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Ashway: Running Boston against all odds
Denton Ashway

Happy Patriots’ Day!

Several states set aside the third Monday in April to commemorate the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Menotomy. At those sites on April 19, 1775, brave colonists took up arms against the Redcoats. The ultimate result became freedom from the yoke of British tyranny.

No state celebrates Patriots’ Day like Massachusetts. It became the first state to adopt the holiday, back in 1894. The Red Sox always play an early game at Fenway Park.

Patriots’ Day also features the running of the Boston Marathon. Well, usually. The race was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic. The 2021 race finally got underway in October.

Among my earliest memories is being perched on the shoulders of my Uncle Chick watching the waves of runners passing by to the cheers of encouragement from the crowd lining the street. Perhaps the seeds of my love of running were sown then.

Sadly, the most memorable Boston race occurred in 2013, when bombs were detonated near the finish line.

Adrianne Haslet remembers. Vividly.

Haslet, a 32-year-old ballroom dancer and decidedly not a runner, had walked over to Boylston Street to watch the finish. She was hoping to determine why on earth anyone would want to run 26.2 miles. She was there when the first bomb went off.

When the second one hit, “I was on the ground, and I saw my foot was gone immediately,” Haslet told Cindy Boren of the Washington Post. “During the trial, I saw footage of myself walking along that same route, and the monster, whose name I never say, and I were almost shoulder to shoulder. He dropped the backpack and looked toward me and others and walked away.”

Her brothers ran Boston the next year. As a coping mechanism, Haslet took up running. In 2016, she ran Boston herself. She finished dead last, in over 10 hours.

“For someone who was competitive, and always likes to be first, it was the best and most humbling and most awesome thing to come in dead last!” she told Boren. “I would never change that for anything, because I learned so much.”

She tried Boston again in 2018, but terrible weather prevented her from finishing. In January, 2019, there was more trauma.

“I had the right-of-way, and I had the crosswalk sign, and someone without lights was going about 40-miles-an-hour, and they struck me on my left leg,” she told Boren. “Because their bumper hit carbon fiber in my prosthetic leg, I flew almost four car lengths.

“I’m actually more disabled in my left arm by being hit by that car than I ever was by a terrorist. That was debilitating for me. I couldn’t wear my leg because I only had one arm to use to get it on.”

Incredibly, Haslet was still ready to run Boston last fall, but she rolled her good ankle.

In the meantime, she’s been an effective advocate for the expansion of Para Divisions in the race. Last fall, Boston became the first major marathon to offer prize money and awards for athletes with impairments.

On Monday morning, Haslet toed the starting line in Hopkinton at 9:50 with other leading para-athletes. Alongside Haslet was her support runner, trainer, coach, and friend, four-time Olympian and 2008 10,000-meter silver medalist, Shalane Flanagan.

“There is no place I would rather be than in Boston on Patriots’ Day and running the Boston freaking marathon next to my friend, Adrianne,” Flanagan wrote on Instagram. “I can’t predict what will happen on Monday, but I do know this, this will be the most emotional and meaningful marathon I ever run.

“The same sidewalk that Adrianne lost her leg in the 2013 bombings is the same sidewalk that I watched my father from [at age 17] and inspired me to become the runner I am ... and I know at this very spot on Boylston we will find the extra strength we need to finish strong.

“It is one thing to accomplish a goal that you’ve set out for yourself to achieve, but sometimes it feels even more special to get out there and help another accomplish theirs.”

Haslet took to Instagram with this message: “Throughout the years, she has lifted me up through setbacks, stood beside me in tragedy, and been a steadfast cheerleader. I still remember her message after I ran my first mile. After fighting hard to advocate for the new Para Division, it was Shalane that I was most excited to share the news with. We squealed and hugged with excitement and talked about inspiring others who looked like me.

“We hope our team inspires and educates the general public about Para Athletes. Who knows what little boys and girls will see us run by and think, ‘I can do that, too!’”