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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis staff run emotional marathon in honor of cousin

Published: April 25, 2014
Section: Front Page, News

Despite high temperatures, high stakes and limited experience with extensive running, Brandeis athletics staff members Breda O’Connor and Matt Callahan finished this year’s Boston Marathon with smiles on their faces.

That’s because Marc Fucarile, Callahan’s cousin and victim of last year’s bombings, was waiting for them at the finish line.

“The highlight … was seeing Marc about 100 yards from the finish line. I can’t imagine what it was like for him to return to the marathon finish line … I ran over to him and gave him the biggest hug,” said O’Connor, who is Callahan’s girlfriend.

O’Connor works at Brandeis as the assistant swimming and diving coach and aquatics director. Callahan is the club sports coordinator.

It was Marc Fucarile‘s story that inspired O’Connor and Callahan to run a grueling 26.2 miles.
“On April 15, 2013, my cousin Marc Fucarile was standing in front of the Forum Bar and Restaurant with a group of friends from his hometown, Stoneham, MA, when the second bomb went off. Marc lost his right leg, broke his left leg and ankle, suffered burns all over his body and had shrapnel all throughout his body,” said Callahan. Fucarile was actually the last survivor to leave the hospital following the attacks—he spent 45 days at Mass General Hospital and another 55 days at Spaulding rehab.

“The doctors are still fighting to save his left leg, which has been an ongoing battle,” said O’Connor. “The money he received from the One Fund is locked up in a trust and goes directly to medical bills—the money we raised will assist in that, but also be used for his daily life and to support his family. He is out of work, and (his new bride!) Jen, has had to put her job on hold to take care of Marc and their son, Gavin.”

O’Connor had met Marc before at a family gathering, and heard about the struggles his family was enduring. She did not feel comfortable doing nothing—she felt she had to act. She came up with a campaign called “Miles for Marc.”

“I knew by running we could raise awareness of Marc’s story as well money for his ongoing medical bills. Running the marathon was also a tangible way to take back the finish line and our city from last year’s bombings. Back in October, I told Matt that I was going to run and we should form a team of family and friends,” O’Connor said.

While O’Connor had always dreamed about running a marathon, Callahan had never really been interested.

“To be honest, I really had no interest in running a marathon until my cousin was injured in last year’s events. I don’t have a running background; I never ran track or cross-country. I played soccer and lacrosse growing up and eventually played soccer here at Brandeis University,” Callahan said. While O’Connor recalls enjoying running, she had never run more than six miles at a time.

“My family always watches from Mile 21, so I was familiar with the grueling hills of Newton and sense of accomplishment to complete Boston. I ran track in high school and participate in 5Ks on a regular basis, but really don’t have too much ‘true’ running experience,” she said in an interview with The Hoot.

The pair’s previous lack of training was a huge obstacle they had to overcome.

“[It was] hard … especially with the winter we had!” said O’Connor. “We were very fortunate to work closely with our fitness coordinator, Kat Page, as well as our track coach Sinead Evans, who both were very helpful in setting our training schedule and giving us advice along the way. Training took up a lot of time; whether it was early morning runs or three-hour long runs on the weekend … it was definitely a learning experience,” she said.

For the actual day of the race, April 21, both O’Connor and Callahan had one central word to describe the experience: emotional.

“Race day was one of the most fun experiences of my life, combined with the toughest. There are hundreds of thousands of people screaming your name, ‘Go Miles for Marc,’ and other inspiring things the entire way, all the while you are physically and mentally drained,” said O’Connor.

For Callahan, running the marathon was harder than expected. “I felt great on my longer runs of 15- and 18-plus miles during my last couple weeks of training. But on Monday, the high temperature got to me … My right hip, groin and calf started to cramp around mile 16. But we finished!” he said.

To date, the Miles for Marc team has raised $20,000. Brandeis students, faculty and staff contributed funds to the effort and were there to support the pair throughout their journey.

“They have shared Marc’s story on social media and forwarded along our fundraising page to their networks. The Brandeis community also showed up to cheer us on on the day of the marathon. We saw many student athletes and members of the athletics staff scattered throughout the course,” said Callahan.