Bound by Tragedy: A Restaurant and Charity Look to 2014 Boston Marathon for Closure

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Erinn Fleming, director of events and marketing at Forum, sits at a polished wooden high top in the back of the trendy restaurant located at 755 Boylston St. as she explains why she will be running the 2014 Boston Marathon Monday.

“To finish the marathon— I think it will bring closure to what happened last year,” Fleming said. “It will have made everything I’ve been through and everything my friends at Forum have been through “okay.””

The western Massachusetts native has curly brown hair pulled back into a topknot, lively blue eyes and a lean, athletic build. She smiles frequently, and has a warm, friendly voice, but her tone becomes somber as she describes April 15, 2013, the day the bombs went off—the day that made her want to run.

“I went upstairs to make sure we had all the food for dinner and at 2:50 p.m., everything just kind of stopped,” Fleming said. She pauses. “I heard it first. I probably moved more quickly than I’ve ever moved in my life. I knew something wasn’t right.”

Fleming, 44, has worked at Forum for two and a half years, and was working last year’s Boston Marathon, organizing and overseeing The Joe Andruzzi Foundation’s marathon-watching party. The nonprofit’s ticketed party was held in the front left section of Forum, facing Boylston Street.

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation, started by the former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi who survived aggressive cancer in the form of non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma, had team members running for the charity.

The charity raises money to offer medical and emotional support to cancer patients and their families. Friends and families of the runners were enjoying Forum’s prime viewing location just a block west of the finish line. Some sat inside near the windows while others watched on the patio.

It had been a happy day, Fleming said. There were t-shirts, free giveaways, special menus and BBC Radio was onsite.

In the flurry of activity—she was in charge of overseeing the full staff, security, kitchen—Fleming had gone upstairs to plan for the afternoon rush of customers she expected to flood Forum after the race, which was wrapping up. The winner had crossed the finish line two hours before, but there were still 5,700 runners streaming down the course when it happened.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Fleming said of the explosion. “People were coming away from windows and running upstairs to avoid what happened out front, and I moved into hospitality mode. I knew we needed to get our customers out as safely as possible. And that’s what we did.”

Forum was ground zero for the second bombing; the second floor glass windows were shattered, gray dust covered the floor, and a smoky, metallic smell hung in the air, Fleming said.

Fleming and her staff brought all of Forum’s ice and linen out front to the wounded. They helped guide first responders to those who needed critical attention on Forum’s patio. After 15 or 20 minutes, Fleming said police told her and her co-workers to leave while they had the chance—if they didn’t now, they might not be able to later.

This day, which injured some of Fleming’s customers, co-workers and the restaurant, fueled a fire in Fleming—a fire to run for her friends, her city and herself.

“I didn’t think about it the day of,” Fleming said of running the next Boston Marathon. “And April 16 was a strange blur, a day spent in front of the television wondering, “What is going on?””

On the morning of April 17, however, Fleming said she went to the gym and met up with her personal trainer. She needed to let out the pent-up emotion she had been feeling, she said.

After a kickboxing session, Fleming said she turned to her trainer and said she was going to run the next marathon.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Fleming said. “It just came out, but it didn’t give me a choice.” She smiles.

After reaching out to the Joe Andruzzi foundation, the nonprofit gave Fleming one of their bibs—she would be running with the team she had worked so closely with the year before. But this year, there would be 47 runners compared to 21.

“I was so grateful,” Fleming said. “I’m honored.”

This year’s team, “Team JAF,” trained under a charity team umbrella, CharityTeams, which includes groups ranging from Special Olympics Massachusetts to the South Boston Neighborhood House, which organizes community programs in South Boston.

Every Saturday at 8 a.m., Fleming said the charity teams met up at Marriot Copley and ran, usually getting brunch together afterward. They became quite close.

This was Fleming’s therapy, she said.

“It feels really, really, great to be out there with selfless, motivating, supportive people,” Fleming said. “We are all out there because we want to help a foundation or a group that help people that really need it.”

Fleming said finishing the race would bring her some closure to what happened last year. Though Forum has been entirely renovated with new décor and a new layout, the race, Fleming said, will prove, “You can’t do this to me and you can’t do this to our restaurant. I’m going to go run 26 miles to prove it.”

Casey Ford, a 27-year-old from Lynnfield, Mass., handles media relations for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. Though he was not at the Forum-hosted marathon watching party last year, he said he plans on overseeing the event this year, held in the exact same place, same time.

Ford said it was important for the foundation to hold the party at Forum as a tribute to last year’s runners, the first responders and the city of Boston.

“Last year, we kept telling the team to, “Run to Forum,” Ford said. “This year, we’re saying, “Return to Forum.” It’s a carbon copy of last year. We’re finishing what we started.”

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation has had an outpouring of support from the Boston community, Ford said. Last year, the team raised roughly $170,000. This year, they’ve just reached $400,000.

Ford said the team’s “collective approach” to training is inspirational and represents the mantra of the foundation, which is to always remain upbeat.

“We’re never going to live in fear and we’re going to keep moving forward,” Ford said. “That’s what the foundation tries to instill in patients.”

Gillian Furey, special events manager and volunteer coordinator for The Joe Andruzzi Foundation, joined this year’s marathon team when her uncle was injured in the bombing at Forum and received two bibs, which he offered Furey and her boyfriend, Eddie O’Brien.

“After my uncle got two bibs, I thought I should run in the foundation’s honor,” Furey said.

Though she has never been an avid runner, Furey said the Saturday morning runs with the other charities’ members have made her confident that she can, and will, complete the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Furey also said she now considers Fleming, her running partner, a close friend.

“She is definitely a go getter,” Furey said. “She never gives up. She had a minor injury and some people would have dropped out. She muscled through it—did 21 miles with us a few weeks later.”

When she thinks about completing the Marathon Monday, Furey said she thinks it will feel “bittersweet.”

Like Fleming, Furey said she looks forward to closure; however, she said she would miss seeing the same group of people every Saturday morning.

“We’ll still be in contact but it will be a loss,” Furey said. “But I’m looking forward to ending this past year. I’m looking forward to a new beginning.”