April 19, 2014

In 2014, the Boston Marathon is a very human race

This year’s marathon will be a celebration of the sport a year after two pressure cooker bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 260. Sixteen people lost limbs. Qualifying for this year’s marathon was tougher than ever after last year’s tragedy created so much interest in the race. But five Kansas City area runners made the cut. Each brings a special story to Boston.

Monday marks the 13th anniversary of the stroke that brought Marc Hardin to his knees. But the gritty longtime marathoner eventually began running again.

Hardin showed a similar resolve after two bombs went off toward the end of last year’s Boston Marathon.

The Lenexa veterinarian, 63, knew exactly where he had to be this Monday: Hopkinton, Mass., the starting line for America’s most fabled race.

“I’m kind of putting a thumb in their eyes and telling (the terrorists) they can’t stop me,” Hardin said. “… Runners are like that. We stick together.”

About 150 Kansas City area runners will take part in the 118th Boston Marathon. It will be a celebration of the sport a year after two pressure cooker bombs exploded, killing three people and injuring more than 260. Sixteen people lost limbs.

Hardin and four other local runners made vows for special reasons to get to the 2014 marathon.

Jason Parr qualified so he could support a cause that is near and dear to his heart.

Jeff Maher decided to show a Boston nonprofit just how generous Midwesterners can be.

Ali Hatfield Mohsen beat out thousands of others in a competition to make it to the race again.

And Bobby Fernandez, who admits there aren’t many marathons left in his 68-year-old legs, really wanted to qualify this year: “I’m going to take it easy and have some fun with it.”

Well, as much fun as someone can have going up and down hills for 26.2 miles.

Of course, as many runners contend, crossing the finish line is the easy part of being a marathoner.

Getting to the starting line? That’s another story — or in this case, five stories.

A lifelong battler

Jason Parr’s life began with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.

Major surgeries removed parts of his colon and large intestine. He was diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy, and his parents were told he would suffer from lifelong learning disabilities. Parr didn’t start walking until he was 21/2 years old.

But the doctors were wrong. And thanks to the support of a teacher years later, Parr took part in his first mile race in the fifth grade. He won.

“The light went on in my head,” Parr said. “From that time on, I found my love of running.”

Parr, 32, lives in Kansas City and teaches at Union Chapel Elementary in the Park Hill School District. No surprise: He also helps coach track and cross country at Park Hill High School.

He is scheduled to start Monday in the fastest wave of runners.

But he won’t be racing for personal glory.

Parr is one of a few dozen people from around the country named to help Team Hoyt in 2014. It’s made up of Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick, who has cerebral palsy.

Hoyt has pushed his son in a wheelchair over the Boston Marathon course for more than 30 years. Their efforts have helped raise funds and generated national attention to show that people with disabilities can become active and valuable members of a community.

Parr’s life story helped get him on Team Hoyt, and he pledged to raise $1,750 for the cause. Then, on a recent Friday morning, he walked into the Union Chapel gym and found a big surprise. Several hundred children, parents and teachers gave him a check for $3,000, which propelled him far past his goal.

“What a privilege it is to be part of history,” Parr said, noting that this is Team Hoyt’s last scheduled time to be at the Boston Marathon. Dick is now 73.

Said Parr, “I’m pretty pumped about all this.”

A prodigious fundraiser

His first marathon humbled Jeff Maher. But it didn’t stop him from enjoying the sport of running.

And because the boisterous 47-year-old from Overland Park persevered, a Boston-based early education group called Jumpstart soon will be $50,000 richer.

Maher said he decided in 2007 to “challenge himself” by running the Chicago Marathon. He struggled to finish the heat-plagued race in 6 hours and 14 minutes. And while he got better the next few years, Maher couldn’t attain the qualifying time to run in Boston.

Before the 2011 marathon, Maher noticed an online solicitation to help Jumpstart, which trains mostly young people to teach language and literacy skills to preschoolers in low-income neighborhoods in cities around the country. The Boston Marathon each year allows selected charities to give bibs to runners in return for their pledges to raise money for the groups.

Maher, who works in financial services, vowed to collect more than the required amount that year. He succeeded.

“It was such an awesome experience,” he said. “For weeks, I was on cloud nine.”

Jumpstart officials noticed his prodigious fundraising and gave him bibs the next few years. Maher used his connections and people skills to end up as Jumpstart’s third highest fundraiser nationally in the 2013 Boston Marathon.

Something else happened along the way: Maher got a lot better at running, thanks partly to help from a coach assisting the Jumpstart team. In fact, Maher qualified for Monday’s race with a 3-hour, 13-minute marathon — half his initial sluggish pace in Chicago.

But after the bombings, and even though he didn’t need a charity bib in 2014, Maher decided to try to raise $8,000 more to push his four-year total past $50,000. And he’s on track to do just that.

“He’s an amazing guy to have on our team,” said Jumpstart official Caitlin Furcillo.

A welcome returner

When Ali Hatfield Mohsen crossed the Boston Marathon finish line in 2013, she was smiling and holding high the hands of two best friends.

But moments later, after the bombs maimed people near that same spot, Mohsen, 27, now admits she told herself afterward, “I never want to do that again.”

Of course, she wasn’t a quitter. Mohsen eventually got back on the trails, track and roads to train for last fall’s New York City Marathon. She had the race of her life, finishing quickly enough to qualify for the 2015 Boston Marathon. But it was past the deadline for entering the special 2014 Boston event.

Then came a wonderful surprise.

Boston Marathon sponsors sent an email in November offering a limited number of invitational entries to people affected by the 2013 bombings. Thousands submitted essays trying to win the coveted bibs.

Part of Mohsen’s entry read: “I think about Boston every single day. To this day when I hear a loud noise, my heart skips a beat and I have to fight off an anxiety attack. My Boston Marathon experience was stolen from me, just as it was for many other runners. And I want my chance at redemption on April 21, 2014!”

Just 450 people nationwide and only two in the Kansas City area nabbed the special entries, including an overjoyed Mohsen.

On Monday — after a whirlwind last few months of taking a new job as a project manager, getting married and moving into a new house — Mohsen will have another chance to cross Boston’s finish line.

The day also marks her 28th birthday, and Mohsen said being in Boston is the perfect way to celebrate while she and others remember those hurt and killed in last year’s tragedy.

“Running the marathon is the easy part for me,” she said. “I know I love it now.”

A stroke victim

Marc Hardin has several reasons that Monday is a special date in his life — other than as the anniversary of the 2001 stroke he survived.

One of his daughters will be 19. Plus, Hardin will be competing in his eighth Boston Marathon.

Today, Hardin offers an extra firm handshake when he meets people, speaks with confidence of his ability to overcome his illness and works out with weights, a staple left over from his days as a state champion wrestler.

“I don’t run pretty because of my stroke, but I’m pretty fast for my age,” Hardin said.

In a Kansas City tradition, Hardin has participated in 32 straight Hospital Hill half marathons, including the one in 2001 where he could barely walk to keep his streak alive.

Running the 2014 Boston Marathon was never a maybe/maybe not proposition with Hardin.

“We want to support the people who lost limbs and were injured,” said the man who had to overcome his own illness to get to that special starting line in Hopkinton.

A cancer survivor

Bobby Fernandez thought he was suffering from a mild colon-related illness in his mid-50s when he visited a doctor in 2000.

In reality, he had kidney cancer.

Then came even worse news: Fernandez was told he could be dead in six months.

He didn’t like that gut punch of a prognosis. In recalling those days, the man who had run long distances for much of his life bemusedly said, “I was in super health — well, other than the cancer I had.”

Fortunately, Fernandez found specialists who removed one of his kidneys and much of his liver, saving his life. He has been cancer-free since 2010.

A retired airline mechanic at the old TWA/American Airlines overhaul base, the genial Fernandez feels fortunate to have the time and energy to run 75 miles or so a week (that’s not a misprint) and still be fast enough to qualify for Boston.

Monday’s race will be Fernandez’s 110th lifetime marathon, but he doesn’t plan to go all out. Instead, he will celebrate the day with spectators and other participants along the route.

Still, he quickly got competitive recently when discussing the faster training runs he enjoys with people half his age or less.

When he sometimes gets to the finish line first, Fernandez joked, he tells them to “go tell your friends Grandpa beat you today.”

After last year, special steps

36,000 runners are entered, the second largest number ever. That includes 5,000 prevented from finishing in 2013.

Runners can’t carry large water bottles or wear masks or bulky clothes.

Spectators can’t hold large signs and are discouraged from having handbags or backpacks.

Doubled from last year, more than 3,500 police officers will patrol the route. 100 additional security cameras will be watching.

Following their footsteps

Kansas Citians can electronically follow relatives, friends and co-workers during the Boston Marathon. A runner’s bib includes a chip that sends out the time it takes to reach certain points in the race. For alerts on smartphones, text the athlete’s bib number to 345678. Bib numbers are under “participant information” at


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