Shonda Schilling runs Boston Marathon for others, and for herself


BOSTON -- Sometimes all you can do is laugh, which is what Shonda Schilling did when her youngest child, 12-year-old Garrison, made this observation:

"Mom’s had cancer. Dad’s had cancer. Our DNA sucks."

And sometimes, even when you think all your reserves have been depleted and you can’t possibly shoulder any more responsibility than trying to hold your family together through one crisis after another, you lace up your sneakers and run.

If you're Shonda, you run for your husband Curt, the cancer survivor who had always been the strong one but had never stared into an abyss quite as deep as this one, with all the terrors it entailed.

You run because you are driven to do something for the doctors and nurses at the Dana Farber Cancer Center, who did for your husband what they do every day for people who are not baseball heroes.

You run because you have cried your tears, fought through your bouts of depression; recognized that while you were consumed with being mother and father, safety net and comforter, an island of stability in a world gone mad where heartless people chant "Your dad’s broke" at your kids’s sporting events, that you needed to do this for yourself.

"I’m not going to lie," you say, without a trace of self-pity. "But the last three years have been hell, between the cancer and the business."

And you don’t stop running, not until 26.2 miles of road are behind you in the Boston Marathon, and you’re drenched to the skin, and your husband and your kids are waiting for you with open arms.

And maybe they don’t quite know how to put it in words, but there is the realization that in this exhausted blond woman, underneath her beauty and her love and her smile, is a steel coil of strength. And because they are a part of her and she a part of them, that steel coil is inside them, too.

"I had to do this for myself," she said. "I was a little anxious about running. I’m almost 50 now; I wasn't sure I could still do this. But in all of this, I had to find a place for me, too."

This is not about sympathy; she knows that her status as wife of a celebrity, especially one who failed so spectacularly in a business venture that cost others their livelihoods, exempts her in some unforgiving hearts from compassion that otherwise would come her way.

She understands that even though she has survived skin cancer, and Curt had to be strapped down so that doctors and nurses could administer the radiation that killed his cancer cells -- but also ravaged his taste buds and dried up his salivary glands and altered his voice and burned his throat -- and one of their sons has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, and their daughter suddenly lost her hearing during the trauma of the last couple of years, that for many, she still occupies a pedestal of privilege.

So you feel anguish when the cruelty is directed at your kids, like all the unspeakable stuff that was hurled at her daughter when Curt tweeted out his pride that she would be playing softball in college. You remind yourself that your son will be 20 and your daughter 18 and you can’t protect them the same way anymore, and they won’t need you in the same way anymore and you’ll be left trying to figure out where that leaves you.

You think about all the years you had to do it alone, because your husband was a baseball player and gone nine months of the year, and then a businessman gone seven days a week, and now he is home for the first time. And that’s when you are moved to laugh, thinking about Curt Schilling -- Curt Schilling! -- getting himself a chicken coop and busying himself with its occupants.

And you laugh again when you think that maybe it’s not such a good idea if Curt comes to meet you at the finish line, because the last time that was the plan, at the New York Marathon a few years ago, he had a heart attack. The ultimate upstager.

But on Monday, it was about Shonda, setting her course, straight and true, one of many deeply personal stories on Marathon day. Running alone, but among many, in step with her pain and gratitude and resoluteness. Running free.

You can donate to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute's Barr Program here.