The Boston Marathon is an event associated with immense pride, athletics and rich history. It’s the world’s oldest annual marathon and is one of the world’s most well known road-racing events. After the bombing at the race in 2013, the marathon has become a symbol of the city’s strength and unity.
Although the 2019 race doesn’t take place until April, here in Athens, one University of Georgia student is gearing up for the race, some 1,000 miles away.
“I kind of went out on a whim,” said Katie Hart, a senior from St. Marys majoring in human development and family sciences. “I had a friend that ran it and actually qualified, so I followed her journey of training for that and her whole experience with [the marathon]. I kind of just talked to a lot of people about it.”
Hart won’t be running the marathon solely for her own gratification. Instead, she’ll enter the race as a designated charity runner.
Best foot forward
The Boston Marathon, supported by the Boston Athletics Association, allows both qualified timed runners and charity runners to participate in the race. The Marathon Official Charity Program allows organizations to use charity entries to recruit athletes who pledge to raise funds for their cause.
This year’s charity roster includes organizations such as the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club, along with Boston sports team foundations such as the Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox and New England Patriots. The list also includes Hart’s chosen team, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
“The applications had just opened up for charity runners,” Hart said. “I was looking at all the charities for the 2019 race and the one that caught my eye was the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.”
The organization serves adults and elderly people and is part of the MAB community, which also covers the Adult Disability Services and the Ivy Street School divisions located in the Massachusetts area.
"This will actually be my first marathon. You know, go big or go home, right?"
Katie Hart, UGA student
The MABVI was founded in 1903 in part by Helen Keller, who saw a need to support individuals in the community who are blind or visually impaired.
Pam Fernandes, a development director for the MABVI and a visually impaired paralympian, wanted to raise awareness for the cause. She assembled a team who signed up, ran and fundraised for the Boston Marathon. In the last 25 years since Fernandes’ beginning, the “Team With A Vision” has raised just under $3 million for the MABVI and its programs.
“It’s really unique because it’s not just a fundraising team,” said Andrea Croak, the manager of special events and corporate sponsorships for the MAB Community Services. “It’s really about the community ... and offering a platform for individuals who are blind or visually impaired to experience the Boston Marathon and feel a part of something bigger.”
‘Team With A Vision’
Hart was drawn to the MABVI organization due to her involvement in the Delta Gamma sorority at UGA. Delta Gamma’s Service for Sight initiative offers volunteer opportunities dealing with aid to those with visual impairments and educational opportunities teaching about eye health with a mission to improve vision globally.
“I was like, ‘Yep, got to do that one,’” Hart said. “I really didn’t think that I had a chance, because it’s just really competitive and it’s such a large applicant pool. Why would you take a chance on some little college girl from Georgia?”
MABVI’s “Team With A Vision” consists of three groups made up of roughly 12 charity runners each, 25–30 blind or visually impaired individuals and about 40 sighted guides who run with the impaired runners. When accepting applications for charity runners, the team at MABVI has fluid requirements for its applicants.
“There is no sort of exact recipe but there are key things that we look for,” Croak said. “A connection to the mission [is good] — whether you are a volunteer, you have a family member or friend who is living with vision loss — [or] you’re passionate about [supporting] individuals with disabilities.”
While each organization’s charity team may be slightly different, they all work with the same goal in mind: to better the lives of the patrons they serve.
“Either way, you’re doing something really great for people that really need it and I think you’re going to change people’s lives,”Hart said. “I would have been fine with any charity but I think this one really fits what I’m passionate about.”
With about five months until race day, Hart has already begun her fundraising plans. As a charity runner, Hart is required to raise $7,500 and contribute to the MABVI’s overall goal of $250,000.
“Everyone that I’ve already reached out to has been very receptive and very excited,” Hart said.
The road ahead
Although Hart is an experienced runner and ran for two years on a UGA club team, this will be her first attempt at a full 26.2 mile run.
“This will actually be my first marathon,” Hart said. “You know, go big or go home right? I’ve done five half marathons … I’ve never done this far, but people have always said if you can do a half marathon, you can do a marathon, so I’m just going to keep that mentality.”
Hart is preparing for every element of the race: the route, the weather — even the spectators.
“It’s a holiday in Boston,” Hart said. “They don’t have school, banks are closed for this, so people are lining the entire route. I’m thinking that I’m not going to run with music, just so I can get that atmosphere, and I feel like that will fuel me.”
Hart hopes the crowd will help make the race a more enjoyable experience.
“I need to have something to take my mind off of what I’m doing, the pain that I’m going through,” Hart said. “I think I’m expecting a lot of energy from the crowd.”
In conquering the Boston Marathon, Hart will not only be serving her chosen charity but her personal interests as well.
“I think the biggest triumph [will be] knowing that I got to do something really cool that a lot of people didn’t get to do and that I’m extremely lucky,” Hart said.