CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – In one way or another, everyone who was in or around Boston during the week of April 15, 2013 was affected by the events that unfolded. Whether they were running the race, cheering from the sidelines, or watching the coverage from home, each and every person has a story to tell. Among those who were impacted are three members of the MIT Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) staff who are showing their support for the MIT community and MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was killed in the line of duty a few days after the bombing, by running the 2014 Boston Marathon as part of the MIT Strong team.
MIT Strong was formed in January when the Boston Athletic Association provided 25 invitational entries to establish the team. Those in the MIT community who had secured entries on their own also joined the team, bringing the total to 39 participants. Composed of undergraduate students, police officers, MIT staff, and everything in between, everyone in the group is running to raise money for the Sean A. Collier Memorial Fund. So far, the team has raised an impressive $138,025.18, which will go toward establishing the Collier Medal, an award given to individuals who demonstrate the values and character of Officer Collier.
On Marathon Monday, Jessica Rooney Gallagher, Tim Mertz, Stephanie Kloos, and the MIT Strong Team will join a sea of 36,000 runners at the starting line of this meaningful race.
Rooney Gallagher, who has worked as an Athletic Trainer at MIT for seven years, has a close relationship with the Boston Marathon and the events from last year. She ran it in 2010 and, for over a decade, she has volunteered her medical services at both the finish line and the medical tent in Copley Square. A family obligation last year prevented her from attending but, had she been there, she would have been 200 feet from the first explosion.
“I knew that I either wanted to run or volunteer in this year’s marathon on the day of the bombing,” she said. In the fall, she applied to run as part of a charity and did not get picked. She started training out of sheer hope that she would get picked in December and joined the November Project, a free fitness movement that was started in Boston and has now spread to 15 other cities all over the States, to help with her training. At the last minute, she was told about MIT Strong. “As soon as I heard, I was like ‘absolutely, I’m in. Where’s my application?’”
To raise the $4,000 that was required of each MIT Strong team member, Rooney Gallagher got creative. “For every $25 that was donated, I had the person pick one song that will go on my marathon playlist,” she said. “When that song comes on, I’ll think of the person who donated. It makes people feel connected to me on race day; it makes it personal.” Since joining the team, Rooney Gallagher has raised almost $5,800 through word of mouth, Facebook posts, and emails.
For Mertz, the Director of Recreational Sports, this will be an entirely new experience. He has done a number of races over the years, but purely for fun and never for time. And certainly not one that is 26.2 miles long. The decision to sign up for his first marathon, however, was not a difficult one to make. At 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, 2013, Mertz was awoken by a phone call from his staff saying that campus was on lockdown and that a number of people were being sheltered in the Zesiger Center. “I’ll never forget that moment,” he said. “I knew that something tragic had happened and that I absolutely needed to go.”
Although he was not told he had to return to campus, Mertz chose to make his way into Cambridge, the journey made longer due to all the chaos. Upon arriving in the Z Center, he joined staff and patrons, almost 100 people total, in the pool balcony, where everyone remained on lockdown until 3:00 a.m. “Nobody had any idea what was going on, but we knew it was something serious.” With police scanners on their phones and beds made out of yoga mats, the staff made coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone, sharing whatever information they had until it was safe to leave.
Upon hearing that MIT might receive bibs, Mertz was convinced to apply by Kloos and, before he knew it, his application had been accepted and he was committed to the team. “Every single one of us accidentally found ourselves involved in last year’s events,” he said. “All of us experienced something different and all of us have a different story to tell. I’m proud to be part of something bigger and to help raise funds for something that will forever impact campus and the MIT community.”
In mid-January, Mertz started training, going on increasingly longer runs by the river at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. by himself before showering and heading into work. The largest obstacle for him, he said, was the weather. “I’ve fallen on ice a handful of times,” he laughed. “It’s semi-embarrassing. It has always been difficult to train in the cold, but it hardens you. It gives you thicker skin and icicles on your beard. It makes you tougher.”
Kloos, the Fitness Director at MIT, was in the VIP stands at the finish line when the first bomb went off. “It was absolute chaos,” she said. “I knew right then that I either wanted to run in this year’s marathon or leave the city.” Upon hearing that the BAA was giving out 500 bibs to those affected by the bombings, Kloos had already made up her mind.
When told about MIT Strong by Tom Gearty, who works in Resource Development at MIT and is also running the marathon with the team, that made her choice all the more clear. “MIT Strong represents how this community came together after everything that happened last year in memory of Officer Collier. It is such a personal thing this year and I knew I had to be part of it.”
Back in 2006, Kloos started running “because everyone else ran and it was a good way to meet people.” Her first Boston Marathon was in 2011, when she joined the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge to run for R.J. Lipsky, the Fitness Director at MIT preceding her who passed away from cancer in 2010. She was already training with the L Street Running Club based in South Boston when she decided to join MIT Strong, so she split her training between the two groups. Since joining MIT Strong, she has taken on a handful of leadership roles, including giving training advice, maintaining a nutrition blog, and coordinating long runs.
Although all three DAPER staff members have different stories and varying reasons for wanting to run this year’s marathon, they are all running to support their city and raise money in Officer Collier’s memory. Even if you cannot cheer Rooney Gallagher, Mertz and Kloos on in person on race day, you can track their progress here and receive text updates throughout the Marathon. All you need to know is their bib number (Rooney Gallagher - 29612; Mertz - 29564; Kloos - 27919). To help MIT Strong reach its goal of $142,600, click here to either sponsor an individual runner or the team as a whole.
MIT Strong homepage - http://mitstrong.mit.edu