BOSTON — "I need to run."
The messages started arriving just hours after the bombings at last year's Boston Marathon, pleading for an entry into the 2014 race. For months the calls and emails continued, runners begging for an opportunity to cross the finish line on Boylston Street, convinced it would ease at least some of their grief.
"They'd say, 'I'm not a qualified runner; I don't think I ever will be. I train. I run. I could do it. But because of what happened last year, I need to run,' " Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk said.
"It might have been because they were present at the finish or they knew somebody who was working or was affected. They might have been somebody who lives in Haverhill, Mass., and they were watching the race and it hit them hard. That was true for a lot of people. And we received some of these communications, and we thought, 'What do we do?' "
The Boston Athletic Association had already expanded this year's field to include more than 5,000 runners who were stranded on the course when the two explosions killed three and wounded 264. A few extra invitations were issued to first responders and the victims or their families. Others went to charities and the towns along the route. Some who said they were personally touched by the tragedy were already given bibs.
But organizers believed they might still have been missing people who perhaps didn't think their trauma was worthy amid all the lost limbs and physical scars. So in November they announced that about 500 bibs would be available for those "personally and profoundly impacted by the events of April 15, 2013."
In 250-word essays submitted on the Boston Athletic Association's website, 1,199 would-be runners made their case. Almost 600 had the connection the association was looking for.
One was Adrienne Wald , a UMass-Boston nursing professor who had run the race five times and was a finish-line volunteer with some of her students last year.
"I made them read articles about hypothermia, blisters, cramps. And instead they were carrying people with tourniquets around their legs and horrific injuries," Wald said. "I was worried they were going to change their majors. Instead they came into my office: 'I'm going to be an E.R. nurse now.' 'I'm going to work in trauma.' They saw role models that day coming out of the medical tent acting like the top pros that they are."
None of Wald's students was injured. But another UMass-Boston student, Krystle Campbell, was killed. Wald received bib No. 24741 and was hoping to run in Campbell's memory, but the injury that kept her from running last year could put her back on the sweep team with her students.
"Running would probably be the dumbest thing I ever do. But it's going to be really hard not to," she said. "If I can't run it, I am beyond happy, honored to help other people reach their goals."