Jardine: Modesto teacher, friends pay tribute to Boston Marathon bombing victims

jjardine@modbee.comJanuary 4, 2014 

    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
    Recent stories written by Jeff
    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57
    E-mail: jjardine@modbee.com

— Running, many runners will tell you, is about pain and perseverance.

It’s about shoving aside the monotony for the betterment of the body. It’s about ignoring the elements, the heat, the feet and the street to meet the day’s goal, whether the distance is a couple of miles or a half-marathon or longer.

Like most runners, Heidi Smith of Modesto looks for sources of motivation. Last April 15, the 37-year-old Ustach Middle School teacher found one: The bombings that killed three people and wounded more than 260 during last year’s Boston Marathon.

Smith didn’t run in the Boston race. “I’m not fast enough to qualify for that one,” she said.

Smith has, however, competed in two Nike Women’s Marathons, ran a relay leg in Sacramento’s California International Marathon and completed 18 half-marathons over the years. She understands the bonds that form between runners during the races. She knows what it’s like to have the moral support of complete strangers who come out on cold days or in extreme heat just to stand there and root on someone they’ve never met.

“They’d call out, ‘Good job, Number (whatever),’ ” she said.

Therefore, she decided to dedicate a day’s run for each victim of the Boston bombings, many of whom were spectators.

“Just to honor them,” Smith said.

The casualty count still varies from news source to news source, so she committed to the highest number: 287. She made her first tribute run April 21. Today’s jaunt will be the 260th. She’s knows none of the survivors personally.

“The closest is that I have a friend whose kid’s teacher was injured,” she said.

No matter. She wanted to do something heartfelt to honor the victims, even though few will ever hear about it. She thought about using the effort to raise money for the victims, but reconsidered. After all, nearly a year later the vast majority have recovered.

And getting money nearly a year later to the more seriously injured survivors or families of the deceased would mean researching organizations to know which could be trusted to deliver the money. Just last week, authorities charged a Boston man with trying to con the bombing victims fund out of $2.2 million, ABC News and other agencies reported.

So Smith opted for the tribute runs. They range daily from around about 4 miles to 10.3 miles. Some days, she runs alone. Most days, she’s joined by any number of friends from a group that has swelled to roughly 10 women since she began her quest.

During the few days when the weather was nasty, Smith ran inside on a treadmill.

“Some days you’re sick, crying, cold – how many excuses can you make?” Smith said. “You run.”

She hasn’t missed a day, and said the benefits are many. She’s used the concept of setting and achieving goals as a teaching tool in her classroom.

“Running is something I equate to life with my students – setting out to do something, getting the job done and sticking with it,” she said.

And she’s also developed friendships with the women in her running group that likely will last for a lifetime and through newfound tributes.

“She’s inspired me in the short time I’ve been running with her,” said Jennifer James, a librarian at Beyer High. “I’ve signed up for my first marathon (the Shamrock in Sacramento on March 16). She’s got a good heart.”

James now runs with Smith three to four days each week.

Ali Hernandez, Holly Gaylor and Connie Varni, all of whom work with her at Ustach Middle School, are part of the group, as are educators Sheila Cartwright and Melissa Smith (no relation) and CHP dispatcher Rhonda Page. Kristi Nelson works for AT&T, while Kathleen Hinchey and Tracy Pena are stay-at-home moms.

“I just want people to live a little kinder and to get off the couch,” Heidi Smith said. “We want the people in Boston to know someone is still thinking of them.”

And finally, “I’ve dropped 10 pounds,” she said.

Come Feb. 1, they’ll finish the Boston victims’ tribute: 287 runs in the books.

“People ask what I’m going to do on Day 288,” Smith said. “I don’t think my body could stop running.”

No fear: Another cause awaits. In fact, it’s already begun. She signed up for a running buddy on IR4, a website that pairs runners with physically or mentally disabled children and adults, running on the buddy’s behalf.

“I waited 2½ months to get one,” she said. “His name is Hunter. He is 15, lives in Texas and has cerebral palsy. So, yes, I will be lacing up for him next.”

Another purpose and more pounding the pavement.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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