Thursday, May 1, 2014

Meet Maureen Jones: "I Just Wanted to Show My Gratitude"

I could feel her intention in the carefully and lovingly prepared message she handed to us, as I shared in yesterday's blog A Marathon Moment To Last a Lifetime.

But I had no idea who she was, or the story behind this random act of kindness.

"I'll page her and she'll pick up," the operator at the Mayo Clinic told me after she responded to what I'm sure she thought was a rather odd inquiry: "Does Maureen Jones still work here and did she run the Boston Marathon this year?"

"Hello, this is Maureen."

"Hi Maureen. My name is Mary McManus. You handed us a thank you note at the Marathon. I looked up your Bib number, googled you and just had to find out the story behind your beautiful gesture."

We shared tears and laughter during our 30+ minute phone conversation. We felt like we had known each other all our lives.

Maureen was running the Boston Marathon in 2013. She knew she wasn't going to qualify but still kept up her pace. If she hadn't, she would have been crossing the finish line as the bombs went off. When she arrived home she was heartbroken as you can see in this news clip which includes her interview the day after 4/15/13: Local Runners Returning to Boston Marathon

As she wrote to me in an email:
When they evacuated the gear bus area where I was when the bombs went off, I wasn't sure what exactly was going on right away, but eventually I felt a whole host of emotions including guilt that my family and I were OK and others were killed or injured. I also wished I could have aided all of the fallen given my medical background, but they asked us to leave the area so I felt sadness and guilt that I couldn't help at the finish line. There were many post-traumatic emotions including: crying often, loss of sleep, fear of loud noises, fear of people with backpacks, images of the suspects...and the BAA kindly sent us several kind emails about these very issues we might all be having.

She ran 3 marathons in 10 weeks to get requalified for Boston. Even though she qualified, she missed the cutoff for entry by 20 seconds. She knew she had to find a way to run Boston. It's a part of her family's tradition and after the events of 4/15/13, she knew what running Boston 2014 would mean to her, to her family and to the City of Boston.

There was a contest she spied on Facebook by Powerbar and the BAA to write an essay for those who qualified for Boston but missed the cutoff when they applied for their bib number. Unfortunately she missed the deadline. She did however vote every day for her friend's essay.

She saw another post about the BAA asking for essays from runners (excerpted from 2014 Boston Marathon makes room for those affected by bombs)

But organizers felt they might still be missing people, people who perhaps didn't think their trauma was worthy amid all the lost limbs and physical scars. So, in November, they announced that about 500 bibs would be available for those "personally and profoundly impacted by the events of April 15, 2013."

In 500-word essays submitted over the website, 1,199 would-be runners made their case. Almost 600 had the connection the B.A.A. was looking for.

As Maureen told me:

"It was a 500 word and 1500 character limit essay. I used the theme of a roller coaster sharing my experiences and why I wanted to return to Boston to run. When I pushed send, it moved all of my centered unpunctuated lines with thoughts separated by a backslash up to fill in all of the spaces so it was a jumbled up mess on my screen with no chance to edit. It was in God 's hands."

On Thanksgiving, she went to Chicago to be with her family. They did a Turkey Trot in the morning and then she received the email from the BAA. She was afraid to open it thinking that it would be a repeat of what happened when she submitted her qualifying time. Instead she was told that she had been granted an invitational entry to the 2014 Boston Marathon.

At the Expo, her friend overheard someone talking about making cards to give to the fans thanking them for coming out to cheer them on. Maureen did not have her business cards with her which she could have used to write a note and hand them out to the fans.

Maureen told me there is a family tradition of playing cards to relax the night before the Marathon. She loves to play cards but Maureen opted to forego the card game and instead went into her brother's room to make thank you notes to hand out to the fans.

Here is a photo of Maureen at bib pick up at the Expo:

She made the T shirt she is wearing and made them for the members of her support crew to wear on Marathon Monday so she could spot them in the crowd. "We all run together." She had the names of Krystle, Lingzu, Martin and Sean on the t shirts. On race day, she wrote each of their names on the four fingers of her left hand and on her thumb a heart Boston. She would see their names every time she checked her watch.

Her brother brought mailing tape for them to use on their pace bracelet. She ripped pieces of computer paper and hand wrote her message on 8 pieces of paper. She didn't have scissors with her and went to the hotel lobby using the hotel's scissors to finish her notes. She carefully wrapped each one with mailing tape.

"I wish I could have made a million of them to thank each of the spectators for coming out." "Were you with children?


"Well I gave the last one to some guy holding a Meb Won sign. I had them in my pocket and I knew I was getting close to the finish line. I wanted to spread them out along the course."

"Oh my God - that was us. I thought you chose us because we were wearing Spaulding Rehab t shirts that said Find Your Strength."

"You were the only adults that I gave one to. I wanted to give something to the kids along the route who are there to hand out water and snacks to the runners. They weren't expecting anything back and so they dropped their notes on the ground. I'm hoping that their parents picked them up. You are the only one who contacted me. I left my bib number on it in case the people would want to find out if I finished and what my finish time was. But I don't remember your t shirts."

"It was a rough run for me with the heat and all. At mile 19, I saw a woman holding a sign that said, "Meb Won - Really!" I was so excited but there was no one who was excited with me. After I passed her I thought that I should have given her my last thank you note for making that sign.

"And then I saw the man with the Meb Won sign. Where were you again?"

"We were just before mile 23 on Beacon Street."

"I remember because I knew I was getting close."

We all got excited when Maureen saw our sign. She stopped, reached into her pocket and said "Here this is for you."

I now recall that Maureen had handed the note first to my husband and then he passed it along to me. We both looked at each other and thought wow that is really thoughtful. I put it in my pocket and didn't think much about it until yesterday morning when I knew I had to blog about it... and then Spirit moved me to see if I could find Maureen #23513 to get the story behind one of my most treasured marathon souvenirs.

Maureen is a physical therapist who has worked at the Mayo Clinic for over 20 years. I shared with her my journey with post polio syndrome which she was familiar with through her work. I told her that if I could have, I would have run Boston for Spaulding this year but knew it wasn't right for my body. I embraced my role in #supportcrew and knew how important the spectators are to the runners especially in Boston. But receiving that 4" x 1" thank you note from Maureen touched my heart more than words can say to know how one runner from Rochester, Minnesota said to me, "I did it because I just wanted to show my gratitude."

As she said in the ABC news piece:

"Our hats go off to Boston for being such a great city and never giving up on what they believe in."

My hat goes off to you Maureen for never giving up and running Boston 2014. I look forward to spending time with you whenever you return to our City and certainly cheering you on again next year.

Maureen told me that she has always felt a special connection to Boston. This was her 7th Boston Marathon and her 24th race. She said that she has started a new tradition of thanking the fans. She'll never forget what happened here, but rather than dwell in the pain or anger, she offers up prayers for Boston, for Newtown and for those recently affected by natural or man made disasters. And she opens her heart with an expression of gratitude to all who gather together in strength, resilience and the courage to move forward.

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