Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Family Finish for the Ages

The last time Heather and Jackie were together at the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street was on April 15, 2013, an historic date in our nation's history and a day that changed hundreds of lives irrevocably.   On that day, Andrew and I had already passed over the finish line and were standing at the water table when the first bomb went off and changed the world.
Jackie and Heather, however, were in the bleachers across the street from both blasts.  They witnessed much more than I wish they ever had to see.  And their anxiety was only heightened by false  reports that a third bomb lay in the bleachers beneath their feet.
It was a day that changed us all, and one that has become etched in our family story.
That day, Jackie was standing in a place she doesn't normally stand.  Every year past, she stood by the global flags right at the finish line, the site of the first explosion.  I always knew to always look for her in the same spot.
But in 2013, she thankfully changed her spectator location, because we had made plans to go visit her sister Annie, who was convalescing at Brigham and Women's Hospital, on the south side of Boylston Street.  So rather than get caught up in street closure traffic woes, Jackie moved across the street.
Since that day, we've always said Annie helped save Jackie and Heather from being at ground zero when the first bomb exploded.
And last year, when Annie was faced with her final days, on the last day in the hospital that she could still speak with us, Heather told her she was going to run the Boston Marathon and she was going to do it for Annie.
Annie told her "You go, girlfriend."
And she did.  Did she ever.
And she had Annie with her every step of the way.
Coming down Boylston Street, Heather prepares to officially cross the Boston Marathon finish line for the first time in her life.
For a period of time, Heather had not wanted to return to that location, recalling the experiences she went through with Jackie that April Monday.
This day, she had it dead in her sights.
Many folks, upon finishing the Boston Marathon, experience a full-on catharsis of their emotions at have achieved the accomplishment.  This manifest sometimes in physical collapse, effusive jubilation, and in many case, uncontrollable sobbing.  It's the release of all those months of training and the hardships endured throughout that rises to the forefront.
The first one to congratulate Heather as she finished this year's marathon was the big brother who had helped her train through the long cold winter, and the guy who ran the whole course with her this day just to support her efforts.
He may drive her crazy some days, and his non-running  antics on the 26 prior miles may have gotten under her skin in the heat of battle, but these two love each other, and I don't know if I own a picture that shows that better.
A hug for dad (the photographer who didn't capture his own hug) and then after waving off the numerous wheelchairs offered to the runners, it was over to the fence, where Jackie awaited with her cousin Cheryl.
Cheryl, I might add, besides being out there at Mile 16 and again at the finish, was also one of Heather's loudest cheerleaders at the Eastern States 20 miler a few weeks prior, from Kittery, Maine, down the coast of New Hampshire and over the border into Massachusetts.
Thanks for being there, Cheryl!
And then, the moment these two best friends have been waiting to capture for I-don't-know-how-long
Yes, she did.
Heather ran her first Boston Marathon.
And we all couldn't be prouder.
If you're still reading this blog after all these multiple posts chronicling the experience, thanks for following along.
I've got to be honest, I've been a Dad for 23+ years.  Over those years, we've had amazing times, some heartbreaking times, some scary moments, and decades of memories that have changed my world.
This particular day, the experience of being there step-for-step with my daughter as she achieved the goal she had set her sights on the prior year was unforgettable and can never be recaptured.
Thanks to all the supporters who helped her through those miles.
Special thanks, of course, to her mother and brother, who were there for her through all the months that led to this moment on Boylston Street.
Heather, you're a rock star.
I leave you with this image, captured by one of Andrew's friends off the live television coverage.
A father, a daughter, and a son, crossing the Boston Marathon Finish Line, together.
For every mile that day and in all the years to come.

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