The Boston Athletic Association provided the Boston Fire Department with 12 Boston Marathon entries.
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
“Right on Hereford, left on Boylston.” Those words are well known in Boston, emblazoned on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and posters. They represent the glory land, the holy grail of road racing: the final two turns of the Boston Marathon course, less than a kilometer from the finish line.
Roughly 36,000 athletes will have the chance to take those two turns at the 118th Boston Marathon on Monday. A number of those runners will complete the turns with especially heavy hearts, sporting black and red ribbons.
On the corner of Hereford and Boylston Street sits one of the oldest firehouses in Boston—Engine Company 33, Ladder Company 15. The firehouse, first opened on February 20, 1888, has seen every edition of the Boston Marathon. The Boston Marathon was first held in 1897, and is the oldest continuously run marathon in the world.
On March 26, 2014, Engine 33, Ladder 15 lost two of their own in a nine-alarm fire in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh Jr., a 43-year-old father of three, and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, a 33-year-old military veteran, perished in a blaze that both captivated and deeply saddened the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The fire, approximately 450 meters from the Boston Marathon finish line, would take hours to get under control, with ferocious winds whipping the flames higher and higher.
Kennedy, who had been a firefighter for six years, was set to run Monday’s Boston Marathon. He had earned a bib number after writing an essay about his experience responding to the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks on April 15, 2013. Engine 33, Ladder 15 were among the first emergency personnel on the scene that day.
In honor of Firefighter Kennedy and Lieutenant Walsh, the Boston Athletic Association provided the Boston Fire Department with 12 special entries to Monday’s race. Here today, Lieutenant Paul J. McCarthy spoke about Kennedy and what it means to run in his memory.
“During our training, unfortunately the passing of Mike and Eddie Walsh,” he said with a pause. “We are still grieving, it’s fresh. We won’t forget, and we’ll be there for him.”
McCarthy, a member of Engine 3, often ran with the men of Engine 33, of which Mike Kennedy was a part of.
“Mike would have wanted [us to run]. We’ve all read the articles about Mike, an amazing young man,” he said. “He lived life like we all dream of. I wish I could live my life like him. An amazing man, and we rallied around that. We have his number and it’s going to be on Hereford Street.”
While McCarthy acknowledged that his fellow firefighter’s hearts are heavy, they are keeping their heads high knowing Mike wanted to run and complete this year’s historic race. Kennedy entered the race because of how much last year’s terrorist attacks impacted him. McCarthy believed that Kennedy ran solely on inspiration from last year.
When asked if he thought Kennedy loved the sport of running, McCarthy let out a hearty laugh and “Oh God no!” Kennedy ran for a greater purpose, something bigger than himself.
“Mike was one of the people that responded last year and he was just determined. He said ‘I’m going to be there next year. They took our finish line, fear took our finish line. But we are going to take it back.’ And he was on board with that and he wanted it so bad,” he said. That, indeed, was why he ran. “It was the fire in our stomachs that got us, that we are going to be back and strong. That’s what made him the person he was. There was always a challenge, and always something he could look up to. That’s what made him an amazing man.”
When it was learned that Kennedy was an aspiring Boston Marathon finisher, his story soon appeared on numerous news outlets, growing stronger with the approaching one-year anniversary of the 2013 Boston Marathon.
A runner from California, who preferred to keep his name anonymous, said he was moved emotionally after reading about Kennedy on RunnersWorld.com.
“I thought to myself, ‘Firefighter Kennedy would probably be running right around me, right around my pace on Marathon Monday,'” he told Race Results Weekly, just feet from the firehouse. “I brought two patches from the volunteer firefighters in my hometown and gave them to the firehouse.”
Two white crosses made of wood, adorned with red hearts and American flags, stand alongside candles and flowers outside of the firehouse.
On April 21, when 36,000 strong race by Engine 33, Ladder 15, they will be reminded of Kennedy’s legacy.
“Mike is running with us. He is with us. And so is Ed. The presence will be there,” said McCarthy, emotion evident in his voice. “I said to the other runners, ‘When you’re tired, just think about the angel that is going to be on your shoulder. He is going to be the one who is going to bring us home.'”