Two paths to Boston, but the same finish line

UWM marathoners find tears, triumphs in Boston

UWM marathoners Helaine Hixson and Caroline Mosley share a moment before the start of their race.

UWM marathoners Helaine Hickson (left) and Caroline Mosley share a moment before the start of  the Boston Marathon.

One UWM staff member returned to the Boston Marathon Monday after being just blocks away from last year’s fatal bombings.

One UWM student ran the famous race for the first time.

Each was deeply moved by their experience.

In perhaps a fitting end to the first race run after the bombing at last year’s finish line, the 2014 Boston Marathon was won by an American runner for the first time in 30 years. Meb Keflezighi had won the New York City Marathon title in 2009 and a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics. On his bib were the names of the 2013 bombing victims. “The Star-Spangled Banner” played over the finish line at Boylston Street in his honor.

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Notes of encouragement and remembrance – and even running shoes – were on display at the Marathon Memorial in the Boston Public Library.

The race, the world’s oldest annually run marathon, drew a crowd of one million people, twice the usual number, and featured 36,000 athletes, 9,000 more than usual. Press reports indicated that twice as many law enforcement officials patrolled the racecourse, a clear response to the bombing in 2013, which took the lives of three people and injured more than 260.

This was Helaine Hickson’s third consecutive Boston Marathon, and she approached it with some concern. “I had a reversal of emotions this time around,” said Hickson, communications and operations program manager for UWM Strategic Planning & BP2W (Best Place to Work). “Last year, it was elation and happiness at the finish line for a little while before the crushing, horrific realization of what had happened. This year I was anxious and still experiencing some grief as I arrived in Boston.”

For Caroline Mosley, a graduate student in the School of Freshwater Sciences, the excitement of the race and camaraderie of the runners tended to overshadow everything else.

“The race was incredibly hard, but it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. There was this sense of coming together, and the sense of community was off the charts,” she said.

Hickson said she was also aware of UWM alumni and many others from Milwaukee in the race.

Both runners said security along the race route and at the finish line was pervasive, but not overwhelming. For the first time, Hickson said she saw military personnel in flak jackets standing guard. The number of security checkpoints was much higher than last year.

Hickson described “the most emotional part of being there” – a scene at the Boston Public Library, near the finish line. There were notes and letters from around the world as well as items found after last year’s race, including shoes, shirts and stuffed animals.

Boston was only Mosley’s third marathon race since she started running long distances in 2011, and she found the course’s hilly layout to be grueling. The West Bend native was heartened by the presence in the crowd of her parents and brother.

Hickson ran her best Boston race by a margin of 18 seconds. That paled in comparison to what she witnessed.

“By the time I left Boston, I – along with thousands of other runners – had the privilege of seeing personal triumphs everywhere. Amputees crossing the finish line, people being carried across the line, elation, tears of happiness. It become much more than the ‘happiest marathon on earth.’ ”