BACK IN ACTION
The last time Bud Napolio competed in a marathon, Ronald Reagan was president, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” was on the radio, and Joe Montana and the 49ers were savoring their victory against Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.
A lot has happened since 1985, but when the 52-year-old Napolio witnessed the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, that nearly three-decade hiatus seemed like a mere hiccup.
“I pretty much made up my mind immediately that I wanted to compete in the next Boston Marathon,” said Napolio, who lives in Bernal Heights. “I felt that there was no better way to show my support for the Boston community than by coming back and running.”
Before he could compete in one of the country’s most prestigious marathons, Napolio had to qualify. Despite his lengthy break from competitive distance running, Napolio completed the Santa Rosa Marathon in 3 hours, 27 minutes, good enough to earn him a spot in the Boston race.
Napolio expects the marathon to take on significant meaning for him. His son, who lives in Boston but was on a flight home during the bombing last year, will be there rooting him on. It mirrors the situation in 1985, when Napolio’s father cheered for him from the sidelines.
“The fans at the Boston Marathon are the most supportive and inspiring in the world,” Napolio said. “And to know that my son will be out there with them, cheering me on, just makes this race all the more special for me.”
A SALUTE TO BOSTON
After all the confusion and chaos had simmered down following last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, Garry Payten wandered by one of the event’s many vendors and noticed she had tears streaming down her face.
“I saw this woman who was obviously distraught by everything that happened, and I told her right there, ‘I’m coming back, I’m not going to let these people ruin my experience,’” said Payten, a London native who has lived in San Francisco for 32 years. “And she looked at me and smiled and said, ‘Please do that.’”
Payten competed in his first Boston Marathon last year, finishing about 30 minutes before Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev allegedly set off a series of pipe bombs that killed three people and injured hundreds more.
Payten said he was driven to return to the race by witnessing the resiliency of the Boston community.
“You know, I was able to go home and kind of lick my wounds after this happened,” Payten said. “They had to stay there and deal with this very traumatic experience. Coming back and competing in this race is my way of showing my appreciation for all they’ve been through.”
Even one year later, Elizabeth Pederson of San Francisco still needs to compose herself when thinking about her inspiration for running in this year’s Boston Marathon.
Pederson, who finished just minutes before the bombs went off in the 2013 event, had no intention of returning to Boston to compete in another marathon. But then she heard about the story of 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest fatality in the bombing. In a devastatingly prescient photo taken before the incident, Richard is seen holding up a handmade poster declaring, “No more hurting people. Peace.”
“I was just deeply touched by his message,” said Pederson, who will run as part of Team MR8, a charity group dedicated to Richard’s memory. “I thought that running in the marathon again could be a very cathartic event that could show the solidarity and patriotism of the people in this country.”
Pederson was so sore that she could barely move after finishing last year’s race. But as she walked back toward her hotel room, she helped find water for those who needed it and lent out her cellphone to another runner trying to contact her family.
Pederson wasn’t alone in providing comfort and support following the race. Inspired by the heroism of so many others, she started a website called www.kindthis.com, where people are encouraged to perform selfless acts in the memories of those who died in Boston.
STANDING UP FOR RUNNERS
Having already completed two Boston Marathons and currently recovering from surgery on his Achilles tendon, Octavio Gutierrez really has nothing to prove by participating in this year’s competition. Gutierrez, who has finished 16 marathons in his racing career, said his main goal this time is merely to finish the Boston Marathon.
But despite his nagging injuries, Gutierrez — who is the head coach of the San Francisco Road Runners Club, a local group that trains together for marathons and other long-distance races — is approaching this year’s race with reinforced purpose.
“This is about taking back the biggest event in the world for runners,” said Gutierrez, an Oakland resident who works in San Francisco as an architect. “The Boston Marathon is our Super Bowl. If we show up in huge numbers for this year’s race, we’ll make this event about the runners once again, which is very important.”
Gutierrez, who missed last year’s race, will lead a contingent of 18 to 20 competitors from the Road Runners Club.
“I think we’re all very proud to be back in Boston,” Gutierrez said. “Obviously, Boston is always huge for us. But the circumstances surrounding last year’s race make it about something even bigger.”