4.15 Strong Team Eyes Boston Finish Line

David Fortier answers questions from the media about the 4.15 Strong team and the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge. Photo: Brian Metzler | Competitor.com

A group of individuals injured during last year’s Boston Marathon attacks will run Monday’s race.

David Fortier was almost at the finish line of last year’s Boston Marathon when the first bomb blast went off. He doesn’t remember crossing the finish line. In fact, one of his next memories is a moment when he was lying in a hospital bed across town and getting the standard e-mail message from the race organization congratulating him on his finish.

“When I read that message, it reminded me to reach down and shut my stopwatch off,” Fortier said. “It had been running since the start of the marathon and I never stopped it when I crossed the finish line.”

Fortier, 49, a resident of Newburyport, Mass., was part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team last year in his first Boston Marathon. He was running to raise money in honor of a friend who suffers from leukemia.

“I decided at mile 17 of last year’s Boston Marathon that I was having such a good time that I wanted to come back,” Fortier recalled. “At mile 21, I was rethinking that decision and I think after everything that happened at the marathon last year, I was determined to come back.”

He’s returning this year to again run for the Dana-Farber team and also lead the “4.15 Strong” team, a dedicated group of roughly 30 individuals who were injured during last year’s Boston Marathon.

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In the fall, the B.A.A. gave each of the victims or victim’s families two entries to this year’s Boston Marathon. Originally a group of nine people started training for the marathon, but it kept growing. Many more are running the B.A.A. 5K or participating in the tribute mile race on Saturday.

Most of the injured weren’t runners at all and none had ever run a marathon before. But their individual and collective determination got them through a rough Boston winter. They received coaching guidance from 1976 Boston Marathon champion Jack Fultz, gear and apparel discounts from Marathon Sports, and emotional support from Fortier and Lee Ann Yanni.

She had been watching the marathon near the finish line in front of Marathon Sports and suffered a broken lower leg when the first bomb exploded just a few feet behind her. Yanni ran the Chicago Marathon in 5 hours, 44 minutes in October and was one of the organizers for the 4.15 Strong team.

“I saw first-hand how excited the folks in the survivor community, were about this” Fortier said. “They saw it as an opportunity to take back the marathon that was taken from them.”

Fortier can relate to the challenges many of the victims have endured because he is one too. Shrapnel went right through his right foot a nanosecond after the blast and he has hearing damage in his left ear.

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“I can still feel it in my foot when it’s cold and during long runs,” he said. “I’ve been trying to train through some of that. But I can definitely still feel it. The hearing problem is something I’m learning to live with. I do a lot more leaning in toward people and I need to explain what I’m doing. I was very hesitant at the beginning, but I find it’s much more easier to explain.”

Fortier said he feeds off the energy off of everybody in the group.

“It truly is an inspirational group of people. I’m proud to be a part of it.,” he said. “It’s one thing to say you want to run a marathon, but it’s another thing to train for one.

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