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Sunday, April 6, 2014
15 Days: Marathon Sports back in game

By Tony Lee

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 15 days until the race.

BOSTON -- The Marathon Sports store on Boylston Street, steps from the Boston Marathon’s finish line, already was enmeshed with the great race in so many ways. Its proximity to that portion of pavement where so many achieved glory, its running clubs and training groups launching so many 26.2-mile ventures, the Boston Marathon volunteer jackets hanging off clothing racks.

When the first of the two bombs that shattered the 2013 race went off just outside the store’s doors, that connection only grew. Staff members, some of whom were cheering runners on at the time, were a key part of the immediate recovery effort, racing in for water or garments to help stem bleeding limbs.

Marathon Sports
Employees of Marathon Sports celebrate the reopening of the Boylston Street store last April, 10 days after the bombings.
The store has become a beacon for the long-term recovery efforts, a mission that will continue on race day this year, when a team organized, coached and led by the store and its staff will run for the One Fund Boston marathon team, with money raised assisting the survivors of the blasts and their families.

To those involved, it simply had to be done.

“We were thinking about all the support that we received from the business community, from customers, from the neighborhood, the whole Back Bay, the entire city of Boston, perfect strangers,” said Dan Soleau, the store’s brand marketing manager who was knocked unconscious by the explosion before coming to and offering his help amid the chaos.

“There was an enormous amount of gratitude that we needed to display in a meaningful way. We discussed internally, what can we do to make a difference?”

Out of those discussions was borne the One Fund Boston team. The fund itself did not have the personnel to assemble, organize and manage this team of 50, but put it in the hands of Soleau and his cohorts, who were only too willing to be the driving force.

Through that drive, team members have developed a bond, connecting not only with one another but with the once-shattered store and its staff, and -- in some way -- with the community of survivors to whom their efforts will be felt in the form of much-needed funds.

Ken Gordon applied to join the team for rather simple, yet profound, reasons.

“I don't quote Big Papi very often, but he kind of had it right,” said Gordon, referring to David Ortiz's stirring speech at Fenway Park in the aftermath of the bombings. “I'll be damned if someone’s going to take away one of our institutions and one of the days a lot of people look forward to, whether you're a runner or a spectator or just somebody that lives in the city.

“So I decided to take the plunge to make a very strong statement to anybody that thinks they can take away the spirit of this incredible city.”

Gordon, a Newton native who is participating in his first marathon, had never run more than six miles at a time before he began to train. The transition from casual jogger to marathoner representing bombing survivors and their families is something Gordon calls “an honor,” one that might not have been possible if not for Marathon Sports.

“They’re thrilled about our involvement, helping to support the victims that they saw firsthand,” Gordon said. “They were incredible people before the bombings. They’re even more incredible in terms of their reaction and all the work they've put in to put this team together and keep us, really a rag-tag bunch, lots of people who haven't run. To be part of their team and their response to what they all went through is an experience that won't be duplicated.”

Soleau said that the application process for the team began just after Christmas and that the deadline to submit the team to the Boston Athletic Association was Jan. 10. That meant that applications would have to come in over the holidays, when so many are occupied with other matters, and roughly three months before the race itself, which offers a small training window.

Shane O'hara
Marathon Sports brand marketing manager Dan Soleau (back to camera) embraces store manager Shane O'Hara at the Red Sox rolling rally last November.
Nearly 400 applications came in for the 50 spots.

“We really had no idea what sort of response we were going to get, so we were very, very pleased not only with the number of applications but the quality of applications that were submitted,” Soleau said.

The One Fund team will symbolize, in a way, the marathon’s full recovery from 2013. A band of runners intimately connected with the store, which is intimately connected with the race, forging through 26.2 miles with a mission of healing. Along with that healing is a need to face, and overcome, lingering fears.

“There’s also a very real fear of something going wrong. That’s not something that anybody likes to talk about, but it’s there,” Soleau said. “The fact of the matter is that up until last year this was just an emergency scenario, but now it’s not. It’s not a drill anymore, it’s happened.

“And that’s the tough thing, too. That’s one of the prevailing feelings that everybody’s going through that nobody wants to talk about. I think the real difference here, besides looking beyond the fear, which is not something you can do anything about, is that there’s also a great sense of purpose and reverence to everybody who’s participating this year. There’s a reverent feeling about the idea that everybody’s participating in something much larger.”

Lauren Pedigo has felt that sense of purpose, even if the marathon or the city itself was not on her radar a little over a year ago. Pedigo graduated from Butler University in 2012 and moved to Boston for work, but became interested in the race when the first friend she made in her new city was running.

Fortunately, that friend finished minutes before the bombings and was safe. Pedigo remained deeply affected by the events and felt a strong desire to be part of the city’s rebuild.

“For me, this marathon is all about bringing together people who've never met to do something good for the world together,” Pedigo said. “This whole experience has been such an example of how a group with a mission can accomplish anything.

“Last April was so heartbreaking for our city. I've never done a fundraiser like this before. It has completely revealed to me just how many people I have supporting me in my life. When I think about the hundreds of people who have reached out to me both about the events last year and my marathon fundraiser this year, I can't help but get emotional. This experience has reminded me that there is so much good in the world.”

Pedigo recently completed a 14-mile training run, got in her car and drove home. She cried the whole way, joyful that she had run farther than she ever had before, but also cognizant of the symbolism of her ultimate mission. She expects to cry often on race day.

“The tears will be a combination of heartbreak, human triumph, kindness and determination,” she said.

Each of those are qualities shared by the staff of Marathon Sports and the members of the One Fund Boston team, which have collectively formed a powerful response to the tragedy of 2013.