Running After Recovery, A Woman’s Goal to Cross the Finish Line

By Stacy Shepherd
BU News Service

On Monday morning, Dr. Judy Lytle laced up her black-and-pink Adidas running shoes and lined up at mile zero in Hopkinton. Having met up with fellow runners on the Boston Medical Center marathon team, at 11:25 a.m. Lytle began her 26.2-mile trek to the finish line.

Just over one year ago, the starting line of the Boston Marathon was the last place anyone would have imagined Lytle being.

In December of 2012, Lytle was just one month into her dramatic chemotherapy for acute promyelocytic leukemia. The 56-year-old primary care physician for Boston Medical Center was diagnosed with the blood cancer just one month earlier. The treatment left her confined to the hospital during the month of December and, after that, required her to return to the hospital for treatment daily for another two and a half months. During the month that Lytle was confined to her hospital bed, running her first ever Boston Marathon became her seemingly impossible goal.

“Running the marathon seemed like a high-in-the-sky thing to hold onto while I was so confined,” said Lytle, a petite woman with brown eyes and hair and a modest demeanor.

Lytle said she doesn’t know how or even why the Boston Marathon came up that day in her hospital room, but once she made the decision to cross the finish line on Boylston Street in April of 2014, her whole family resolved to help make it possible.

“Running the marathon was talking big from my bedside,” Lytle said. “I said, ‘I’m going to run the marathon next year.’ A few of my family members signed on at that time.”

Lytle got the news that her leukemia treatment was successful in June of 2013, just eight months after the diagnosis. Not long after, Lytle, her daughter Julia and her son Joe began their training.

Julia Lytle, a Boston University senior, started training with her mom in August.

“[The family] is running for my mom,” she said. “And she’s actually running it, which is amazing.”

Although Julia Lytle decided not to run the marathon as a result of tendentious in her foot, Lytle is thankful that Julia supported her throughout her training.

“I kind of envisioned she and I would literally run the marathon together,” Lytle said. “Julia and I were much more at the same pace than my son.”

When Lytle began training for the marathon, making it past the first two miles was her first struggle. She started gaining mileage by running in intervals, walking for four minutes and running for one minute.  She says that some days were more difficult than others, but over time she built up her stamina.

“I kept saying I was going to do it but the reality of doing it kind of unfolded over time.”

Lytle was also thankful for her team at Boston Medical Center. In December when she decided to commit to running the marathon, she initially knew that she wanted to raise money for the hospital. She primarily wanted to raise money for the hematology department, where she was personally treated, but to raise money for Boston Medical Center, she had to apply for a bib through the hospital’s running team.

“I signed up for the BMC team and it turns out their money is going to the emergency room,” she said. “It’s going to benefit everybody.”

Ultimately, running the marathon not only allowed her to raise $10,000 for Boston Medical Center, it enabled her to begin healing after the fight she endured with leukemia.

“I feel like preparing for the marathon has been my mechanism in which I have gotten back to feeling healthy again,” Lytle said.

However, Lytle did not consider completing the marathon as a triumph or an awe-inspiring event. She views it as just another connecting factor that has allowed her family to come together more deeply over the last year.

“The family support, to me, that’s what it’s all about,” Lytle said.

While Lytle was in the hospital fighting leukemia, her family helped her to get through each day by simply being by her bedside. Her brother and sister would come and spend weekends with her, and her husband, daughter and son were nearly always present.

“I don’t wish [leukemia] on anyone and I don’t really want to do it again, but it didn’t seem that bad because there was always somebody there,” she said.

On Monday, after running for five hours, 45 minutes and 47 seconds, Lytle crossed the finish line at 5:17:27 p.m., surrounded by her family.

Afterward, she said there’s only one reason she would do it again.

“The reason I would want to do it again will be to do it with Julia,” she said. “If it’s something she wants to do, I will do it in support of her. But I probably will move onto something else.”

Runner Profile: Kate Giere Fundraises for Beth Israel

By Stephanie Simon

BU News Service

One week before the Boston Marathon, amid the din of lunch preparation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center on Brookline Avenue, Kate Giere and

Maude Meade sit at facing desks in the kitchen offices. Meade looks up from her paperwork at Giere, her fellow Sodexo Patient Services Food Operations Manager.

“You know, I was listening to NPR on my way to work,” Meade says in her lilting Caribbean accent. “A nurse was talking about how she felt the need to run this year, to honor the families they helped.”

Giere, who, like Meade, has round cheeks that hide her eyes when she smiles, nods.

“Yeah, we had never seen that side of each other that we saw last year,” says Giere, who has been at BIDMC for almost two years.

“You get so close to the patients, you have to do something for them,” says Meade, who has worked at the hospital for 37 years. “And this year, my coworker is running, so I feel a part of it. Like I’m doing something to honor them through her.”

Meade looks up at Giere.

“It’s part of the healing process for all of us,” Giere says.

Giere, 26, will be running the marathon with BIDMC’s team. She said the dedication and selflessness of the food services staff during last year’s bombings inspired her to dust off her cross-country running muscle memory from her high school days in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and begin her journey toward the finish line.

She had to raise $7,500 and push through injury in the hope of completing a race that would signify the community and support of what she calls her work family.

“Last year, I got a text from my boyfriend, Dave, on Marathon Monday saying something about bombs. We had no idea initially,” says Giere. “I walked out into the hospital lobby around 4 p.m. and family members started coming in. Hundreds of people were walking away from Boylston [Street}. Some people were injured themselves. People weren’t sure where to go and were just walking up.”

BIDMC is just over a mile from the marathon’s finish line. Giere described how runners and families gravitated toward the hospital in a post-apocalyptic scene. She said that the lobby was full of people, and the hospital’s west campus, which is much larger, was also full.

“Social workers were running around trying to figure out who was who,” said Giere.

Giere’s fellow Food Operations Manager, Shana Sporman, said she was amazed at how the BIDMC employees all came together to support patients, families and each other during what she called an anxious month.

“I was especially humbled to be a part of such an impressive food service staff. Every one of our employees and managers called to come in and help, even during the city-wide lockdown,” wrote Sporman in an email. “We not only fed the victims, their families and loved ones, but also the other 500-plus patients, the staff that weren’t allowed to leave the facility, the police force and surrounding buildings with employees unable to access food. It was unbelievable.”

Giere says she was inspired to commit to the fundraising process because of the devotion she witnessed. The hospital assigns each member of its 70-person team to raise money for a charity. She said the pressure was real when at the bottom of the Boston Athletic Association application form she had to enter her credit card number; if she failed to meet her target, she’d have to cover the difference.

“My boyfriend said jokingly, ‘Oh, we both know who will be picking up the tab,’” says Giere.

Giere was assigned to Healthy Champions, a Boston non-profit that educates low-income children on fitness, cooking, and gardening.

“As a dietitian I couldn’t be more thrilled that’s what I was assigned,” says Giere.

On Friday, February 28,, Giere, who recruited a fundraising team that includes Meade and Sporman, held an event at Cambridge’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post 8818 where she was able to raise $7,125. There were appetizers, a cash bar, a DJ, a raffle, and the headline activity was an adult spelling bee.

“The hospital staff and my friends coming together to donate such a large amount was just another representation of the amazing support they are,” said Giere.

After the fundraising event, money continued to be donated to Giere through the BIDMC fundraising website, but she was privately facing another challenge: injury.

Giere was diagnosed with I.T. band syndrome and patellar tendinitis in both knees. I.T. band syndrome is common in runners, according to the Runner’s World website. Runner’s World explains that when the I.T. ligament, which runs down the leg from hip to shin, becomes inflamed it causes a great amount of pain for a runner and can put him or her out of commission for weeks.

But Giere refused to surrender. “Last year when I saw close friends, family and strangers react to something so unnatural it inspired me to say, ‘I can do this, I can train, I can make a difference and if people did this last year I can do it this year. I can run 26 miles.’”

“She was feeling down about it,” said Sporman during an April interview. “She is so inspiring. I told her if she can’t run on the day, as soon as she is better we will walk the course.”

A week before the marathon, however, Giere seemed hopeful. She had surpassed the $7,500 she needed to raise and was able to run/walk 19 miles during her last training session.

“It felt good,” said Giere. “We will see on marathon day how it goes.

* * *

Today, on the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, Giere finished in four hours, 54 minutes and 31 seconds.

After, she headed into the Westin Hotel, where BIDMC was throwing a congratulatory party for the team in a meeting room. There was a photographer, food, and supporters. Giere’s family was there. They were showing off signs to Sporman that they made to cheer Giere on during the race. Two of the signs read “Kate is Great” and “Run Kate Run,” and one of her fellow food service employees said, “We are so proud of her.”

Giere said she was just starting to feel the pain in her knees and legs as she stood for pictures. But the experience was everything she hoped it would be and more.

“Spectators had such great signs,” said Giere. “The best thing was at the beginning when people saw that we were with the hospital they were cheering, ‘Thank you.’ It almost made me cry it was so sweet.”

VIDEO: Boston Marathon Brings Electric Atmosphere to Newton

By Andre Khatchaturian
BU News Service

There was plenty of excitement and energy near Boston College in Newton as students, family, and friends gathered to cheer on the runners during the 118th running of the Boston Marathon. Andre Khatchaturian reports.

Night Riders: Hundreds of Cyclists Bike Marathon Route at Midnight

By Mikaela Lefrak
BU News Service

It sounds like the opening line of a bad joke: At midnight, a sock monkey, a giraffe, and two fairies hopped on their bikes and began a 26.2-mile ride.

They were among about 500 bicyclists, many in costume, riding the route of the Boston Marathon as part of the Midnight Marathon Bike Ride the night before the race.

“It’s a fun opportunity to get the whole biking community together and go out and support the Boston Marathon,” said Emily Welsh, a graduate student at Boston University, wearing a helmet decorated with a dozen glow sticks.

“Last year we met tons of interesting people doing interesting things,” said the sock monkey, who declined to give his real name. He said he would also be volunteering at the Marathon, though not in costume.

The ride is a community-organized event, founded six years ago by local cyclist Greg Hum with Boston SOS – also known as the Societies of Spontaneity or the Society of Shenanigans – which organizes other off-the-wall events like the annual no-pants subway ride on the T.

The Boston Athletic Association does not officially authorize or oversee the event, though ride organizers said they met little resistance from the Marathon organizers in the past. Last year, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Association (MBTA) provided a commuter rail to get riders and their bikes to the start of the route in Hopkinton.

Relations with race organizers soured a bit this year, after Marathon officials and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) cancelled the commuter train to reduce potential safety hazards, in light of the bombings at the finish line last year. Three weeks ago, The Boston Globe quoted the MBTA as calling the midnight ride “an accident waiting to happen.”

However, in a subsequent meeting between ride organizers and MEMA officials, an agreement was reached that the ride itself should continue.

“We came to the conclusion that statements discouraging the ride would do more harm than good,” Hum wrote in an open letter to the public posted on the Boston SoS website. “We have come to an understanding of each other’s concerns; that MEMA has a responsibility to think about public safety, and that Midnight Marathon will continue regardless of what we say.”

When they rolled down Boylston Street in the early morning hours, riders were unable to cross the actual finish line. Finishers settled for photo ops from a few blocks away, with Marathon street banners in the background. Many triumphantly held their bikes over their heads.

After the ride, hundreds of riders biked to the Boston Common Coffee Co. for a pancake breakfast, a fundraiser for the Home Away Fund. At 3 a.m., bikers were still pouring in for warm food and drink and to share stories with other riders.

James Cobalt of Boston SoS, a ride organizer, said that the continuation of the Midnight Marathon this year was particularly important to him. “One of the main reasons I started organizing these kind of offbeat socials was from a concern over the way the enjoyment of public spaces was being eroded in the name of security,” he said. Though they had to make concessions to various authorities regarding the ride route and transportation, the community maintained the magic of the ride.

“It’s in the gathering at the start, the cheering, the strangers fixing flats, the high fives at the top of Heartbreak Hill, the hugs at the finish, and the carbs in the pancake breakfast right after,” he said.

An informal survey of riders at Boston Common Coffee Co. revealed one conclusion shared by many: they were far happier biking the distance than running it.

“Having done the ride last year and this year, I have a far greater appreciation for the people who actually run it,” said one biker named Tim, as he got ready to cycle home. “It’s amazing what they do.”

Would he ever run it himself?

“No way.”

Cyclists in costumes preparing to bike the Boston Marathon route.
Cyclists in costumes preparing to bike the Boston Marathon route.

Boston University Students Remember Last Year’s Marathon, Look Forward

By Samantha Mellman

BU News Service

As runners lined up today for the 2014 Boston Marathon, stories of last year’s race continued to emerge from participants and spectators who experienced and survived the bomb-scarred event. These are the stories of two Boston University graduates, runner Azeem Khan and spectator Montserrat Bravo.

Months before the 2013 Boston Marathon, Khan thought to himself: This may be my last year living in Boston and my last opportunity to run in the marathon. At 25 years old, Khan spent six years at BU earning a bachelor’s degree in biology in 2010 and a master’s degree in medical sciences in 2012. He began training in December 2012 for the 2013 Boston Marathon. As his first-ever marathon, he knew well in advance that he would not be able to qualify for the race, so instead he ran for the American Liver Foundation. He set a goal of $4,500 in donations and met it before race day.

Montserrat Bravo, a 2013 BU graduate, lived in the same dormitory on 81 Bay State Road with Khan during her junior year of college and his second year as a graduate student. Bravo and her friends woke up early on marathon day to try and get close to the finish line to watch Khan finish the race.

“We were excited and really wanted to be there for him,” said Bravo.

Khan created a Facebook page as a time capsule for friends and family to get updates on his training and fundraising up to the marathon. He decided for race day he wanted to have his cellphone on him to allow anyone to call or text him words of encouragement while he was running.

“While I was running the race I received 20 to 30 phone calls,” said Khan. “When I got to mile 23 near Coolidge Corner my phone started buzzing off the hook.”

Bravo and her friends were near Boylston and Exeter streets trying to get closer to the finish line, but the sidewalks were crowded with onlookers. A security guard told them that they couldn’t go into the VIP area. Moments later the first bomb exploded near the finish line.

“At first I just thought something in a kitchen had exploded since there are many restaurants there. My other friend thought it had been fireworks,” said Bravo. “Then we heard the second explosion and we saw the smoke and heard people screaming.”

Bravo said all she could think about was 9/11. She and her friends began speed-walking toward Huntington Avenue back to Kenmore Square.

“I started getting text messages and then phone calls from friends hysterical asking, ‘Are you okay, are you okay?’ and ‘Please don’t go to the finish line,’” said Khan. “I had no idea what anyone was talking about, because everyone around me throughout the entire race had been completely fine.”

Khan said he might have been one of the first runners in his area to know about the mayhem that was unfolding on Boylston Street. Within 10 to 12 minutes of hearing the news he said the entire mood changed. By mile 24, as he approached Kenmore Square, the police and military quarantined the area and told the runners that the race was over.

Khan’s belongings, including his cell phone charger, were waiting for him in a bag at the finish line. At mile 24, before cell phone services were cut off, Khan sent a Facebook post saying he was okay. He immediately began searching for his brother Ahmad, who was supposed to be waiting for him at the finish line.

“Runners were on the sidewalk crying and trying to console each other because they couldn’t reach their families, who were waiting for them at the finish line,” said Khan.

As he walked through the crowd, people brought their radios and televisions to the sidewalks to see what was happening in Copley Square. Khan was able to reunite with his brother and they went straight to a friend’s house for the rest of the day.

“It was one of the most interesting days of my life,” said Khan. “The only thing I thought that was kind of dumb, was that I was angry I didn’t finish. I raised $4,500 for this charity, I trained for months and months, I was two miles away from finishing the race, and I didn’t get to finish.”

Khan was emotionally shocked and took the rest of the week off from work. While spending time with friends they all tried to wrap their heads around what had occurred.

Khan received phone calls and Facebook messages from radio and television shows to appear as the voice of a Muslim who ran the race. He had no idea how they got his contact information and was bombarded by different media in the following weeks. He wrote a commentary for the Huffington Post from the perspective of a Pakistani Muslim on his thoughts from running the marathon to the city’s lockdown.

Khan will be returning to the Boston Marathon this year not as a runner, but to support a friend who ran with him last year. Khan said he ran the first 17 miles of the race with him, but he was slowing him down by one to two minutes each mile. Khan didn’t want to leave him behind and stayed with him.

“Around mile 17, he said, ‘I need to take a full-on break. You should go on ahead without me,’” said Khan. After the bombs went off, Khan realized that staying with his friend had an unintended benefit. “If you add up all the time he slowed me down for the amount of miles he slowed me down, [when the bombs went off] I would’ve been at the finish line or much closer or just crossed it.”

Support From the Other Side: Double Amputee’s Foundation Aids Bombing Victims

By Cat McCarrey

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombings left more than 275 people physically and emotionally scarred.  Runners and spectators alike found themselves rebuilding their lives and regaining their abilities one step at a time, oftentimes literally. Double amputee and two-time Ironman Scott Rigsby had already won that battle by the time he stepped onto the course for the second time last year.  This year he’s back in Boston to tell the victims of the bombing and all other disadvantaged runners: “You can run.”

That was Rigsby’s message in Room 310 of the Hynes Convention Center on Friday, where he worked with the Athletes with Disabilities Clinic.  Sporting a neat beard and close-cropped hair, the barrel-chested Rigsby carried chairs and handed out flyers, bouncing around on two rods of black descending into attached sneakers.  They were his “walking” legs, markedly different from his mountain biking legs, road biking legs, aqua legs, and the arced running legs he will use for Monday’s marathon.

Hailing from Marietta, Georgia, Risgby lost both legs in a car accident when he was 18.  In 2007, after 20 years of struggle to overcome his disability, he became the first double amputee to complete the Hawaiian Ironman Triathalon.  Afterward, he founded the non-profit Scott Rigsby Foundation.

The foundation typically works with amputee veterans and the people who love them.  The foundation has hosted Warrior Family Retreats to offer counseling and community to military members and their families.  Rigsby said he believes that healing from accidents that result in loss of ability doesn’t just affect the victim, but all those who support them.  “We want to be able to heal families, heal communities, not just individuals,” he said.

This year, he used his foundation to campaign for victims of the bombing.  Rigsby said he raised more than $350,000 in a few months.  He donated a grant of $200,000 to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center, which has provided aid for amputees from the bombing.

According to a March 17th press release from the foundation, “the grant will support Spaulding’s long-term care and research programs for the survivors who suffered loss of limb as a result of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It will also enable the expansion of Spaulding’s Comprehensive Rehabilitation Unit, which will serve the hospital’s patient population for years to come.”  Part of that care will ensure adaptive equipment and sporting programs to those with disabilities.

Rigsby ran 25.7 miles of last year’s marathon before the bombs went off.  “I’ve always had a great deal of respect for the Boston Marathon,” he said.  He partially credits photo-hungry Boston University students for saving his life last year, stalling him long enough to avoid crossing the finish line at the time of the bombs.  Or worse, from being stuck in the medical tent tending to sore stumps when the bombs went off.

Laura Barnard, chief financial officer of Georgia-based Halpern’s Steak and Seafood Company, is a longtime running partner of Rigsby’s.  “He’s basically my kid’s uncle,” she said from the convention center, where she sat at Rigsby’s table. “He’s got all these families all over the country.” Barnard ran as a guide with Rigsby last year, helping him carry extra supplies and tending to his legs.  She looks forward to finishing the race this Monday.  “It’s really meaningful this year,” she said.

Rigsby is running this year’s marathon alongside three veterans with amputated limbs and Stephanie Freeman, a car wreck victim with a traumatic brain injury.  He’ll also support local teacher John Young, who hopes to be the first person with dwarfism to complete the race.

The Scott Rigsby Foundation plans to continue to grant funds to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in the future.  “I’m endeared to this city.  I have a fondness, a love,” said Rigsby.  “It’s a very special place to me.”

Charities Bounce Back from Last Year’s Marathon Tragedy

By Weiwen Zhao

BU News Service

Last April, Paula McLaughlin said she was at the finish line of the Boston Marathon taking pictures of the five runners on her team when the first bomb went off.

All she could see was smoke, pluming up like a mushroom cloud, she said.

“It was so loud,” McLaughlin said. “It was deafening. And I could taste it. I could sort of feel the smoke in my throat,” she said.

Although she was only about 90 feet from the bomb, she said she was not injured, but did not sleep well for months afterward.

McLaughlin, 48, is the director of development and public relations of Hale Reservation, one of the charities raising money for the marathon this year. Hale Reservation is a non-profit educational organization, in Westwood, best known for its summer camps for children from low-income schools.

Last year was the first time Hale Reservation joined the Boston Marathon as a charity. Fifteen people ran for Hale Reservation then, and five of them crossed the finish line before the bombing. The size of the team is the same this year with ten of last year’s runners, including the seven who didn’t finish because of the bombing.

After the bombing, McLaughlin said she told her friend Jeff Mahoney that no one was ever going to want to run for her or for Hale again. But Mahoney disagreed, she said, and told her that everybody was going to want to participate next time. Once the marathon runner’s application process had been closed, McLaughlin still got emails from different applicants every day.

In their team, most of the runners are local residents who serve on their charity’s board, or have worked for Hale as lifeguards and swim instructors.

“They know the kids that are benefiting from the charity money,” she said.

With a “Did Not Finish” pass from the Boston Athletic Association, the seven runners who didn’t finish could have run this year without fundraising from any charity. However, they chose to raise money again, McLaughlin said.

“Some of them have raised about $5,000 for us,” she said.

The highest record now is almost $9,000 for a single runner.

They raised money primarily for the kids to participate in science education or a team-building program.

“We serve 4,400 children each summer, and about half of them come to Hale with financial aid,” McLaughlin said. Between 800 and 900 of the kids come from Boston.

All charity and nonprofit programs involved with the marathon have raised over $23 million so far, according to Crowdrise, an online donation website.

Another foundation fundraising was formed by the parents of eight-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the marathon bombings.

“It’s ready to hit $900,000,” said Susan Hurley, the founder of Charity Teams, last Monday. The Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation, also known as “Team MR8,” had already raised $905,382.

Hurley has been assisting charities, such as Team MR8, to raise money and train runners for seven years.

Charity Team is assisting 21 teams this year, including 321 runners. The total fundraising goal is $3 million, and they are a little over $2.6 million now, according to Hurley. Last year, with 250 runners, they raised $1.6 million.

To cope with re-emerging feelings about the bombing, Hurley brought a trauma specialist to a meeting to help this year’s runners who also ran last year to overcome the emotional difficulty.

“Remember what happened, but try to move forward and make it a happy event for this year,” she said. “Because the Boston Marathon should be a happy event.”

Dreamfar Organization Trains Teens to Run

By Andrew Prince

BU News Service

More than a year ago, the finish line of the Boston Marathon, located on Boylston Street between Dartmouth Street and Exeter Street, was the scene of explosions, chaos and blood when shrapnel from two pressure cooker bombs tore through the legs of runners and bystanders resulting in hundreds of injuries, dozens of amputations and three deaths.

On Saturday, two days before the 118th Boston Marathon, more than 8,600 runners crossed that same finish line to complete the 2014 Boston Athletic Association 5K. Among those who ran were about 100 students from nine high schools in the Boston area who are training for a marathon themselves, the Cox Providence Marathon on May 4, in Rhode Island—they are too young to run Boston.

“Most of our kids could barely ever run a mile other than the mile you run at phys ed,” Jamie Chaloff, founder and director of Dreamfar High School Marathon, said in October, before training had begun.

Over the next six months, the students were given mentors to train with during the week. On Saturdays, the students gathered in Brookline to train together.

Chaloff worked in special needs education before starting Dreamfar six years ago. She runs the organization out of her house, just like she had with Purple Cow Pre-School years ago. A purple cow figurine still sits on a shelf as soon as you enter her Chestnut Hill house coming through the basement. Chaloff wears feathers in her highlighted brown hair to appear more approachable to the students, she said. And she paints her nails orange, a Dreamfar color, with 26.2 written in her thumbnail for motivation.

“We were looking for the kids that sort of fall through the cracks at school,” Chaloff said. “The honors kids have their honors classes and their AP classes and the athletes have their sports and have their teams. But there are a bunch of kids in high schools that just don’t connect to anybody and connectedness is just so important. If every student has someone to connect to, an adult in the high school, it just makes their entire high school experience that much easier.”

Fatima Ezzahra El Krimi, 15, from Morocco, arrived in America in March 2013. “I don’t miss it,” said Fatima in a telephone interview. She joined Dreamfar because she wanted a physical activity to replace soccer, which she hasn’t had much opportunity to play here.

“I love running,” said Fatima, who didn’t know any English when she arrived in America. She taught herself by watching the news and looking up words on her computer during class. “I want to prepare now to run in the Boston Marathon. Mr. Bob really supports me a lot.”

“Mr. Bob” is Bob Aftosmes-Tobio, Fatima’s running mentor and algebra teacher at Mary Lyon Pilot High School. His wife, Alyssa, is also a mentor and project manager at Harvard’s School of Public Health. The couple combined their last names (Bob Tobio and Alyssa Aftosmes) when they got married, and they are among some other Dreamfar mentors running the Boston Marathon.

Bob wears glasses and has a beard and long brown hair that he puts in a ponytail. Alyssa has short red hair that sweeps across her head from left to right. They live in a sea-green two-story house in Roxbury, which they have been renovating. Furniture is scattered around the house and blue painting tape hugs most of the corners of the walls. A Dreamfar poster leans against the wall just inside the front door. They sit next to each other on a beige couch in the middle of the room in their Boston Marathon jackets from last year.

“Fatima is perfect for the program,” Bob Aftosmes-Tobio said. “She never really talks as much as she talks when she’s running with Alyssa.”

“She hates running hills,” Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio said.

“Oh gosh, no, I think, ‘No I can’t do it,’” Fatima Ezzahra El Krimi said. “But they say, ‘No Fatima you’re gonna do it, just keep running.’ And I just keep running because I want to do it.”

If you just push Ezzahra El Krimi a little, she responds, Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio said. “I’m excited for her to finish.”

For Bob and Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio, finishing the Boston Marathon might mean healing a year-old wound. Last year was supposed to be their first marathon together—then tragedy struck. They were on Beacon Street less than two miles from the finish line when the bombs exploded.

They were both slowed in last year’s Marathon by injuries—Bob Aftosmes-Tobio by an inflamed ligament in his right knee, Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio by a hip-flexor problem, but they wanted to finish anyway. Had they been healthy, they could have been caught in the explosion, they said. Instead, National Guardsmen stopped them at Park Drive with “very big guns,” Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio said.

“The realization that we were not going to finish was too much,” Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio said. “I just stood there crying until Bob said, ‘We gotta go, we have to find out where we need to be.’ Thinking back it seems selfish to think that I just couldn’t believe that we weren’t going to finish.”

One of the worst feelings, Bob Aftosmes-Tobio said, was facing the confused spectators and runners looking to them for answers, some following the couple back to their hotel room. It was only once they got to the hotel room and turned on the news that they knew what had happened.

“Who would ever want to hurt runners?” Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio said she remembers thinking.

They both finished the Providence Marathon but “it didn’t fill the void of Boston,” Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio said. A year later, their emotions are still damaged, Alyssa Aftosmes-Tobio said. Now, they have another chance to finish what they couldn’t last year.

“To finish a marathon is like the like step one of healing, I guess,” Bob Aftosmes-Tobio said.


Disclosure note: The author of this article has agreed to film the organization’s activities for use in a promotional video.

Thousands Gather to Honor MIT Police Officer Collier

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By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Thousands gathered at MIT’s North Court this morning to attend a ceremony of remembrance for MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed in his squad car at 10:20 p.m. last April 18 by one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

At the ceremony, MIT architecture professor J. Meejin Yoon revealed the design of The Collier Memorial—an “open hand” structure, to remind visitors to always choose an “open hand over a closed fist,” as Collier would.

Yoon said the granite structure would be comprised of five walls interconnected through a series of reflection gardens to evoke the absence of a central figure, creating a void, but also allowing for a unifying central space of reflection.

Engraved on the memorial, it will state, “In the line of duty, Sean Collier April 18, 2013,” Yoon said.

A second inscription will come from Collier’s brother’s eulogy, saying, “Live long, like he would. Big smiles, big heart, big service, big love.”

Many present did not know Collier personally, but came out of respect for the MIT community, or because they had heard so many stories describing Collier as an exceptionally good, kind person.

Marsha Edmunds, a long time former employee in MIT’s administration, said she came because she is forever bonded to the school community.

“He was such an innocent person to be shot down the way he was,” Edmunds said, pulling her red coat tighter against the cold wind. “I didn’t know Sean personally, but he inspired a community to come together.”

Almost every seat was filled beneath the spacious white tent erected behind the Koch Cancer Research Institute adjacent to the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street where Collier was killed. Quiet music hummed and the audience spoke quietly before the ceremony started. Many donned “MIT Strong” maroon and white pins that were being handed out by event planners at the mouth of the tent.

John Wuestneck, a chaplain at MIT for the past 21 years, said he knew Collier personally.

“He was a really nice guy,” Wuestneck said. He worked directly across from MIT’s police department, so he passed Collier often. “He was really good with students, good with everybody.” Wuestneck shrugged, looking down.

“What can you say?” he said.

Under a gray, overcast sky, the ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. as MIT and Cambridge police forces filed into the front of the tent. The audience stood and clapped for nearly five minutes.

The MIT Police and the Cambridge Police Joint Honor Guard then performed the presentation of the flags and Lieutenant Pauline Carter-Wells of the City of Cambridge Police Department performed the National Anthem, causing the audience to erupt in applause.

MIT’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer, Israel Ruiz, welcomed the guests, most of who were from the MIT community, saying, “It is an honor and a comfort to have you with us today.”

Ruiz described Collier as a constantly smiling presence on campus—someone who talked to everyone and made an effort to get to know students and faculty. He said he met Collier unexpectedly, in a time when he was in great need of a helping hand.

One frigid Friday in February 2013, when winter storm Nemo had shut down MIT’s campus and caused a traffic ban on cars and taxis, Ruiz said he found himself stranded at Boston’s South Station after a business trip to New York.

Ruiz’s colleagues, worried about his safety in the winter storm, sent an MIT cruiser to come pick him up. Shortly after, Collier pulled up and rolled down his window, smiling, Ruiz said.

“He asked me if I was a grad student,” Ruiz said, as the audience laughed heartily. “I said, “Once I was, but I don’t have a uniform.”” He smiled.

During the car ride, Ruiz said Collier mentioned his love for the MIT community. The snowy street was deserted, but Ruiz remembered Collier stopped at an intersection on their way back to campus to help a lost student.

The light was green, Ruiz said, but Collier stopped to help him anyway.

“The light then switched from red to green—a couple of times,” Ruiz said with a laugh.

Ruiz said Collier’s actions that night, just small acts of kindness, perfectly exemplified the MIT community—a community that will “always roll down the window for those who need help.”

United States Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren following Ruiz, said that terror such as last year’s events surrounding the Boston Bombings and its aftermath, can often break people’s spirits.

Boston and Cambridge, however, did not waver, she said.

“We responded with a cry of defiance, not of fear,” Warren said, and reminded the audience to hold Collier in their hearts forever.


John DiFava, MIT Police Chief, had worked closely with Collier during the officer’s 15 months at MIT’s department. Collier had been about to leave the force to join Somerville’s department.

DiFava was one of the last speakers at the ceremony, and described Collier’s immense impact on the way DiFava viewed life.

When he was a child, DiFava said he grew up with heroes like the Lone Ranger, but over time, grew cynical along with life’s many disappointments.

He lost sight of the idea that heroes still exist among men, DiFava said, but Collier taught him many life lessons that slowly changed DiFava’s hardened worldview. One thing Collier taught him was the meaning of bravery, he said.

“He was so young, but wise beyond his years,” DiFava said, looking out to the audience. “He had such insight into people, which illustrates the enormity of our loss.” His voice cracked.

While 2013 has been marked by unimaginable sadness, DiFava said he hopes 2014 will be a year with less frequent tears, a year to “turn to the sun with hope.”

As the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, donned in all black sang “Amazing Grace,” DiFava bowed his head and wiped tears from his face.

“I now know heroes still walk on our earth,” DiFava said.

Boston Marathon Course Time-Lapse

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