FROM THE HEART: Why they run the Boston Marathon

Friday, April 18, 2014


Staff WriterStaff Writer

They come from all walks of life – teachers, housewives, business owners, seasoned athletes, weekend warriors – and on Monday, April 21, they will have just one goal in mind: To make it over Heartbreak Hill and cross the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Although some local runners have qualified to compete in the field, many are running to raise money for various charities such as Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, the New England Organ Bank and Zoo New England. Here are some of their stories.

Cancer survivor determined to complete course this year

“I’m from the area, so I know what a big deal the Boston Marathon has always been,” said Joanne Pomeranz, of Hollis. “Every year, I say I will do it and last year I did. I cried picking up my bib, I cried at the bus stop and I cried on the course.”

Pomeranz was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, and said she watched the services commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11 while recovering from surgery. She is cancer-free and done with treatment, and last year was her first time running in Boston. She was still on the course when the bombs went off, and although she and her supporters were all safe, she did not get the chance to complete the marathon. She returned on May 24 when runners were invited to symbolically cross the finish line, and her family was there to cheer her on. She is determined to complete the course this year.

“I take things day by day,” she said. “My dad is my biggest motivation now. He was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. It’s such a terrible thing. He can’t quit, and I can’t quit. I know I will be an emotional wreck, but I am going to finish.”

Pomeranz said she is not at all concerned about running the course this year, and she anticipates security will be top-notch. She is raising money for Zoo New England, inspired by the late Jonathan Gilmour, son of state Sen. Peggy Gilmour, of Hollis, who was a zookeeper there.

Family affair for Loverings

For the Lovering family of Hollis, running the Marathon has become a family affair. Patriarch Rich Lovering, well-known for his Lovering Volvo television commercials, will run his second Boston Marathon this year, joined by his daughter, Vanessa, for her third run, and son, Ricky, making his debut. The trio is part of the Miles for Miracles team that raises money for the Boston Children’s Hospital.

Their patient partner is a teenager named Katelyn, who has been treated at Children’s since she was 3 years old and her family moved to New Hampshire. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and spent two years getting chemotherapy directly in her spine. She later had her tonsils and adenoids removed and has had ongoing otolaryngology checkups. At the age of 10, Katelyn had spinal fusion surgery at Children’s to treat her severe scoliosis, and still returns for orthopedic monitoring.

“Our team has been practicing on the course every Saturday,” Ricky Lovering said. “We’ve been working on just trying to run the course. We hope to raise $24,000 for Children’s Hospital. It’s been a great experience.”

He acknowledged that he was a little apprehensive about security, but said there has been a lot of communication from the Boston Athletic Association. His family will be there to cheer him on, but he thinks they will be further out on the course rather than going into downtown Boston.

Favorite day of the year

This year will be Greg Hallerman’s ninth Boston Marathon, and his 21st overall. The Hollis resident is one of the elite runners who has qualified based on his time of less than three hours for the course. This year, he is also raising money for the New England Organ Bank, in support of a friend who needs a liver transplant.

“I have been running since high school, and qualifying for this has been a lifelong goal for me,” Hallerman said. “Every year we make it a big thing. We take the kids out of school the Friday before and go to this huge expo. There are thousands of vendors with running gear, health (products). It’s inspiring for the kids to see their parents training for something with a goal. They can be part of the atmosphere Monday at the race – it’s phenomenal to see people all along the course on the streets supporting the runners. It is my favorite day of the year, it’s awesome.”

Because he ran in an early wave of competitive runners last year, Hallerman was already off the course when the bombs went off. He recalls being told that a generator had exploded, and talk of evacuation and mayhem in the area as people tried to figure out what was going on. Family in Maryland called him to see if he was OK, and he wondered how they already knew something had happened in Boston. He finally made his way back to Kenmore Square, where the bus for the Gate City Striders was waiting for runners to return, and learned the truth about what had transpired.

“It didn’t deter me one bit,” he said of the bombings, “but I feel badly for the people affected. I work at BAE and my office overlooks Costco where Jeff Bauman (who lost both his legs in the explosion) worked. I’ve been following his story.”

Hallerman said his friend who needs a transplant is in his 30s and was born with a bad liver. He’s not sick enough to be at the top of the list, but is sick enough to need a transplant. Although he has a rare blood type, his wife is a match. Because liver tissue can regenerate, doctors will take part of her liver and transplant it in her husband. He hopes his friend’s story and his fundraising efforts will raise awareness.

“I’m for anything that inspires people to get out of the daily grind,” he said. “We do so much, day to day, without thinking about it. It’s great to do something that could have a positive influence on someone else. Go watch the race, follow a colleague online. We are only here for a short time – do something memorable.”

Someone was looking out for us

Lisa Webb, of Hollis, and her children usually stand right near the finish line to cheer on her husband Mike when he runs the Boston Marathon. He runs to raise money for the Boston Children’s Hospital, but due to work commitments, he had to skip the event last year. He said he received numerous texts from friends last year asking if he was OK, not realizing that he wasn’t on the course in 2013.

“Someone was looking out for us,” Lisa Webb said. “We’ll go back this year but we’ll be somewhere else.”

Although he has been paired with patient partners before, this year Mike is excited to be paired with someone his family knows well – Hayleigh Scott, who has been friends with his children since kindergarten. The Hollis teenager has a life-threatening respiratory condition and has been hospitalized several times at Children’s Hospital. She also runs her own business designing and crafting hearing aid accessories, Hayleigh’s Cherished Charms, and was featured in the Hollis Brookline Journal in December.

“It’s a nice situation to run for somebody from town,” Mike Webb said. “I struggle, and the furthest training run I’ve done is 21 miles, but by the top of Heartbreak Hill, the crowds are carrying me along.”

Mike said this will probably be his last Marathon. He almost didn’t sign up this year, but didn’t want his departure to have anything to do with the bombing. His goal is to raise $12,000 for the Miles for Miracles team.

“Anything to help kids is important to me,” said the scout leader and baseball coach. “We are lucky to have Children’s Hospital so close by.”

Inspired by friend’s son

This will be Melissa Skarupa’s second time running the Boston Marathon to raise money for Children’s Hospital. The Merrimack woman said she is inspired by the teenage son of a close friend, Christian Boyles, who has suffered from seizures. Although they live in North Carolina, Christian’s family has come back to Boston for treatment several times, and they were there to cheer Skarupa on last year.

Skarupa described how she was a half mile from the finish line when she was told she couldn’t continue.

“I had no idea what was going on,” she said. “They said there was an explosion and you picture a kitchen in a restaurant or something like that, and wonder ‘Why can’t we just finish?’ Others were crying – they had more information – so we knew something was wrong. It was very surreal.”

She said it took her more than an hour to navigate through the detours to reach her family and friends at the Westin Hotel.

“We had a great weekend together until everything happened,” Skarupa said. “It was very traumatic for him and he kept watching the news at his hotel.”

Christian and his family will not be in Boston for this year’s race. He is doing so well that he is being weaned off his seizure medication, and everyone agreed returning to the marathon would be too stressful. Skarupa has promised to send him plenty of photos. She said she is excited because she has already exceeded her goal of matching the $4,000 she raised last year.

“Just when you think you are having a tough day, this kind of grounds you,” she said. “I wouldn’t have qualified for the marathon, but this is such a big fundraiser and to go above my goal has given me an extra bit of energy.”

Honoring those who treated her daughter

Last June, Maddy Ondzes, of Bedford, was injured at softball practice when a pop fly bounced out of her glove and hit her in the eye. She didn’t realize how seriously hurt she was at first, but wound up at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for surgery to repair her broken cheek and shattered eye socket.

When the notice came looking for people to participate on the MEEI fundraising team at the Boston Marathon, Maddy’s mother, Natasha Kolehmainen didn’t hesitate to volunteer.

“They were amazing,” she said of the staff at MEEI. “Your whole world just stops. It ruined a summer for us, but now all she has is a tiny scar. At the end of the day, I’m truly grateful. Some people here deal with chronic or lifelong treatment.”

Kolehmainen grew up in Cambridge and went to high school a few blocks from the finish line. Although she doesn’t consider herself a runner, she said she’s always wanted to run the Boston Marathon.

“It’s a perfect combination,” she explained. “It’s a bucket list item for me, and an opportunity to pay back the hospital for taking such good care of Maddy. I’m in the 11:25 wave and probably won’t finish till after five. My only goal is to finish it and enjoy it and to raise money so Mass Eye and Ear can continue to do what they do. They give a lot of care for patients who can’t afford it. We’re lucky we live nearby and didn’t have to worry about travel or hotels, but they treat people even if they don’t have insurance or live nearby.”

Because they helped so many victims from last year’s bombings, MEEI was given extra bibs for this year’s marathon by the Boston Athletic Association. More runners means more money raised.

“I’ve learned so much from being on the team,” she said. “I can’t even put into words but it makes me realize how fortunate we are to have healthy kids. The injury was life-changing for us, but the (marathon fundraising) process has changed us and brought us together.”

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