An Unlikely Family
By Valerie Reynolds - April 2007

After twelve Boston marathon finishes, one would think that the entire process would get a little routine by now. The enthusiasm experienced during that first trip to Beantown has definitely subsided but a new focus has emerged in the process. For me, Boston isn’t just about running a marathon. It is about experiencing “family”.
This concept has eluded me my whole life.  The word family to some conjures up images of relatives at the Thanksgiving table, or Christmas gift-giving or Easter picnics. Family is foreign to me. It is through my running that I came to understand family. Last time I was in the company of my grandparents on my father’s side I was a baby. My grandparents on my mother’s side I met too briefly to establish any memories. I never had brothers or sisters. I ended up living with a foster family when I was 17. My mother is still alive and somewhere…I prefer to keep it that way. Dealing with my circumstances as a child is one of the reasons I started running in the first place. My parents were divorced when I was two years old. My Dad and I reunited when I was 23. Forgiveness comes easily for me and I decided when we met, I would not carry any burdens, but start from scratch and build a relationship from there. We ran our first Boston marathon together in 1994. Every year, when I mention going to Boston, folks ask me “Are you going to see your Dad while you are there?” It is an odd situation that while he is my dad, he was never a dad to me. I don’t want pity….it just is, what it is. Family is something I have always wanted. However, I still consider myself “family-less”. It is interesting that many people spend their entire lives trying to get away from their family and I have always wanted one. How ironic is that?
It is through my running that I came to understand family. I think all those years when a person forms identities through being part of a family; I chose my family in the people I met through running. My family consists of members of the Peachtree City Running club, the Tri-PTC club, the Marathon Investment Group (which started from women members of the PTC running club), the Atlanta Track Club, and the people I meet at the marathons I participate it – especially the Boston marathon. I must be the luckiest person in the world because I get to pick my family.
So that leads me to this year’s Boston Marathon. For the first time ever, it ended up just me and my Dad. His wife didn’t go this year, my husband didn’t go either. It was the first time ever that I can remember that it was just me and my Dad. However, this year’s Boston experience wouldn’t be without its challenges either. A major storm was headed for New England. I arrived on Saturday, met him at the expo and afterward he took me to dinner - just the two of us. It was the first time I could remember having dinner with just my Dad. On Sunday, we went running in the sleet. We talked about running in cold wet weather. We perused an antique store as we both have an affinity for “old things”. We sat at a pizza place for lunch and just talked for over 2 hours. Meanwhile, the wind howled and it rained, then it poured down rain, then it rained some more. It was 2 jackets, wool gloves, a head/neck scarf and a raincoat cold. On race morning, Dad went with me to catch the bus that takes the runners to Hopkington. Getting off the train (The “T”) at the Boston Common, I very quickly noticed it wasn’t as cold or as wet as the day before.

Peachtree City had a rather small group this year but before Dad faded into the crowd, we managed to meet up with Bill Everage for the ride to Hopkington. Normally, I try to avoid all the chit chat on the bus. But these are Boston marathoners. I know these people. I know what they have been through to get here. They make up my Boston marathon family.
When we got to Hopkington, it really only rained lightly off and on. It looked like the land of the plastic bag people. Parts of Hopkington were just mud fields. It was warmer than the day before and less rainy. Deciding what to wear for the run, Bill and I both opted for the “less is better” approach and ended up with shorts, sleeveless tops and a jacket.
As we headed to the start corrals, it seemed to get warmer. All the hoopla about the weather and it was a perfectly glorious day for a marathon. 90 percent of the runners were overdressed. The mass of people created warmth and not long after the start, both Bill and I took our jackets off. We were both sleeveless in a sea of people dressed like they were headed to Antarctica. I also knew it gets colder closer to Boston. After about 7 miles, the jackets came back on. The temperature was perfect with very little rain; however the blustery wind was a bit chilly at times. The clothing choice was perfect.
The highlight of the race was watching Bill’s enthusiasm in running his first Boston Marathon. He went on to run his race. Me, I was just there as a participating spectator. I did a lot stopping and stretching an injured hamstring taking in all the sights and sounds. The crowds were thinner than normal. But I appreciated each and every person. They are my Boston marathon family. I count on them every year - the screaming, cheering girls at Wesley, the small home-made aid stations through the Newton Hills, the kids at Boston College. I noticed a couple getting married at the top of Heartbreak Hill. Even Dad was at the usual spot. I stopped and hugged and kissed him as I do every year. When I turned onto Boylston Street for the finish line, it was a familiar scene to me – just as grand and glorious as ever.
Afterward, we all reconnected – Dad, Bill E. and myself and shared our stories. Bill ran superbly. Boston will certainly be a positive memory for him. I have participated in the process with many first time Boston marathoners, and like family memories, these are wonderful memories for me as well. My Dad and I had a celebratory dinner and like every year, he headed back home to Agawam that night.
This year added a new element in that I spent the next day with my stepson Zach. It was a bit colder with more rain than race day. We toured Fanueil Hall, did some shopping, had lunch at “Dick’s Last Resort”. When it was time to go home, Zach took me to the airport.

As it turned out, the weather was not a factor for the marathon – the runners were lucky. The days before and after weren’t so good. However, the airport showed signs of weather-related chaos. My flight was delayed for 2 hours. But like my marathon finish….I got there. When I pulled into my long dark driveway at 11:30pm Tuesday night I was feeling like it had been a good trip. I went to run, not race and even though I fell far below some previous Boston marathon finish times, I was content. I saw my Dad and built some more memories. I saw another first-time Boston marathon runner complete his Boston experience. I got to spend a day with my college-age stepson and share some laughs. I felt truly blessed. When I opened the door of my home, my 5 four-legged friends were all there to greet me – tongues licking, 20 paws a-prancing, tails wagging, bouncing and wiggling. They didn’t care how I had run – good or bad. Their unconditional love emanated from their eyes as they looked into mine. At that moment, I realized I was home and my loving family was there to greet me.