A time for heroes

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:24 AM ET

BOSTON - Wrapped in her big Canadian flag for warmth, Kingston’s Pat Ambrose stood all morning on the descending slope of Heartbreak Hill waiting for son Kevin Coffey.

Pat and her sister Elizabeth of Ottawa chose this unusual spot, in part because neither doubted Kevin could beat one of the toughest stages of the 114th Boston Marathon and perhaps in belief the 23-year-old personal trainer has overcome enough heartbreak.

“Kevin was in a terrible bike riding accident as a 16-year-old,” Pat explained, over the din of cowbells and rock music coming from the crest of Commonwealth and Wachusett Ave. “There were life-threatening injuries. He played hockey and football and getting hurt cost him dream of going to university. But this was his goal, to qualify for his first Boston Marathon.”

With Chuck Norris-type T-shirts for the occasion that read “What Would Kevin Do?” Pat and Elizabeth’s flag attracted Milton, Ont.,-born Matt Price, a forward with Boston College’s NCAA champion hockey team, who came over from his residence to join the cheering on of 26,000 runners. When he came to BC as a freshman, Price and others didn’t know the world’s oldest road race went through their backyard, but now students hang out of every window, tree and even on top of each other along Commonwealth.

They were part of the 500,000 spectators who line the route from the town common in Hopkinton, Mass., through 26.2 miles and eight cities, ending at the Boston Public Library near Copley Square. The third Monday in April being the Patriots Day holiday in Massachusetts, there are Revolutionary War salutes held in conjunction with the race. Wearing Bruins and Red Sox hats, hundreds of U.S. troops with heavy packs walk the whole course, too, with wheelchair competitors zipping in and out of the field.

Everyone on the road gets a hearty reception, whether it comes from the beer-guzzling frat parties crowded on balconies, children and barking dogs or elderly ladies at the front window of their colonial homes.

Marathons are often the butt of jokes — “What’s to see?”, Jerry Seinfeld teased, “a Kenyan man, a Norwegian woman and 10,000 losers”—but blink and you’ll miss the leaders of the pack, even flying up Heartbreak Hill. That’s at Mile 20 in Wellesley where Johnny Kelly passed a wheezing Tarzan Brown in 1936, tapping him on the shoulder to rub it in. Tarzan went ape, found his second win and roared past Kelly, whose heartbreak‚ became history.

But this killer knoll is still the bane of the field, a late climb after a misleading downward trend that sucks the last of muscle glycogen stores from the ill-prepared. But as repeat men’s winner Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot of Kenya and women’s champ Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia went up and down the all four Newton Hills with ease, the line of hospital cots and ambulances were empty for the moment.

Great American hope Ryan Hall came fourth, but was well into the spirit of the day, taking a little time to banter with fans near the end and rub the bald head of fellow Yank Meb Keflezighi as they passed, even though the hi-jinks cost him a bit of time.

“Once I saw the TV helicopters go (following Cheruiyot) I figured they weren’t coming back for me,” Hall joked.

With technological advances, runners were able to send their split times to friends and family on cell phones, but with so many look-a-likes in shorts and bibs, it was hard to locate loved ones and vice versa. “Gran is fine, keep going” read one sign near the end. Some runners had shirts honouring deceased loved ones or pictures of their kids, others wrote their names across each arm in big, black blots for easier ID.

The Kirby family of Mississauga fanned out along the route to encourage Sean, with his Mom Jean at the end, hoping he’d beat three hours in his first try here. The first wave reaches downtown around the time the Red Sox game at nearby Fenway ends, with the first pitch always at 11 a.m. on Marathon Monday.

Cheruiyot won and broke the course record with a time of two hours, five minutes, 52 seconds, which was 82 seconds better than Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot, who is no relation. Each winner earned $150,000 US, Cheruiyot an extra $25,000 for his record.

But the memories for runners and spectators are like gold.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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