One hundred twenty-three years ago, John J. McDermott ran the then 24.5 miles with 14 other contenders to win the first Boston Marathon. Since then, the marathon has expanded its length to 26.2 miles and attracted people from around the world to run the course that snakes from Hopkinton, Mass. to Boylston Street. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 124th Boston Marathon was postponed in March—the Boston Athletic Association announced it would be virtual in May. Training and competing in the Boston Marathon always has its set of challenges, but three members of the Boston College community, Connor Longo, BC ’20; Carmen Martin, BC ’20; and Sarah Keffer, Lynch ’21, took on the novel task of running the first-ever virtual Boston Marathon. They did so to raise money and awareness for BC’s Campus School, which teaches students ages 3 to 21 who have unique learning challenges.
Martin, a doctoral student at Boston University studying occupational therapy, graduated from the Lynch School of Education and Human Development last May with a major in applied psychology and human development. Martin’s involvement with the Campus School carried her through all of four years of undergraduate studies—she was a “buddy” to the Campus School students and was a student employee at the Campus School in a middle school classroom her junior year. Martin was also chief marketing officer and a personal care assistant her senior year.
On a typical training day, Martin would wake up and run at 6:30 a.m. in order to avoid other people and the heat—she also had to get to work on time for her 10:30 a.m. shift. During training and the race itself, Martin played songs from Moana, The Lion King, and Frozen to remind her of her Campus School “buddies” who she had listened to this music with. She said that listening to these songs encouraged her to keep pushing for them.
“Working at Campus School really changed the trajectory of my life,” Martin said. “Working in the classroom was so pivotal for me. … The teachers are fantastic. They’re kind and inclusive and supportive and so helpful. I love the environment there.”
Her involvement at the Campus School as a BC student inspired her to pursue a career as an occupational therapist, she said, which she is now working toward as a doctoral student at BU.
Martin ran cross country in high school—she enjoyed running in her free time in college, but had never done a full marathon before being picked to run for the Campus School this year.
“It was really a great way to combine two of my passions, which were working for Campus School and running,” she said. “It’s a really great way to give back and a really great way to raise money for this organization.”
Martin had seen her peers run in the Boston Marathon for the Campus School and said that, as early as her freshman year, she knew she wanted to do the same one day. Two of Martin’s friends, Fallon Stewart and Casey Nicastri, both BC ’20, both expressed how impressed they are with Martin for following through with a goal she has had since freshman year.
Martin said she was disappointed when the marathon went virtual, but she didn’t let it get in the way of her preparation. Though she had to adjust to new challenges, such as training with a mask on and training in the summer rather than in the winter, she knew could take them on.
Martin said she received support for running the marathon from her friends and family, as well as the Campus School. A group of loved ones were waiting for her at the finish line, and one friend even ran a mile with her, which would not have been able to happen at the traditional Boston Marathon. Despite the initial disappointment of the marathon going virtual, Martin said that those moments made the marathon truly meaningful and memorable.
Martin said she’s grateful to have been able to run the Boston Marathon for the Campus School.
“One thing that this year’s marathon, as well as Campus School, has taught me is that as hard as things can get, we all can do really hard things, and we are a lot stronger than we may feel or think at times,” she said. “No human is limited.”
Longo, a double major in elementary education and applied psychology in Lynch, finished his undergraduate degree in 2019 and earned his master’s in moderate special needs education through a five-year program in Lynch this spring. Longo was actively involved in the Campus School as an undergraduate—he was a weekly volunteer for Creative Kids, a program that pairs Campus School students with BC student “buddies.” Every Friday, they spent an hour singing songs, playing games, and having fun.
Most of the challenges for him with this year’s marathon were technological due to the virtual nature of the marathon. The Boston Athletic Association launched the Boston Marathon Virtual Experience on Aug. 27 to help the runners stay on track and to moniter their mileage on race day. The app crashed on Longo during one of his training runs just a few days before he was supposed to race. On Sept. 8, Longo set out to complete the 26.2 miles of the 124th Boston Marathon, but 14 miles into his run, the app crashed again.
Longo had to call his friends who were waiting for him at the finish line to tell them that he was not going to be able to complete the race that day due to this technical difficulty. After explaining his situation to the Boston Athletic Association, Longo got permission to use a different running app. On Sept. 12, Longo successfully completed his fourth marathon.
“By the end, I was limping, it was so hard to finish,” said Longo. “I really don’t think I would have done it without Campus School being the motivation in the back of my head.”
Before this year, Longo ran the Madrid Marathon while he was studying abroad his junior year, the Newport Marathon in Rhode Island, and the Philadelphia Marathon. Longo said he has always loved the atmosphere of Marathon Monday at Boston College, and he got into running during his college career. When an extra spot opened up this past February to run the 124th Boston Marathon for the Campus School, Longo jumped at the chance.
His motivation behind running the marathon was always about supporting the Campus School, Longo said, but when the marathon shifted to being virtual, the Campus School became even more of the driving force for him through the unforeseen challenges.
“Thinking about the Campus School, that is really what got me through,” he said.
Longo was excited to support Campus School by running this year’s virtual Boston Marathon, he said—but he still hopes to someday run the traditional Boston Marathon.
“It definitely felt like I ran a marathon, but it doesn’t really feel like I ran the Boston Marathon after that,” Longo said. “It is still a goal of mine now.”
Despite the unusual circumstances, Longo is proud to have done the marathon for the Campus School.
Keffer, currently double majoring in elementary education and political science, started volunteering at the Campus School her freshman year as a member of the Special Events Committee. Her sophomore year, she was treasurer of the Campus School e-board and was also a “buddy” to a preschool Campus School student. Now, as a senior, Keffer is co-president of the volunteers at the Campus School, alongside Megan Phillips, MCAS ’21. This year’s Boston Marathon was Keffer’s first marathon.
On her day to run the marathon, Sept. 12, Keffer woke up to find her entire common room decorated with stopwatch designs made by her roommates. They had also decorated a finish line for Keffer and cheered for her alongside her family and the family of Keffer’s Campus School buddy. They all greeted Keffer at the finish line after a little over five hours of running—Keffer and her family were even able to have a small, socially distanced meal to celebrate her completion of the marathon.
“I really never dreamed of doing a marathon until the idea to do it for the Campus School came up,” Keffer said. “Running is always something I did for fun. It’s a relaxing thing for me, but I don’t think I would have done it if it wasn’t for the Campus School.”
In high school, Keffer ran track as a short distance runner. She was also on the club running team her freshman and sophomore years at BC, but she had never run more than six miles before training to run this year’s Boston Marathon.
Her motivation for running was her buddy at the Campus School. She also noted the mental strength she gained from hours of training, during which she learned lessons about herself along the way.
“[In] training, you really learn that you can push yourself to the limit a lot faster than you would think you can,” she said.
Keffer looks back on the marathon and describes the experience as motivating.
“I have so much more of an appreciation for what your body can do,” she said, “and so much more of an appreciation for how our students [at the Campus School] defy challenges every day.”
Photos by Margaret DiPatri / Heights Editor and Ikram Ali / Heights Editor
Graphics by Allyson Mozeliak / Heights Editor