Changed Forever at the Boston Marathon Thanks to Kathrine Switzer and Team261Fearless
Boston Marathon Wednesday Wisdom and Inspiration for women and women entrepreneurs
“The person who starts the race is not the same person who finishes the race,” is a quote once seen on a marathon supporter sign on the side of a road. I remember reading this quote and wondering who I would be once I crossed the historic Boston Marathon line on Boylston Street. What would change, what moments would influence me for the rest of my life, what moments along the 26.2 miles would stay in my soul forever? I have the answers and I really want to share them with you today so this is a long and unique “Wednesday Wisdom” blog post. I hope you don’t mind.
The journey of a marathon starts long before the starting gun goes off jumpstarting your heart and legs for this tremendous adventure. The journey starts when you ask yourself, “Can I complete a marathon? Do I want to complete a marathon? What the heck does it take to finish a marathon?” Having always been inspired by women the motivation to run a marathon came in November 2015 sitting around a table of 13 international and American women in the brownstone rental Kathrine Switzer had arranged for the very first 261Fearless.org team meeting. I would have never known that one simple candle lit dinner with wine and homemade food would spark something I never knew existed within me.As each woman introduced herself explaining why they were there, why they ran, and what they do, I was amazed to discover I was only 2 of 13 women who had never run a marathon; but I was a 15 year 2 mile a day runner which seemed to impress my new friends. Mary T., who sat across from me, just back from running a marathon in Antarctica and Inga, sitting to my right, was from Iceland who runs her country hills near fjords with a gun in case a bear crosses her path. She turned to me and said, “You should run in Iceland with me!” I’m not sure what my facial expression was but I sure as heck knew what my internal answer was….bears really?”
Then came time to listen to the inspirational words of Kathrine Switzer, the hostess who brought us together within her dream to create 261Fearless.org and what it would mean for women globally if we could get involved and believe in her concept helping to launch it in our own cities and countries. It is hard to say “no” to Kathrine because she is the most wonderful, warm, amazing woman I have ever met. She is electric and gracious all rolled into one.
After bonding with these 13 women I left New York City changed, wishing I could stay with my new international friends forever and wanting to help Kathrine anyway I could. I knew I had to help women know more about KV Switzer what she had done in 1967 and what she planned to do so I arrived back to Syracuse ready to stay involved and we did when I landed her a speaking gig at my alma mater SUNY Oswego and she repaid the favor speaking at a Women TIES event in April 2016.
In the late summer of 2016, I received an unexpected email asking for women to apply to run in the Boston Marathon with Kathrine on the 50th anniversary of her gender barrier breaking moment in history. My hands shook as I contemplated the decision and then I said, “No way could I run a marathon” and closed the email. Next thing I knew my NYC 261Fearless roommate from Louisiana (the other non-marathoner) posted a YouTube video saying in her southern drawl, “I’m doing this,” and next thing I knew I opened the invitation, filled out the application and sent it in! I knew I had to train, raise $7,261 dollars and then run it – which was going to be harder I wondered?
9 months later, on April 17, 2017, as I walked excitedly towards the start line in the Hopkinton, Massachusetts where our Boston Marathon start was to begin, Dawn, my NYC roommate was at my side, fatefully put there again, to start this once in a life time experience. As we walked up behind Kathrine with 110 other excited women (and a few men), we looked at each other grabbed hands and said a prayer that we would each finish. Boom the gun went off and we ran our separate ways.
You see as much as you think you will run alongside someone to experience the Boston Marathon together, you can’t. As distinctively as our own personalities, we uniquely have to travel the 26.2 hilly miles from Hopkinton through Wellesley past Boston College and onto Boylston Street by ourselves with our own mantras, pace, spirit and depth of commitment. You can’t live someone else’s moment; you must live your own.
I felt great looking ahead at the colored hats and shirts of thousands of runners. The energy of the crowd sweeps you up for the first 7 miles as you run downhill and uphill with tons of people cheering you on. Then you start feeling the tightness in your legs, the slowing down of your pace and the reality you have 19 more miles to go. I was not discouraged on how I was feeling because I had trained for this thanks to my coach Reem Jishi, and knew it would take every ounce of tenacity to pull through.
I started thinking of the 110 people who donated to my 261Fearless.org charity raising $8,000 and I knew there was nothing that was going to stop me from finishing that race even if I had to walk and run to get there. The generosity of my donors fueled me in the doubtful moments. As I approached the beginning of HeartBreak Hill near my beloved Boston College, a blind woman and her coach ran by me on the left and a man with blade feet came up on me to the right, and my spirit raged as I witnessed these two individuals.
Heartbreak Hill is a long hill but it was “Heartful Hill” for me because my oldest son Thomas had gone to Boston College for four years and when I drove into visit him that was the last hill until his dorm. I loved that hill! BC Students were cheered me on as I yelled, “I love Boston College!” I stopped to have a 14 year old girl fix my iPod music and she said, “I love your bracelet which said ‘She believed she could, and so she did,’ a gift from my friend Susan Bertrand of Maureen’s Hope Foundation. I took it off and gave it to her as a thank you. She hugged me. I was energized once again.
Just as I came down the hill on “The Haunted Mile,” a flat part of the race in Newton, my husband and son hugged me and off I went until a mile later when Jill Bates, a Women TIES member from Rochester and her sister-in-law, an Ironwoman who I had donated to for her Hawaiian race, hugged me and gave me one last push to finish my last 3 miles. You see you receive if you give. Off I went, knowing the end was near.
Down the hill and the big left turn on Boylston Street, the crowd noise was louder than a Boston Red Sox victory over the Yankees. I couldn’t believe how loud that crowd was and how many people stayed to cheer us on. The elite athletes had finished hours before. Kathrine Switzer had finished an hour before at the age of 70 finalizing her big dream. You wouldn’t know you were a charity runner when you heard that crowd. I heard someone say, ‘Tracy….I turned around to see my roommate Dawn from Louisiana call my name. We had miraculously caught up to each other at the .2 mile of the 26.2 mile race. Was it fate? I say it was our prayers that we crossed the finish line.
At the end of the race I was a different person, a changed person. I realized that during the race I tried to give back to the crowd as much as they gave to me. I stopped took photos, danced for them, acknowledged them, shook their hands, gave hugs to people who held up “Do You Need A Hug” sign, slapped as many little girls hands as I could to make them happy, and slowed down to bask in the true “LOVE OF BOSTON.”
In the end, I realized how much people really care about others. The world news does not speak about this world that appears on the everyday streets that make up America – or Boston – or other great USA cities. People do believe in each other. We want to love others. We show our love the best we can. We are there in service and support from the smallest of us to the oldest.
I am changed forever by the love every single person in the Women TIES community, my family and my new Boston family showed me. I don’t know what to do with all this love but I sure do plan on giving away as much as I can to repay every person who believed in me. Come to a Women TIES event and I’ll give you a hug to share it.
Although the bracelet is on the wrist of a 14 year old girl, I remember what it said, “She believed and so she did!” What I know for sure is if I can run the Boston Marathon, then any woman I know including my favorite women entrepreneurs, can do anything they believe they can!
Final Note: If you love this story, please help me continue to raise funds for 261Fearless.org by donating on my Boston Marathon donation page by clicking on this link! Thank you so much. Love, Tracy