Boston Marathon 2017 –
A look at what inspired us all
What made the 2017 Boston Marathon special, or for that matter, what inspired spectators and runners alike? This was my 15th Boston as Executive Director of American Running and our Sports Medicine Division or core, AMAA as members and followers call it. It was the 45th gathering or Symposium for the group that began as the Medical Joggers (AMJA). More on this later. It was the Marathon that is the central event on what has become a 3-day weekend of Expo and smaller BAA running events.
Each year there is a history marker that is celebrated. That is easy to do considering the Boston Marathon began in 1897. The major moment being celebrated was the 50th anniversary of K V Switzer’s run in 1967. KV was Kathryn and she ended up being the first registered woman to run the historic marathon. One iconic moment captured by film and photo was early into the race when a top race official, Jock Semple, tried to rip off the bib number off Kathryn’s shirt. Her bodyguard was here then-boyfriend and the older man, Jock Semple, was thwarted in his effort to disqualify her on the spot. This one moment gave birth to admitting women in marathons and eventually all longer distances competed in the Olympic Games. It was not an overnight change in attitudes, but it was a moment that changed everything for women competing in sports.
Speed ahead 50 years and Kathryn Switzer decides to come out of running retirement, get in shape and run the Boston Marathon once again. She wore Bib #261 just as she had in 1967 at the age of 20. Here she was in 2017 running with purpose in a celebratory way. All marathoners applauded for today and for what she did back in 1967. Bobbi Gibb had run and completed the Boston Marathon 2 years earlier but she was not an official woman’s entrant. Since that time, she has been recognized and celebrated for what she did. But Kathryn Switzer’s marathon in 1967 stood out, because Jock Semple who was the #2 guy at the Marathon, tried to remover her as an officially entered athlete. Plus, it was caught on film to become one of the most iconic moments in sports in the 20th Century. I only saw her 80m past the finish line. She was beaming. She clearly knew her spot in marathon history and understood what it meant to close the door on what she opened back in 1967. It was inspiring. One side note on Kathryn Switzer. I found out 4-5 years ago that she attended the same high school as me. It was the opening year of the high school. She was a member of the first graduating class of George C Marshall HS in Falls Church VA in 1964.
Numerous other runners, wheelchair athletes, and those pushed by others caught spectator’s eyes. One in particular was the man in a pushed wheelchair called “Team Frates”. For most people around the Globe, the name FRATES was synonymous with a fundraising campaign that swept the country and then the world. Remember the “Ice Bucket Challenge”? The idea came to Pete Frates’ Mom. He had been diagnosed with ALS, the debilitating disease formerly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Pete was a college baseball player at Boston College when stricken. Now 5 years after his diagnosis, Pete was pushed by a family member to continue to raise funds for a cure for ALS and continued and awareness.
Back to the earlier moments of the 2017 Boston Marathon. First off the line are the wheelchair athletes followed by the push rim athletes. This year marked a new advance for the push rim competitors as they were now entered and competing in their own race category. One athlete had petitioned the BAA (Boston Athletic Association) that the “push rim” entrants deserved their own race. The BAA concurred so that 2017 had almost an equal number of wheelchair entrants and push rim entrants. Chalk another one up to change winning that request.
American elite runners also inspired. Two notable runners trained by former Boston Marathon Champion and Massachusetts native Alberto Salazar made their Boston debuts. One, Jordan Hasay, made Boston her marathon distance debut. Elite runners can now qualify for the elite field if they complete a half marathon in a fast time. Jordan surprised herself and everyone in attendance by hanging with the lead group and then going with the top 2 runners. She ended up on the podium with the fastest debut time by an American woman in the marathon by a whopping 3 minutes. On the mens’ side, Salazar’s protégé and Bronze medalist in the RIO 2016 Games showed he is a force to stay in the marathon. Galen Rupp took home the runner-up position and ran a sub 2:10 time in Boston that cemented himself in the top 5 Americans all-time in Boston.
How could I forget mentioning Meb and his final Boston Marathon as a professional. If everyone recalls, Meb Keflezighi came to Boston in 2014 to show Boston and the world that a bombing would not deter anyone. Not only did he come to race hard, he came to win that day and win he did! Three years later and Meb (he is one of those sports stars who is simply called by his or her first name) came back and was the most popular athlete in the field. The roars followed his path along the Hopkinton to Boston 26.2 mile path.
Boston Marathon spectators are also an inspiring lot. Each year, families, friends and just plain celebrants gather along the course to cheer and acknowledge the toughness of the runners and competitors. It is like no other. I’ve been privileged for the past 15 years to take photos for our AMAA runners and to cover the event for American Running. One key group was missing this year, the AMAA Charity Runners. AMAA was told that the special exception agreement that had been renewed each year to some level of participation would no longer be granted. We applied and competed for official Boston Marathon Charity spots after this notification, but the criteria for supporting the greater Boston Area was most likely the reason that AMAA did not receive any Charity or otherwise termed “Invitational Entries”. I missed seeing many of our former AMAA runners who had supported our cause of Youth Fitness with the RUN A MILE DAYS Campaign. I also missed seeing those AMAA runners who could no longer make the 6-hour time limit to finish.
As the 2017 Boston Marathon came to a close, I remain inspired and hopeful. I do hold out hope that AMAA and American Running can get that chance to raise funds for a worthy and sustaining cause of getting America’s youth more physically active through running the mile.
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