Boston Strong

First Posted: 4/21/2014

Jerry, Diane and Katie Levandoski qualified for the Boston Marathon with their performance at the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2012.

With the 2013 Boston Marathon already filled, the Levandoski family from Dallas targeted this year’s race.

Nothing changed with those plans when a bombing incident near the finish line interrupted last year’s race.

The Levandoskis and fellow Dallas resident Myron Sidloski were among the 31,931 runners to finish, making this year’s Boston Marathon the second-largest, behind only the 100th anniversary race in 1996.

“Nothing really can top the experience,” said Diane, an ophthalmologist at the VA Hospital, who competed in her sixth marathon and second Boston. “It was exhilarating. It was extremely exciting. It was exhausting. I’m just so honored to have had the opportunity to have been there.”

Jerry, a plastic surgeon with an office in Forty Fort, said the course looked much different than when he and his wife first ran Boston in 2003.

“There certainly were a lot of people on the course,” he said. “They claim there were a million people there and it was probably close to that. It was a very celebratory experience in terms of the crowd and the runners.

“It was a very emotionally positive sort of event. It was exciting to participate in something like that.”

The determination of runners, some of whom were unable to get to the finish line last year after two bombs exploded, and fans were just part of the extra crowd.

“I had never seen that degree of security at anything I’ve done,” Jerry said. “It was like a wall of police officers for 26 miles – military police, police officers, sheriffs, a SWAT team on the roof of the high school, helicopters. They were pretty serious.”

It all added up to the runners feeling well-protected. Jerry said his only hesitation was about his 17-year-old son Andrew being there was a spectator. Andrew was unable to get close enough to the finish line to see his parents and sister finish.

Part of the adjustment to handle the large field was to split into four starting times, something that Jerry said helped him as he ran the first half of the marathon with his daughter Katie, a Wyoming Seminary and Yale University graduate who is now a medical student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Based on their qualifying times, Jerry and Katie were in the second of four waves of runners to start and Diane was in the third. That cut each group down to about 9,000.

“You were able to start running pretty much from the get-go and the beginning of the course was downhill,” said Jerry, who enjoyed meeting four-time champion Bill Rodgers and getting his race bib and a book signed at the Boston Marathon Race Expo two days before Monday’s race. “Last time, it was a mass start in 2003. I didn’t remember it opening up quite as quickly.

“That was one of the surprises. I didn’t expect to be hitting my pace from the first mile on.”

At the midway point, it was time for Katie, a district medalist and state qualifying cross country runner while at Wyoming Seminary, to separate from her father.

“She was feeling really good,” Jerry said. “She sort of had a time she was shooting for and it was a little faster than what I was prepared to do, so I said, ‘good luck, be careful, be smart on the hills, and have a good race’.”

She did.

Katie, 23, finished 6973 overall in 3:22:06, actually running the second half of the course 1:28 faster than the first. In just her second career marathon, that made her 875th out of 7,112 female runners ages 18-39 who started and the 6,979 who finished.

Jerry, 53, finished his ninth marathon in 3:30:09 for 9,386th overall. He was 857th among men ages 50-54 out of a group of 2,502 starters and 2,475 finishers.

Diane, 54, completed the race in 4:07:28. That made her the 19,568th finisher. She was 683rd out of the 50-54 female runners, joining Katie and Jerry in finishing in the top half of their divisions. There were 1,522 starters and 1,490 finishers in Diane’s age group.

“That was about what I had expected,” Diane said. “It was a rough year for training with the weather.”

Sidloski, 63, was 18,700th in 4:03:01, putting him 432 out of 1,128 starters and 1,112 finishers among male runners 60-64.

With the marathon falling the day after Easter this year, the Levandoski family was able to turn it into a family holiday, joining their son Stephen, who lives in Cambridge, in the Boston area.

In the aftermath of last year’s bombings, Stephen’s neighborhood in his then home of Watertown, Mass. is where the manhunt came to an end. He could hear helicopters and gun shots when one bombing suspect was killed and the other apprehended.

A family that had moments of concern in the days after last year’s marathon was able to celebrate this year’s event.

“I was not at all nervous,” said Diane, who was impressed by the many inspirational stories that go along with the Boston Marathon, including blind runners and 73-year-old Dick Hoyt pushing his physically disabled son Rick the length of the course for the 32nd and final time. “Obviously, I was very aware, but the Boston people were incredible.

“I can’t say enough about the volunteers.”

The Boston Marathon clearly changed for 2014, but just as clearly it was an example of the Boston Strong message was a response to last year’s attack.

“It was kind of like going to New York City pre-9/11 and post-9/11,” Jerry said. “It was a very special race because of the significance of what happened last year.”

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