When hundreds of runners gather on Pearl Street just before noon New Year's Day for the annual run and swim, their thoughts will not be far from last spring's bombing at the Boston Marathon.
Some in the crowd ran last year's marathon and did not get a chance to finish but plan to be back on the starting line on April 21. They along with others making the group run to Esker Point Beach Wednesday, will also have chance to sign a large prayer canvas for the marathon bombing victims.
The canvas will be unveiled with many others from across the nation at this year's marathon. A group of women from Naples, Fla., began the project (www.prayercanvas.com) earlier this year and now have tens of thousands of signatures from most states in the country.
The local canvas is the work of Patti Dillon of New London, who finished second at Boston three times and set the American record there in 1981.
Dillon said in an email that she plans to not only be at the run and swim but other running events in the area over the next few months to have runners sign the canvas.
After reading a story in the Boston Herald about the project, she wrote to the women to get one of the 16 x 18 foot canvases on which people can write messages in red, white and blue.
"The Boston Marathon is dear to my heart...," wrote Dillon. "I've not only run the race, but sold T-shirts at the starting line. I've interviewed the winners for a TV station and commented for the radio. I've been a guest in the lead vehicle to watch. I've held bags with changes of clothes for friends. I've done a lot at the Boston Marathon. I was born and raised in Boston, and I lived most of my life in that area.
"After our competitive running careers, my husband and I would take our two children to the Boston Marathon to watch the runners go by and to congratulate our running friends for competing in the race. At times we've had passes to sit on the bleachers. Sometimes we've walked up and down Boylston Street to watch the runners and treated ourselves to ice cream."
She said that she was recording last April's race because her husband Dan, who finished once finished eighth in the race, was working and her son was in class.
"We would be able to watch it together later in the day. I was doing yard work and wondering about this year's race, since we had a friend from Wyoming running this year, Thomas Fagan (a Ledyard native). He had qualified and trained hard all year. My cellphone went off and my husband was on the other end asking, 'Are you near a TV? Turn on the TV.' The last time he asked me to turn on the TV was September 11, 2001," wrote Dillon. "I clicked it on and saw the smoke on Boylston Street - saw all yellow jackets, heard a commentator saying 'They're dead!' - and I immediately said 'Oh my God, the Fagans ...' And I said the Our Father."
Dillon said she prayed throughout the day as she tried to find out if any of her friends had been injured. They were not.
Participants in Wednesday's run and swim, which is not a race but a fun, low-key way to ring in the New Year, will assemble in front of St. Mark's Church. The group, which jogs the four-mile route together, will head out along Water Street to Route 215, up Brook Street to Groton Long Point Road and finishes at Esker Point where they will charge into the 44-degree water. Air temperature is predicted to be 29 degrees.
The bathhouses at Esker Point will be open for changing only. A group of runners will also meet at the Esker Point parking lot at 11:15 a.m. and run to the start on Pearl Street. Some hardcore participants are also known to run back to the start after getting out of the water.
For decades the race began at the former Pequot Avenue home of 1957 Boston Marathon winner John Kelley and his wife Jessie, both of whom have died in recent years. Organizers of the informal run and swim are continuing to raise money to erect a bronze statue of Kelley and his dog Brutus in the small park next to Mystic Pizza.
By Joe Wojtas
©2013 The Day (New London, Conn.)
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