Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Magic on Heartbreak Hill

It was another grey and chilly day in November in Boston. Tom and Ruth Anne are training for the Bill Rodgers Somerville Jingle Bell 5K happening in a few weeks. I'm in my off season and continue to recover from a fall I had in late September.

"Why don't we go to Heartbreak Hill?" I suggested for our Sunday morning run.

It was a unanimous "Yes" from Team McManus.

From "The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953:"
Two weeks before our first run on Heartbreak Hill, we returned from Puerto Rico, after a brief hiatus from the never ending brutal New England cold weather. On the plane ride home, we met Tom Kelley and his wife, Dottie. We shared the story of Team McManus not knowing the names of the people with whom we shared pleasant conversation to pass the time on the flight back to a snowstorm in Boston.

“Hi there…my name is Tom Kelley. My uncle was Johnny Kelley.”

“I’m Dottie.” “It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Johnny Kelley” I thought to myself. “As in the Johnny Kelley. Olympian and Boston Marathon champion through the decades?!”

Dottie shared with me that Tommy lives with Parkinson’s Disease but he keeps on running as best he can. Running is his therapy. She asked for our mailing address. They had something they wanted to send to us. I had goosebumps all over.

As we parted ways heading to baggage claim, Dottie said, ‘Good luck with the rest of your training! Come see us at the Expo at Packet Pick up. Remember, Johnny will be watching over you.”

“Thank you. Get home safely and we’ll definitely come see you at Packet Pick Up. You sure made my day!” I said with a broad smile and a full heart.

A week later a package came in the mail with a note written in Dottie’s perfect cursive handwriting dictated by Tommy:

This is a poster created by Adidas for the 2004 BAA Marathon. I had Johnny sign a few when we roomed together at the Copley Plaza that week, and I know he would have gladly signed one for your family if he were here. Perhaps it will inspire you to run a good race, especially the last 6 miles. Johnny was an inspiration to many of us amateur runners and he lives on in the memories of countless runners. You can get a copy of his book Young at Heart on Amazon I believe. You'll note that his forefathers came over to the USA on the SS Marathon!!! Keep on running as I do. We loved your website and maybe some day we can meet again.

I always feel Johnny's presence on Heartbreak Hill, especially when we are running the part of Heartbreak Hill that has his statue:

There were a few runners out on Heartbreak Hill. It's the calm before the storm when runners training for the 2020 Boston Marathon will be out running in droves.

I enjoyed the quiet and solitude and thought back to our 2009 Boston Marathon run.

From 'The Adventures of Runnergirl 1953':
After turning from Route 16 to Commonwealth Avenue, I looked for my friends, the Reillys in front of the famous fire station. I thought that perhaps with the cold and wind and their two little ones, they needed to go home. Shortly after we turned onto Commonwealth Avenue to begin our ascent through the famed hills, Sharon called me on my cell phone. Everyone on Twitter was frantic because we could not be tracked. As one of my dear friends, Nicole Shuman said, God works in creative ways. Sharon got on Twitter and messaged my friend Nicole to let her know we were almost at mile 20 and going strong.

At mile 20, we saw Domenick just as he had promised us. He had tears in his eyes as he embraced Team McManus.

He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “You're gonna qualify - go finish. I'm so proud of you.”

In 2009 if you ran the Boston Marathon in under 8 hours as a mobility impaired runner, you qualified to run Boston again.

My cell phone rang. It was Janine checking in with us. As I saw her in the distance standing atop one of the inclines on Heartbreak Hill with her Spaulding Rehab t-shirt and a white long sleeve shirt underneath, I saw an angel who was going to take us to the finish line.

“I’m amazed at how great you guys look,” she said.

“We went out slowly and ran steady so we could finish. But I’m sorry about the pace….”

She cut me off and said, “Did you know that the guy who won last year had to be taken off the course? You need to leave those thoughts and all of your baggage out on the roads. Just look at how great you are doing!”

At Cleveland Circle, my son, and Johannes Hirnes, a BU photojournalism grad student were patiently waiting for us to come down Chestnut Hill Avenue. Johannes was given the assignment to capture someone’s Boston Marathon journey. He inquired at Brookline Marathon Sports if they knew of anyone who would make a good story and they told him about us. He followed us on our last training run and throughout the day on Marathon Monday.

As we crossed to the Dunkin' Donuts on Beacon Street, our neighbors were waiting with a sign to cheer us on to the finish.

From "Feel the Heal: An Anthology of Poems to Heal Your Life:"

Ode to Marathon Training

Blisters, black toes, aches and pains, a change in my routine
Long training runs, the hills, the sprints running clothes fresh and clean.
Carbo load and plan each meal power gels and gatorade
no matter what the weather no time to be afraid.
Humid - hot or freezing cold snow against the face
wind or sun or raining those running shoes I must lace.
What mile is this how long we been out check heart rate drink H20
meltdowns joys and triumphs only a few more weeks to go.
Heartbreak Hill won't break my heart this year has been the best
found myself and made new friends I feel incredibly blessed.

Tom and Ruth Anne drew me out of my reverie as they caught up with me on their tempo run. I was thrilled we met up just before the Johnny Kelly statue so we could take our selfie:

We all agreed that Sunday's run was the best run we had in a very long time. They were exhilarated, as I was, remembering our training runs on Heartbreak Hill and the exhilaration of taking that turn onto Commonwealth Avenue on Marathon Monday.

We look forward to many more runs there this Winter and Spring. As the sun shines brightly through the bare trees, there is a warmth that blankets Heartbreak Hill. It is my favorite spot to watch the seasons transform from Winter to Spring and to feel the rush of anticipation for the 2020 Boston Marathon.

There IS magic on Heartbreak Hill.

To your health and wellness
From my heart to yours

You can read all about my journey of transformation from the diagnosis of Post-Polio Syndrome to the finish line of the 2009 Boston Marathon and beyond in my Trilogy of Transformation available on Amazon and feel the heal in my anthology of inspirational poetry.

Be sure to visit my website at to learn more about my inspirational journey and for healing resources.

Kendra Petrone and I talked about my healing journey before the 2019 Boston Marathon on her award winning Exceptional Women Show. Listen by following this link.

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