Channeling Martin's spirit, they ran, and ran, and ran...
For some — like Harry Benzan— the final stretch of the marathon on Boylston Street on April 21 remains a blur. Literally. He couldn’t see because of the tears streaming from both eyes as he neared the spot where his friends and neighbors were so callously and publicly attacked last year.
Benzan, one of the 100-plus runners on Team MR8— the marathon team assembled in memory of eight-year-old Martin Richard—coached young Martin on the soccer fields of Pope John Paul II Park. He endured despite a grueling morning: He had been hurting since Mile 4 and was a half-hour off his planned time. He was pretty sure he would finish, but he’d long-ago abandoned his original plan to hit the deck on Boylston Street and do 27 push-ups at the finish line.
Still, as Benzan neared the end, the emotions and adrenalin took charge: He dropped to his hands and knocked out the push-ups, accompanied by a few choice words for the cowards who’d attacked his friends near this spot last year.
“It was one of the greatest honors in my life,” Benzan said later. “There are a few times in your life you get to do a great thing and do the right thing. I was lucky to be part of it. No matter how much pain, it was worth it. I was honored that they wanted me.”
Thanks to Harry Benzan and his fellow Team MR8 members— all hand-picked by Bill and Denise Richard and a small committee of friends— the inaugural marathon team has raised more than $1.25 million for the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation— more than doubling its initial goal of $500,000. More than 150 runners ran in Martin’s memory in the marathon or in the 5k tribute run held the Saturday before— including a large contingent from Martin’s home neighborhood. The Richards— Bill, Denise, Henry, and Jane— were active participants during preliminary road races held on Saturday and “felt the warmth of the community and especially Dorchester, as they ran with their team,” said Larry Marchese, a spokesman for the family.
“Saturday afternoon, in a fitting moment at the BAA Youth Relays, Henry anchored his Youth Enrichment Services (YES) team to a victory, which filled Bill with pride,” said Marchese.
The marathon team featured 102 runners, including more than two dozen Dorchester people.
Katy Kelly, a Pope’s Hill resident and a friend of the Richard family, was one of them. It was the fourth Boston Marathon for her, and she finished in a speedy 3:30. The crowd was “just electric” and she was lifted the whole way by their energy and solidarity. Katy’s daughter had drawn a peace sign on her yellow Team MR8 jersey. Her husband, Eddie Kelly, wrote Martin’s name on her arms.
“From the very start in Hopkinton and all the way to finish, there was constant cheering: “Go Martin, go Team MR8!” I was thinking I was Martin the entire race. He was in my mind and in my heart the whole way,” said Katy, who started to struggle a bit around Mile 22, but got a huge boost from the crowd through Kenmore Square and beyond.
“It was the best I ever felt. I felt like a seasoned marathoner going into it. But running in honor of Martin gave me so much more inspiration and energy. I felt such a strong connection to him and it was such a motivator. I truly believe that’s what carried me through,” said Kelly.
Michelle Hobin, running in her third marathon, agreed that this one was different because of the overwhelming support for the team members along the course.
“It was just a lot more meaningful,” said Hobin, who teaches kindergarten at Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Neponset, where Martin was a kindergarten pupil. “I would think about that when I was running. There’s a point where it gets tough and you think about stopping, but people would be cheering and it was very encouraging. It reminded us why we were running.”
Patrick Brophy, another four-time Boston Marathon runner from Dorchester, said that memories of turning onto Boylston Street “send shivers up your spine.”
“From the moment you started, it was 26.2 miles of love,” said Brophy. “Even people who were passing by on the course, everyone had a pat on the back, thanking you for running. People were yelling out Martin’s name. It was amazing.”
Brophy said that the crowd’s support became extremely helpful to him around Mile 22— near Cleveland Circle— where the long stretch up Beacon Street toward Kenmore Square seems to last forever. “Those last four miles can bury you. It was tough. It was hotter than expected and little to no breeze and you can see that Citgo sign for a long while.”
The final blocks on Boylston made it all worth the effort, said Brophy, who ran last year, but could not finish due to the terror attack. “I knew the crowd would be wild on Boylston Street and it surpassed my expectations. It was 20 people deep and people were going nuts,” he remembered. “When you passed the spots where those bombs went off, it’s hard not to think of what they went through and how resilient the Richards are. It gives you that extra boost. It’s hard to go past those spots, but it gives you a moment to reflect.”
After the marathon, most of the Team MR8 members repaired to a Back Bay restaurant for celebratory drinks. Many of the Dorchester delegation finished the celebration at the Eire Pub.
And what about next year?
It’s going to be tough to top that, but it won’t be tough to keep fundraising,” said Brophy. “It was incredibly fulfilling endeavor. You think about what brought you to this point and you look at that Dorchester community and you know that it’s different than any other neighborhood in the world. Everyone surpassed their goals, in large part because the community rallied behind everyone—every one I talked to donated to multiple runners, multiple times. I’d love to duplicate that.”
“The entire weekend was in incredibly emotional one for everyone involved,” added Larry Marchese. “It was also an undeniably powerful means of reclaiming our finish line, our race, and our city. It has been a long, painful journey back, but the Richards were pleased to be back on Boylston Street, and honored to have so many donning the bright yellow Team MR8 shirts with them.”