In the 26 days leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 21, ESPNBoston.com will share inspiring stories, detail important logistics and go inside the planning for what promises to be an event like no other in the wake of last year's bombings. There are 25 days until the race.
As a senior second baseman on the Harvard University baseball team, Kyle Larrow is used to hustling down the line, racing from first to third on a single to right or charging into the hole to make a backhanded stop.
Running 26.2 miles? Not normally in his repertoire. At least not until Larrow, along with friends and family impacted by the bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, made a commitment to be a part of something bigger.
"I'm not much of a distance runner," Larrow said while in Florida as part of Harvard's early-season road trip through southern states. "I had run one-, two-mile stints but I've never run long distances. So it's been a process."
In a way, that process began when so many other lives were altered the moment the first bomb exploded near the finish line. Larrow's girlfriend, Danielle Reny, was nearing the end of the race. Reny's family and Larrow waited to cheer her across. They never had that opportunity. They were hit by the blast from one of the bombs, which exploded about 10 feet from where they stood.
"We saw everything. We were right there in the thick of things," Larrow said, before expressing hope that he would never endure anything like that again.
Larrow suffered severe burns up his back and arms and had shrapnel sprayed into both legs. Nearby, Danielle's parents were hurt and her sister, Gillian, was in much worse shape. Doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital performed one of many amazing works by the medical professionals in the city by not only saving Gillian's life, but managing to spare her severely injured legs and avoid amputation.
Larrow and others in their group were able to recover in time to run this year, but it was a much more daunting task for Gillian. However, she maintained a positive attitude, and her spirit in the face of adversity served to inspire her loved ones. It led to the formation of the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Fund, arranged by the Reny family with Brigham and Women's to support "future patients with traumatic, athletic and disease-related limb injuries." Larrow and others, including his father, Danielle and her parents, will run on behalf of the Stepping Strong team.
"Her strength has been unbelievable," Larrow said. "We all have been unbelievably impressed by her will to not be completely bogged down by such a horrible event but, if anything, to look for silver linings in a lot of things."
That outlook has helped Larrow view the rigorous training that goes into a marathon as a mere formality on the road to reaching the finish line. He's managed to squeeze in training runs between games, practices, classes and all that goes into a senior year at Harvard. Larrow said that he and his dad, Andy Larrow, figured that as long as they could get up to 10 miles, the energy of the spectators and the sense of purpose will get them the rest of the way.
"I'll be able to run the next 16 on the backs of people cheering us on, knowing that we're there and why we're running," he said.
And when Larrow crosses that finish line, surrounded by some of those also impacted by the events of April 15, 2013, he will do so with the thoughts of a remarkable year in his life and the lives of those around him.
"I think it's going to be one of the best moments of my life, crossing the finish line, especially being able to do it with [Danielle] and with people around us who were in a completely different situation a year ago."
Soon after his injuries had healed to the point where he could be his athletic self once again, Larrow took a jog down Boylston Street. There had been so many emotions in the previous weeks -- the trauma of the bombings, the inspiration of Gillian and others, the desire to make some sense of it all. As he glanced around at shuttered businesses and curious onlookers pointing out where bombs had been placed and lives lost or changed forever, it all came together in his head.
"[I was] looking around and stepping back and being like, you know what, I'm better than what happened this day," he said. "The city, the people I'm with, we're all stronger than that. We're not going to let that define us."