When Jaimie Wright heard about the Boston Marathon bombings last year, she knew what she had to do.
She had gone to high school in Burlington, Mass., about 17 miles from the horror that struck the finish line on Boylston Street, killing three and maiming scores.
Far away in State College, the shock registered. It was her state, her race, the one as familiar as the Red Sox to every child in the Boston suburbs.
Suddenly, a date was set in stone.
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“My initial thought was: ‘I want to be able to run this race next year and show my support for the people of Boston,’ ” Wright said.
Wright, 35, a writer and editor, stepped up her summer training and qualified in a September race. On Monday, she and 17 other local runners ran in Boston as Marathoners for Medicine charity team members raising money for the Centre Volunteers In Medicine clinic.
They weren’t pounding the world’s most famous 26.2 miles just for the health of uninsured Centre County residents.
They were helping Bostonians heal.
For the 118th running of the city’s cherished spring rite, they joined an international field of 36,000 — thousands more than previous years — for a historic day of remembering sorrow and celebrating resilience.
“This is the most meaningful race I will ever run,” Wright said. “Out of everything I’ve done before, this matters most.”
Tom Cali, 59, a local real estate agent on the CVIM team, will never forget either.
Boston’s citizens made sure of that.
“This was my 13th Boston Marathon, so I’ve got the routine down pat,” Cali said.
“People always smile at you and say hello. They’re very friendly. But this was just another step beyond that.”
From the staging area in Hopkinton to the finish line, emotions ran high.
In Hopkinton, as at the end, security was super tight — screening wands, extra police. And no backpacks like the bombers used.
Volunteers could have been tense. Instead, as Cali discovered, they turned up the welcome dials a few notches.
“They were just so happy that we were there and we were going to run this again,” he said.
Waiting in the corrals, runners listened to reflections about last year’s race. Tears welled, but then, the somber mood fell away.
“They sort of got you psyched up to run this year, and there was a sense of elation,” Cali said. “People started cheering. Army helicopters flew by in formation.
“When the gun went off for the start, everybody was just raring to go. And there was a happiness. The solemness got replaced by happiness, that we were going to give this another shot and it’s going to work out well.”
Along the way, several encounters buoyed Wright.
At Mile 4, two of her oldest friends, both high school track teammates, cheered her on. Twenty miles later, when she was struggling, they surprised her by popping up again.
At Mile 10, she passed Dick Hoyt pushing the wheelchair of his son, Rick, who has cerebral palsy. The famous Team Hoyt has competed in more than 1,100 endurance races, including six Ironman triathlons.
As a little girl, Wright watched them run. Now, she was running with them in their 33rd and final Boston Marathon.
“That was a completely emotional moment,” Wright said. “The cheers were just incredible. Everyone knew it was their last race, and everyone was cheering loudly.”
And at Mile 14, a bystander dashed onto the course. But nobody, least of all Wright, minded.
Four-year-old Lee jumped into his mother’s arms. She stopped to hug him, as well as her 91-year-old grandfather, who was standing in the same spot as he did with her grandmother during her 2003 and 2008 races.
Throughout the race, both she and Cali fed off the energy from the boisterous Bostonians lining the streets five deep, holding signs and exulting in the shared jubilation.
Last month, Cali ran in the Los Angeles Marathon. Never before had he run two marathons in the same season, so he brought modest expectations to Boston.
But something happened through Ashland, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline.
Something wore off passing by the Hoyts, by bombing victims participating with prosthetic legs or in wheelchairs, by the electric crowds of students at Wellesley College and Boston College.
“The next thing you know, I’m running a very comfortable 3:01,” Cali said, the time about 15 minutes faster than his goal.
“I don’t know. Was it the extra energy and extra emotion? It very well could have been.”
But for pure spectacle, nothing matched the finish.
Down Boylston they ran, reaching deep down and surging forward not just for themselves, but for a city triumphing over tragedy. Screams of joy, not terror, echoed off storefronts.
“Everyone out there was celebrating life and celebrating humanity, I think, at its best,” Wright said.
Cali smiled the whole way.
“That was probably the best three or four blocks I’ve ever run,” he said. “I’ve run miles and miles, but that was pretty neat.”
Chanting spectators propelled Wright as she fought through the last 10 miles. “Boston Strong” became the mantra in her head.
Though heat and blisters conspired for a slower time than she hoped at 3:19:35, it didn’t matter.
It came in second to a magical day.
Tired but glowing, Wright crossed the finish, grateful to be in Boston and part of history.
“I threw up my hands to the sky, thinking, ‘Thank you, God, for just a wonderful day and a wonderful chance to see the city come together and to be able to experience this moment.’
“And also, ‘Thank you, God, for being done,’ because I don’t think I could have taken another step.”
Cali has completed marathons feeling worn out, wanting only to take a shower and crawl into bed.
Not this time.
In his euphoria, he thanked the first volunteer he saw. She thanked him back.
The sun was shining. The world was right. There was no pain, no confusion, just a peaceful clarity.
“Last year, when I found out what happened, it was sheer sadness,” said Cali, who finished an hour before the explosions but was still downtown blocks away.
“Here, it was sheer elation.”