Most university students in their final semester are focused on practicing their interview techniques, spending time with friends and teammates, and surviving a concluding round of final exams before moving the tassel on their mortarboard. Kaylene Murphy's priorities for this spring, however, are much bigger.
Last month, Kaylene Murphy ran the Boston Marathon, raising over $11,400 for Dana-Farber Cancer Research. The race is a family tradition, with Kaylene the fourth Murphy to complete the marathon and the third to do so multiple times. Somehow, the two-sport star balanced fundraising, finishing her degree, and serving as the starting catcher and an outfielder for Massachusetts Maritime Academy's softball team. In the two days before the marathon, Kaylene played a pair of doubleheaders as part of a set of 10 games in five days.
None of those pressures are obvious when speaking with the relaxed and easy-going native of Randolph, Mass. It is impossible to meet Kaylene and not be inspired by her. As she told us in our chat with her before the race [link], having experienced how the race affected runners and their loved ones personally stimulated a desire in her to run the race as a fundraiser.
At 14, she was cheering on her father and aunt as they completed the last mile in support of Dana-Farber. Next to her was her mother, in the final stages of breast cancer, and a patient of Dana-Farber. Despite being wracked with pain, Kaylene's mother jumped in and crossed the finish line with her sister, Kaylene's aunt.
This started a tradition of family members joining in for portions of the event. After running the entire marathon in 2016 with her brother A.J. ('16), this time Kaylene had a series of runners join her for portions of the race.
"I had [several] friends running with me until Mile 14, when my whole mother's family was there," explained Kaylene. "Then, my sister Abby jumped in and ran three miles until we saw all of my Dad's family! It's a family thing and it was pretty cool to have her.
"Abby never believed she could run the marathon and I always told her, 'Abby you can do it!', but with her being out there [this time], she really wants to run the Boston now. She saw how the crowds were and knows it's not like you're always by yourself and now she wants to do it."
Abby Murphy was not the only runner to join Kaylene, though.
"At the top of Heartbreak Hill [20 Mile Marker], some of my cousins were there. My friends were scattered along the hills and a couple of them jumped in. One of them even went to Maritime and he had just run a marathon on Saturday [two days earlier]!"
As if inspiring a new entrant into the Murphy Family of runners is not enough, a couple miles later the heart-warming moments continued. Though Kaylene is hesitant to mention it, she spent some time in Dana Farber herself this winter and, as will surprise no one who has met her, made some big fans.
"My nurses were at mile 23. I had [only] seen a couple of them since I had been out, so it was really good to see them. When I was in the hospital, I was pretty sick, and the thing that motivated me was running the marathon. Every day they changed a countdown on the whiteboard to help me keep my goal in mind.
"[On difficult days,] I used to write in dry-erase on the window, 'Just a bad day, not a bad life' and when I saw my nurses, they had a sign that said exactly that, with '#KayleneStrong' underneath. I was so happy to see that and stopped to hug them!
"There were times [in the hospital] when they kept the motivation alive and when I saw them, it completed the circle. Having the marathon on my mind everyday was what got me out of bed every day. Even though I barely could walk, I [willed myself] to get back into shape. I ran nine miles two-and-one-half weeks after the hospital and a half marathon a month later."
Kaylene's supporters did not stop there, however.
"Our [Dana-Farber] team has a stop at mile 25 with a cheering section, which was amazing. At Mile 26 on Boylston, I had friends, my Dad, and my sister."
"I was hauling after seeing my nurses. You could hear screaming more than a mile away and someone said, 'That's the finish line.' I felt like I was sprinting because I could hear it. I ran that last 5k in 27 minutes.
"I saw people with hypothermia and I wanted to stop. The cold hit you when you stopped. After crossing the finish line, the second they put the foil blanket on me I realised how cold I was. I have never been that wet in my life. You don't realise you're sweating. You have to remind yourself to drink water."
Medics were prepared for hypothermia and for anyone in attendance, the topic of conversation was the weather. The entire race was cold (38 degrees), windy (up to 30 mph), and with unrelenting precipitation, which the author witnessed first-hand on the Mile 17 approach.
"I thought it was pouring the whole time, but when I saw you [the rain] was unreal. And then, just before Mile 25, I could barely make out the Citgo sign. It's the craziest weather I've ever ran in. I even ran the Hyannis half-marathon in cold rain and thought that was bad [then]."
Still, the ever-positive Kaylene found a silver lining to the awful weather.
"Colder temperatures meant lowering my heartrate, so that helped. I couldn't feel my legs because of the cold and the rain was distracting. And, there were so many people out there [cheering] even though it was raining!"
The number of cheering spectators was truly incredible, as even the middle portions of the course required strategic positioning to see the runners go by. Like many others, Kaylene, a graduate of Ursuline Academy (Dedham, Mass.), noted the boost that it gave her.
"All the people that supported me through the whole thing got me through it. Just hearing people yelling "Kaylene" and strangers cheering—the little things meant so much. Some guy had a sign that said, "I don't know any of you" and was cheering anyway.
A significant proportion of the roughly 30,000 runners attempted the marathon for charities, who supply bibs to their runners. Spectators will pick out a charity or name on the bib and cheer for them.
"It shows you how many people are affected when they see Dana-Farber and they have someone in their family affected. It shows you how big the cause is. It is motivating—you realize that this is so much bigger than yourself."
That larger-than-life cause motivated Kaylene throughout the day, particularly during the most excruciating part of the race up Heartbreak Hill.
"I was thinking more about my charity, the cancer patients, not many of them are able to run or still here to run. I was so grateful that I am physically capable of running. I want to inspire other people to run for other people and not just because they physically can.
"The slogan for Dana-Farber is, 'Racing towards the ultimate finish line.' That was what I thought when I finished [and] that was why I started. I was running for my mother and for my teammates' parents and thinking about the ones that passed away, they definitely got me through that. I [am] so lucky to just be able to cross the finish line."
Even with a quick stop to embrace her nurses, Kaylene finished the marathon in 4:43:21, a whopping 25 minutes quicker than her 2016 time of 5:08:08. Kaylene is up for another attempt, hopefully with her sister Abby, and in the meanwhile, will focus on a different finish line: graduation as she prepares for a career in emergency management.
"It was an incredible day," concluded Kaylene. "It was awesome! Boston is unlike any other. Overall, two thumbs up. I would do it again for a third time. They give you a number with your age when you get to a certain age and I saw a guy out with a 75 and I thought, 'I want to be him.'"
Gabriel Fidler, Sports Information Associate