This Run’s for Paddy
By John Melican
This article first appeared in the July 1991 edition of the Runaround.
Like the race course over the hills from Hopkinton to Boston, my emotions were to take a roller coaster ride during the course of this race. Getting into the Boston Marathon didn’t just happen, but being in it definitely was a happening. There was magic in the air … spirited, smiling, helpful people. My entire family came, as well as my sisters, a brother and their children. Patriot’s Day, a holiday celebrated only in Massachusetts, includes reenactment of the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord and others, and a variety of ceremonies honoring heroes of past wars. There is even a monument to Civil War General Hooker, better known for his female entourage (hence the term hooker) than for his military achievements.
One member of the family not present was my brother Paddy, who is indeed a patriot (having fought in Viet Nam) and is again fighting for his life, this time against cancer. So it seemed particularly fitting to dedicate this race to him. In so doing, I set a goal of 3:15 – five minutes better than my personal record. Someone should have told me that Boston is not the place to try to better a record set in Albany.
The event of the day, of course, was THE MARATHON as Bostonians call it, being run for the 95th time. And THE MAN of the day was Johnny Kelley, 83 years old and running his 60th Boston Marathon, a record that may never be equaled. If felt I was part of history. A history that includes strange events such as: a train in 1907 cutting off the lead runners from the second pack; “Tarzan” Brown, a prior year’s winner leaving the lead pack in ’47 to swim in a lake; and Johnny Kelley himself, a three time winner, tripping over a dog in ’47, being picked up by the second of the three leaders only to have the third runner go on to win.
I was enjoying the race and crowds so much that before I knew it I found myself at mile 12, hearing the roar from the Wellesley College campus, a quarter mile away. What a rush it was for me to follow a runner carrying a three-foot American flag through an unbelievable tunnel of emotion and sound. At the half, I was four minutes ahead of my split time, just about a seven minute pace – my best ever. I remember thinking “Johnny Kelley, this race is made for you and me.”
Then the physical shock came. After 16 miles, mostly downhill, the course climbs 200 feet over a five-mile stretch, ultimately leading to the famed “Heartbreak Hill”. The hill got its name in ’36 when Kelley caught fading “Tarzan” Brown. In a gesture of friendly competition, Kelley patted Brown on the rear, spurring Brown on to win. Think about it, if some guy patted you on the butt, wouldn’t you run like hell?
The hills take their toll. By mile 24 there was nothing left but to gut it out. Each mile took considerably longer to complete. Mental games … the downtown skyline appeared close enough but, it seemed as the song goes, “the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-sliding away.” Having “THIS RUN’S FOR PADDY” on my shirt no longer served as just a means of connecting with the crowd, it became motivational, almost essential, especially when a guy stepped forward telling me “You will do it, you’ll do it for him.” Paddy had given me a guardian angel medal to carry in the race. It was given to him by our sister after he became ill. He felt if my legs were to get tired … I’d have wings to help carry me.
The medal apparently worked because near the finish, yet half in a daze, I could hear my name being called. Snapping me out of it were my son’s loud and distinctive words of encouragement. “Melican, move your ass.” I managed to move it into the chute at 3:15:44 and was given a finisher’s medal for my brother as well. A while later, I took out the small packet of sand from Saudi Arabia, which I had carried for “Big Al” Acunto, who was still serving in the Gulf war. Knowing that he would have liked to run, I had promised that if he sent me some Saudi sand, I would disperse it near the finish line. I did so ceremoniously, to the applause of my family, but to the dismay of onlookers who thought it was the ashes of some poor soul.
That evening, we raised our glasses in a toast to Paddy, who had the courage and determination to stay in the most important race of all. “HERE’S TO PADDY” … join me please.