but in fact, a marathon – a race for your life, in which the best way to put one foot in front of the other is by taking it day by day. Danielle is inspiration for learning how to cope and by putting that best foot forward day after day.

Mile Twelve: Jeff Bauman, a hero in so many ways but namely for helping to identify the scum that targeted our city, April 15th, 2013. I will never erase from my brain, the post-bombing images I first saw of Jeff. However, this says it all: http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2014/04/jeff_bauman_thank_you_boston.  And to Carlos Arrendondo, for showing the word how to embrace humanity and care for one another, just simply as we humans should.

Mile Thirteen: Dedicated to my little buddy, Tommy Joffrion and his family; particularly his doting momma, Maria. Tommy is battling neurofibromatosis and chronic myelogenous leukemia. He’s seven. Whenever I think back on my arduous cancer experience, the chemotherapies, the surgeries, the endless testing and needles, my heart just breaks for Tommy and his family. My cancer appears cured; whereas, Tommy’s will be an unrelenting battle. I am an adult, whereas, Tommy has known this cancer world for nearly half of his life. Mile thirteen will be a pivotal spot in my race, where I know I am halfway through and I will think of Tommy, his precious smile and his determined momma, Maria, as I push through to persevere myself.   Read more and help them out here: https://www.facebook.com/TeamTommy2010.  Help generate funds for pediatric cancer research here, by supporting my friend, Candace – who is shaving her head as part of the St. Baldrick’s efforts to CURE childhood cancers:  http://www.stbaldricks.org/events/mypage/11195/2014.

Mile Fourteen: Dedicated to Adrianne Haslet, a bombing survivor who’s demonstration of strength, determination and perseverance in the face of adversity has been on display by her refusal to let adversity stop her. Adrianne, a dancer, recently danced again for the first time after losing her leg on Boylston Street last year. Her inspirational message is fuel for those of us who know what it is like to be knocked down, but the only option is to get back up and rise again.  http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/category/adrianne-haslet-davis/

Mile Fifteen: Dedicated to Marc Fucarile, also a survivor who was spectating at the 2013 Boston Marathon and has a trying year after losing one leg and now begging to lose the other. Marc is friends with the Norden brothers and has a long recovery ahead. Help him here: http://www.gofundme.com/marcfucarile

Mile Sixteen: In memory of firefighter, Lt. Edward J. Walsh, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

Mile Seventeen: In memory of firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, one of Boston’s finest and bravest.

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Mile Eighteen and Nineteen: Dedicated to Sydney and Celeste Corcoran. Sydney is now eighteen, a year later, after the explosion nearly almost cost her life as she bled from a severed femoral artery. Like Roseann above, I was drawn to both Sydney and Celeste – a daughter and mother duo that had come to watch a loved one run the race, like thousands of other spectators that fateful day. Celeste lost both of her legs. Images of bystanders applying their body weight pressure to a fallen Sydney on the sidewalk of Boylston Street in Boston remain vivid in my mind. How easily could that have been my oldest daughter, who is now sixteen, and I if we were there watching the historic race? Their story here: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/boston-bombing-anniversary/boston-bombing-strangers-ran-toward-chaos-not-away-it-n78376

Mile Twenty: Dedicated to Team Hoyt, Dick and Rick Hoyt, father and son duo who have been racing together since 1977. I will never forget lining up to run next to them in the Christopher’s Pub 10k in Leominster circa 1990 and thinking to myself that I would finish before them. Finish before them, I did not and I have been a fan of these two ever since. 2014 will be their final Boston Marathon and I am honored to be in the same race as these two inspirational men. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/team-hoyt-run-boston-marathon/story?id=23288967

Mile Twenty-one: In memory of Sean Collier: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-officer-sean-collier/

Mile Twenty-two: In memory of Krystle Campbell. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-krystle-campbell/

Mile Twenty-three: In memory of Lu Lingzi. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2014/03/27/in-tribute-lu-lingzi/

Mile Twenty-four: Dedicated to my family for putting up with my crazy ideas and for supporting me in such endeavors. My family makes me believe I can conquer the world, super hero style and make a movie out of it. Without them and without their patience as I spent hours of training for April 21, 2014, I would not be able to gear up and set out on my mission. I love them dearly.

Mile Twenty-five: Dedicated to all of you who helped me fundraise and make a difference for Massachusetts Eye & Ear Institute. While I am certainly crazy enough to run a marathon, I am certainly not within means to obtain a number by qualifying for the elite Massachusetts race. Thankfully, Team Eye & Ear had faith in me and offered me a coveted spot on their team! The fundraising amount seemed monumental, but I knew I would be successful. Thanks to the goodness of people out there, I not only exceeded my minimum due but I nearly doubled the amount required! Mass Eye & Ear continues to treat the bombing survivors, as well as make a difference in the lives of so many others. Perhaps, someday, Mass Eye & Ear will have an option for me to have better hearing myself. There are so many to name, but most importantly, a genuine note of appreciation goes to the ladies of Trinity Salon in Fitchburg, MA for their fundraiser which vetted over $2,100 for Mass Eye & Ear. As of today, we have raised in excess of $10,600! WICKED STRONG!

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Mile Twenty-Six: Dedicated to the girl who became my best bud at age thirteen, Karen Luchini. Karen *gets* me. What I was to running back in the day, Karen was to swimming. We spent years laughing, crying, farting, laughing some more and prevailing in our sports. Karen went to Northeastern University, so many years were spent shared on Boylston Street watching as the inspirational runners came across that famed finish line. Numerous times, both Karen and I were propped up against the metal barricade that kept us off the street but cheering for the participants; and each time, I remarked that *someday* I would be there….on that street, making my way to the finish line. Karen was one of my supporters during my darkest breast cancer days. She has dedicated part of her PMC Challenges to me in the past.  Ironically, Karen was diagnosed with a form of leukemia this past October and I have had to put my big girl panties on to be her biggest cheerleader as she battles for her life. I am honored to cross that finish line with her in mind as she wraps up her treatment for her cancer simultaneously. I am living proof that cancer can be beaten and life truly begins again. I will run 26.2 miles, but that last mile will be for Karen – so she knows that she’s approaching her own finish line in her toughest race yet; her race for her life and good health. The finish line is in sight for her and I know I will be by her side triumphantly as she crosses to the other side; just as I know she will be with me in my heart as I cross the blue and yellow finish of the 2014 Boston Marathon.

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Mile Twenty-Six Point Two: Dedicated to me. The gift I am giving myself is the two-tenths of a mile down Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, amongst thousands of spectators rallying for me to get my feet across that finish line. My life has come full circle: from the loss of my hearing as a young child and the subsequent torment I experienced growing up; to the verbal and physical abuse I suffered at the hands of a mentally ill mother; to the horror and fear of fighting breast cancer while pregnant; to being knocked down again and again and again…..and rising to my feet once more.  We can fall seven times, but we must simply get up eight!

April 21, 2014 is for me, for you, for all of those that wish to take this journey. Adversity has nothing on us as long as we have the courage to dust ourselves off and try, try again. Boston and the running world were knocked down on April 15, 2013. We have dusted ourselves off, we have come together and we will run together stronger as we soar on Patriots Day.

Thank you for taking this run with me. ❤

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