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Keene State's Marathon Connection

April 28, 2014
l-r front: Arielle Connolly '14, Shammara Al-Darraji, Robby Bouchey, Taylor Murray '14 l-r back: Andrew Weigel '14, Samantha Desmarais, Lindsay McManus, Evan Thompson, Darek Robertson '14, Wanda Swiger, Scot Ward
l-r front: Arielle Connolly '14, Shammara Al-Darraji, Robby Bouchey, Taylor Murray '14 l-r back: Andrew Weigel '14, Samantha Desmarais, Lindsay McManus, Evan Thompson, Darek Robertson '14, Wanda Swiger, Scot Ward

Thanks to Clarence DeMar, there will always be a connection between Keene State College and the famous Boston Marathon. By the time DeMar arrived on campus at what was then known as Keene Normal School in 1929, he not only had won six Boston Marathons, but was also a three-time Olympic runner, winning a bronze medal in the 1924 Games in Paris.

Soon after coming to the College, where he taught typesetting and industrial history, DeMar, aptly nicknamed “Mr. DeMarathon,” won his seventh and final Boston Marathon title in 1930 at the age of 41, a record unlikely ever to be surpassed.

While he may have been the first, DeMar certainly wasn’t the last runner associated with Keene State to make a B-line down to Boston to compete in the oldest annual marathon in the world. Over the years, KSC students, alumni, faculty, and staff members have tried their hands (and feet!) at tackling the challenging 26.2-mile course, with varying degrees of success.

“I went out and watched Clarence DeMar one year, and thought I’d like to run one marathon before I was 60 – and I got hooked,” said Newt Tolman, a Keene native, who has taken courses in Keene State’s Cheshire Academy for Lifelong Learning the past two years.

Now 72, Tolman ran his 12th Boston Marathon this year. While he’s not a Keene State grad, his children Lora Tolman ’90 and Joe Tolman ’94 are alumni, and he’ll have four grandchildren on campus this fall.

Like others, Tolman won’t soon forget his 2013 run. He was stopped six-tenths of a mile short of the finish line when two bombs exploded, ripping through storefronts and shattering and changing lives forever. “We didn’t know what was going on,” Tolman said. “We got into Kenmore Square and the cops were telling people on sidewalks they had to move. I asked a cop what happened and he said, ‘You don’t want to know.’”

The explosion rocked not only Boston, but the country and the world. A global institution in Boston for the past 117 years had suddenly and tragically been attacked. But Boston isn’t just any marathon. This year over 36,000 runners returned to honor those who were killed or injured and regain the finish line. There’s a reason why they call it Boston Strong.

A math professor at Keene State the past 16 years, Dick Jardine was also one of those runners. Running was a life-changing event for the New Boston, NH, native. “I was taking an Army physical fitness test and I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, so I quit smoking on the spot and starting running,” said Jardine of his decision to take up the sport. “I traded a negative addiction for a positive one.”

Drained by the unseasonably warm 60 degree temperatures, Jardine, who was running Boston for the seventh time, said he was caught up in the emotion of the day. “The crowds were very inspirational. It was a great experience to be part of that,” he said. “Running that last 500 meters down Boylston Street was the most emotional experience I’ve ever had running. If I had any fluid left in me I would have been crying. It’s the worst marathon time I’ve ever had but it was easily the best time I had finishing a marathon.”

Longtime Keene State cross-country and track coach Peter Thomas, who ran Boston in 1979 and 1983, has seen several of his alumni runners move up to the marathon and take a shot at Boston. “Surprisingly, it’s not a tough adjustment for them,” he said. “I tell them it’s worth doing.”

One runner who took Thomas’ advice was Jason Garrity ’09. The Topsfield, MA, resident was initially hesitant to run the longer distance. “I always preferred shorter distance races, but Peter always saw me as a distance runner,” said Garrity, who earned All-Little East Conference cross-country and track honors competing for the Owls.

Joining the Greater Boston Track Club, Garrity ran Boston for the first time in 2013, crossing the finish line in a very respectable two hours and 38:53 minutes. Oblivious to what was about to happen, Garrity and his family headed to a local mall to get something to eat. “When we were leaving, all these people started storming into the building with looks of shock on their face,” said Garrity. “They told us about the bombs and everyone just froze. We felt trapped and looked for ways to escape from the city.”

Like many overcome by the tragedy in 2013, Garrity returned this year with vengeance. “It made me want to come back more,” he said. “I wanted to prepare myself to run stronger and faster than I ever did before.”

Wearing bib No. 470, Garrity pushed his way up Heartbreak Hill before running into trouble at the 24-mile mark. “I don’t know what happened, but my legs just suddenly turned to rubber. I hit the wall,” he said. “Fortunately, I kept walking and jogging and reached the finish line. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without the crowd pushing me through the whole way.”

Everyone has a reason for running. Initially leisure runners, Keene State alumni Sia Karamourtopoulos ’12 and Kimberly Pope ’95 decided to go the distance after graduating while Karen Carr ’09 was inspired to run after a family member was stricken with a serious illness.

A former four-year soccer player at Keene State who is currently completing her master’s degree at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, Karamourtopoulos began running races with members of her family. “One of the things on my bucket list was to run the Boston Marathon,” said Karamourtopoulos, who is from Fremont, NH. “Last year I had a lot of friends and family that were down there and I just felt so lucky that none of them got hurt, so I wanted to put my heart into this marathon.”

While Boston brings together some of the top marathon runners in the world, it’s much more than a race. Thousands of runners receive bib numbers to run for a myriad of causes. Karamortopoulos raised money for Brigham and Women’s Hospital, while Jardine ran for the Samaritans. “I just turned 60 almost a year ago and I decided I needed to run for someone other than just myself,” he said.

Although she never ran competitively at Keene State, Carr, of Hamden, CT, began to pick up her pace when she found out her father had been diagnosed with ALS – commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. She joined races where she could raise money.

After being stopped a mile from the finish line last year, Carr had some unfinished business to take care of this spring. “After running for four hours, you’re sort of in a daze and hearing that explosions had gone off at the finish line, you almost believe it’s a joke,” she said. “At first I didn’t know the full extent of what was happening. It wasn’t until I turned on the TV that I saw the extent of the damage. It’s a terrible way to remember my first marathon.”

But that didn’t stop Carr from returning this year. “I had to go run again to finish what I started,” said Carr, who ran for ALS research and to honor those who had died in last year’s marathon. “Whether you were at the finish line, a mile from finishing, or watching on TV you were one way or another affected by this terrible tragedy.” Carr was able to complete the mission, thanks to a supportive crowd that included several friends and KSC alumni strategically placed in the final few miles of the course. “I couldn't let myself down nor could I let down the hugely supportive crowd of people cheering me on,” she said. “They didn't know me, but they were there, helping me to accomplish my goal of finishing this race.”

The daughter of former Keene State men’s soccer coach Ron Butcher, Pope has run 15 marathons, taking on Boston’s four times. Now living in Des Moines, IA, she was also able to put last year’s horrific events behind her and return to Boston this year. In the third wave of runners and not reaching the start line until 11 a.m., Pope wasn’t deterred from having a memorable run. “I went out pretty fast and struggled at the end, but I just wanted to take in the whole experience,” she said. “The crowds were amazing. When runners were struggling people were cheering them on. It was just wonderful.”

As the runners made their way from Hopkinton to Boston, able medical staff members, including Dr. Wanda Swiger, the director of the Athletic Training program at KSC, and assistant athletic trainer Scot Ward, awaited them at the finish line.

Initially working in the medical tent and assigned to the finish line the past few years, Ward was on the front line at the 2013 marathon. Emerging from the medical tent a block and a half from where the first bomb went off, Ward described the scene as chaotic. “I initially I thought, Oh God, why would anyone want to do something like this? Then I took five or six seconds and said, It’s time to go to work,” he said.

Each year, the KSC Athletic Training program picks five seniors to work with Swiger and Ward at the marathon. Recent alums Lindsay McManus ’13 and Samantha Desmarais ’13 were selected in 2013.

Excited to be at the finish line and experience first-hand the role of an athletic trainer at a major sports event, McManus, a former member of the Keene State lacrosse team from Dover, NH, suddenly found herself in the middle of the mayhem. “I remember thinking to myself, Do I run or do I give help? I then realized I was wearing that medic tag for a reason.”

Grabbing supplies and helping patients with their wounds as they awaited transport, McManus was able to utilize her skills to help those in need. Once all the patients had been escorted out, McManus and the rest of the medical staff were ushered to the end of the tent, where she saw two familiar faces: her best friend Shammara Al-darraji and Dr. Swiger. ”I just cried. We all cried. It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen,” said McManus. “The smell lingered and the shaking in your body felt like it would last forever. I was terrified that another bomb was going to go off or the images wouldn't go away.

“Leaving the city, you could see the looks in everyone’s eyes that Keene, New Hampshire, was where we all wanted to be,” she added. “The next day we had a group counseling session that was very helpful. We could hear that we were all feeling the same way and that it was OK. We had a lacrosse game that day against Plymouth State and that was the best therapy I could have asked for. I played for all those people that couldn't finish. That game was for them.”

There was never a doubt that McManus, now a certified athletic trainer, would return to the marathon this year. “I knew a year ago that I wanted to come back,” she said. “I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't going to let this tragedy control me.”

Like McManus, Desmarais returned for closure. “I felt I didn't get to experience how it should've been to work at the marathon,” said the Nashua, NH, native. “I wanted to go to see how the whole day plays out when you're working and not fearing for your life or others’ lives. It was a great experience, and I plan on attending for as long as I can.”

Ward said this year’s marathon brought out the best in all the participants, who were greeted by a glorious sunny day. “Although there was a presence of security, there was also a presence of joy and relief among the runners and the spectators,” he said. “In all my years I’ve been outside at the finish line, I’ve never seen such genuine thanks and support from everybody.”

Ward, who had worked at 16 previous marathons, was happy he made the decision to return to this year’s Boston Marathon and has no plans of ending that streak anytime soon. “If I didn’t go back this year they would’ve won,” he said of the terrorists responsible for the bombing, “and I wasn’t going to let that happen.”