22 Days: Harvard soccer alums team up

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
11:03
AM ET
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 22 days until the race.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- From the outside, Jessica Wright seemed fine.

[+] EnlargeWright
Courtesy of Tim Hart/Harvard Athletics
She was one of thousands still pounding the pavement, headed for the turn onto Boylston Street and the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, when the bombs went off. And though the minutes that followed were filled with uncertainty and fear -- for herself and for her father, who was waiting for her by the finish line -- Wright and her family and friends mostly emerged unscathed physically.

But inside, Wright was a mess.

"It was rough for a while," the former Harvard women's soccer goalkeeper said recently.

"You weren't yourself," teammate Elizabeth Weisman said.

"No, not at all," Wright said. "It was, like, high anxiety for, like, everything. I couldn't function, really. Everything was terrifying to me. Crowds, could not do that at all. ... I was not myself for like the entire spring, I would say, until finally being able to get home and be away from Harvard and Boston for a while.

"It was the marathon and then all of the events that happened after that ..."

"It was a lot," Weisman chimed in. "For someone who wasn't even there, it was a lot."

"It was really a lot," Wright said. "And it's also interesting when you're returning back to an environment like Harvard where not everyone was [at the marathon] and not everyone experienced it. Everyone had different experiences if they were there and if they weren't there. So it was difficult at times, I think, for all the Harvard runners to just be in an environment where you felt like not everyone was as affected as you.

[+] EnlargeElizabeth Weisman
Gil Talbot/Harvard AthleticsElizabeth Weisman thinks running the Boston Marathon will be a "remarkable experience."
"It was difficult to walk around and two weeks later everyone was like OK again, whereas I and other [Harvard College Marathon Challenge] runners were still in shock. It was rough, but it's OK now ..."

At first, Wright didn't think she wanted to run Boston again. She let the deadline for stopped runners to register for 2014 lapse.

But as more time passed, she began to reconsider.

"It was a little bit of fear," she said, explaining her hesitation, "but at the same time I was thinking, 'Can I run 26.2 miles again? Is that a possibility?' And I was like, 'Yeah, it definitely is. I need to get over it and I need to finish it.'"

After her change of heart, Wright reached out to the Boston Athletic Association and was allowed into the field despite missing the deadline.

Now Wright and Weisman, their Harvard soccer days done, are training for 2014. Though neither has ever completed a marathon before, they're drawing on their athletic backgrounds and their goal-oriented dispositions to prep for the task.

And they're steeling themselves mentally for what they're sure will be a day full of emotion.

"I knew I want to eventually do a marathon in my life," Weisman said, "but I felt like I had to do it this year, especially after what had happened last year. I don't know how it's going to be, I didn't run it last year, but I know the Boston Marathon is a really big deal and I think this year's going to be an even bigger deal. It'll be really emotional and meaningful for the people running it."

Including for her teammate.

"Everyone who ran last year, for the most part, is going to come back and run this year," Wright said. "It's gonna be huge. Boston has so much pride and so much strength ... it's gonna be a remarkable experience."

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

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