By Stephanie Choate
Ryan Polly finished his first marathon 250 miles from where he started it, surrounded by hundreds of local runners to support victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The Williston resident—whose experience in the Boston marathon ended in turmoil after bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 250—organized Get Moving For Boston, a benefit walk/run on the chilly Burlington waterfront Saturday.
Nearly 700 people joined Polly—in Burlington or virtually from across the country and as far away as the Philippines—raising $10,300. Since then, the number has climbed to nearly $14,000. The money is going to the Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Fund for bombing victims treated there, as well as the One Fund, established to raise money for the victim’s families and continuing treatment costs.
Polly said the atmosphere at Saturday’s run was “overwhelmingly positive.” About a dozen other Boston marathon runners joined Polly, sharing a moment of silence before the run began.
“It was a really good high and I think exactly what we were hoping it could be,” he said. “People were clearly coming together as a community to help another community.”
Polly organized the run in an “incredibly impulsive moment,” he said, after returning from Boston.
“I was really sort of disturbed by everything I saw,” Polly said. “I felt really helpless and like I needed to do something.”
Within 24 hours of posting a website, Richard Vaughn of local race Zombie Run contacted him, providing logistical help. People began signing up to participate almost immediately.
“Really for me it was about proving to myself that I’m not going to allow what happened to impact me,” he said. “It turned into, ‘what can we do to help those who weren’t as lucky as I was.’”
Williston resident Rick Blount and his wife, Lesli, took part in the event.
“Everyone just wanted to do something,” Blount said. “I wouldn’t say it was a celebration, because it wasn’t, and people were very aware of the emotion of it, but I’d say maybe it was defiant.”
Blount, a lifelong runner, said he was motivated to join after someone in his biking group shared a simple but powerful sentiment.
“What he said was, ‘my kids are grown but I have two young grandkids, and sometimes I take them to sporting events.’ That was such a powerful thing to think about,” Blount said. “We all have our connections to it.”
‘MASSIVE PANIC’ IN BOSTON
Polly said he was nearing the finish line when he heard what he later learned were bombs detonating.
“I heard these sounds in the distance, one right after the other,” he said. “I thought it was a car backfiring or fireworks.”
Polly kept going until he was about 3/4 of a mile away from the finish, then “all hell broke loose.”
“It was just massive panic,” he said. “We didn’t know what to do. People kept running and were being physically pulled off the course, people dropped to the ground, everyone got on their phones trying to call their families.”
Polly began desperately trying to call his wife, Kel, who was supposed to watch him cross the finish line with their 21-month-old daughter, Emma.
He borrowed several different phones, but only heard what he called “deafening silence” on the line. Finally, he saw a woman who had managed to get through to someone. He glued himself to her side until she finished her conversation, then asked to use her phone. When his call didn’t go through, he finally lost it.
“I broke down and got really emotional,” he said. “She said ‘We’re going to keep trying until it works.’”
Polly finally got through to his wife after several tries.
“Once I heard my wife’s voice and she heard mine and both of us realized we were OK… we both said ‘get the heck out of there,’” he said.
On the long car ride back to Williston, the Pollys were consumed with “what ifs.”
“What if Kel hadn’t gotten stuck on the subway? What if I hadn’t had a rock in my shoe?” he said.
Polly said Bostonians were an amazing help, providing food, warm clothing, water and bathrooms immediately.
“Within five minutes of realizing something bad had happened, the people in Boston were helping,” he said.
Polly started running in 2011 to improve his health, and though he wasn’t enthusiastic at first, he is a fully converted runner now, running six days a week.
“It’s less about my health and now it’s really about my wellbeing,” he said. “If I don’t get out for a run, I can turn into a real jerk.”
Polly is signed up for the KeyBank Vermont City Marathon in May, which he said he still plans to participate in.
After the whirlwind of organizing Saturday’s run and being invited to throw the first pitch at Fenway Park Sunday, it was back to the real world Monday and onto the long process of healing.
“I think it’s going to take time to be completely over it,” he said of the events in Boston. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be over what happened there.”
For more information, to donate or to post photos of your run, visit getmovingforboston.webs.com.