Rachel Mathewson ’01 gives a peace sign while competing in the Boston Marathon in April. She ran the marathon for a charity that honors the memory of the youngest victim of the 2013 bombing at the marathon.
“Heartbreak Hill” is one of the most notorious hills for America’s major marathon runners. Although it is not extremely steep, it comes 20 miles into the Boston Marathon, when runners are dealing with worn legs and depleted energy levels. Rachel Mathewson ’01 struggled as she approached the slope in the marathon this April. But she kept her thoughts centered on Grant Avenue, a midway point on the hill, which is not far from her home. “If I can just get to Grant, I can get to the top of Heartbreak Hill,” she told herself. “It is literally downhill from there.”
As she passed that intersection, Rachel was surprised to spot her family in the thick crowd off to the left. Her two children rang bells. Her husband held up a sign decorated with outlines of their children’s hands and the words, “Go Ma! Peace 26.2, Team MR8.” Her sister clapped and cheered.
Their support filled her with energy. She plodded onward, her mind fixed on the end of the race. “That just got me through to the end,” she said.
Rachel was one of 100 people selected to run the 2014 Boston Marathon for a charity honoring Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy who died in the 2013 bombing near the race’s finish line. Training for the marathon while raising more than $11,000 for the charity in just a few months’ time taught Rachel a lot about endurance—in more ways than one.
“This year we saw the second largest field ever in the history of the Boston Marathon come together once again in solidarity for a town and for all the families affected by what happened last year,” she said. “We saw the entire city and the entire country come together to support all the runners. How amazing is that? What a sign of resiliency, as well as peace.”
The bombing in 2013 killed three people and wounded more than 200 others. In the following weeks, many people began sharing a recent photo of Martin, the youngest victim, with a sign he had made sometime before the bombing stating: “No more hurting people—Peace.”
In January, the Richard family created the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation to invest in education, athletics, and community. The charity formed a team for the Boston Marathon, and Rachel decided to apply. “I thought she was kind of crazy,” admitted her husband, Chris Smith. “But I knew she could do it.” Rachel, who had completed the Dublin Marathon in 2009, was already running regularly, but she stepped up her training after she applied. Once she learned that she had been accepted to the team, she focused even more on training. On the first group run set up by the team, Rachel met Beth Zerilli, a two-time Boston Marathon runner who became Rachel’s running partner as well as a close friend. They made an informal group with other women and called themselves Moms for Martin.
“We covered a lot of ground. She is a super listener on long runs,” Beth said. “She is very smiley. She’s super crazy about her kids and her friends. You get attached to her very easily.
“A lot of people comment on her running style,” Beth added. “Rachel makes it look easy.”
Beth also was impressed by Rachel’s motivations to run the marathon and raise money for the charity. “She had no reservations. She was just 100 percent committed,” she said.
With the help and encouragement of College friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers, Rachel raised more than $11,000.
Having a bigger reason to run the marathon added to Rachel’s overall experience. Her day began at 5:15 a.m. when she caught a bus and waited with other members of Team MR8. Soon, she was running 26.2 miles with more than 30,000 other people.
“It was amazing. It was made more extraordinary because I was running on Team MR8,” she said. “This was Martin’s race, and for whatever reason, I was chosen to be a part of it. It was beyond my wildest dreams.
“Every step along the way was amazing,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to cross the finish line at the end.”
Rachel finished in four hours and 46 minutes, beating her Dublin Marathon time by just a few minutes.
Looking back on the experience, Rachel felt the marathon was a testament to a city coming together after a tragedy to celebrate the communities and families that make society strong.
“The outpouring of support really spoke to the fact that there really is good in this world, and that it triumphs over the evil,” she said. “It really showed humanity at its best.”