Tim Fritson and Kathleen Schuler are two of about 125 Kansas City area residents who have trained for thousands of miles through our brutal winter and are eager to run the fabled 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon next Monday.
Like many of those runners, Fritson and Schuler offer a mixture of compelling and personal reasons for pursuing that quest.
Many focus on showing the tremendous power of the human spirit to overcome tragedies -- like the one that struck the historic marathon one year ago Tuesday, on April 15, 2013, when two bombs went off near the finish line. They killed three people, injured more than 250 others, stranded thousands of runners short of the finish line, set off a manhunt for two terrorists and briefly shut down the streets of a proud American city.
Fritson, 28, of Liberty, ran in that marathon but was irritated afterward because he had not done as well as hoped. On Sunday he expressed his most vivid memory of that day:
"A little over an hour later, all that disappointment faded away in light of the day's events. I'll never forget the sadness, yet gratitude, that instantly replaced my selfish, self-loathing. I can't wait to celebrate with the city of Boston next Monday. Their resolve is inspirational!"
Schuler, 46, of Kansas City, offered this perspective: "It's definitely a bucket list item and it's my first Boston. I also feel a sense of determination after last year's tragedy. We will run!"
Indeed, the motto "Boston Strong" has become a unifying theme of fighting back against terrorism and against attempts to quash the enjoyment that the race brings an entire region and the nation's running community.
All of that will help make the 118th Boston Marathon a story worth national attention, with a specially expanded field of 36,000 runners showing the tremendous interest in the race.
Fritson and Schuler were two of about 75 area Boston-bound athletes who attended a dinner Sunday night at an Overland Park restaurant, the second annual event organized by Greg Hall, 59, of Kansas City.
Most came for the camaraderie and to mingle with others who share their obsession with training for and then running a marathon.
I will be running in my second Boston Marathon on that day. On Sunday I gathered responses from runners -- ages 25 to 76 -- centering on why participating in the 2014 marathon would be special for them and their memories of Boston 2013, if they ran then.
Here are some:
John Snyder, 45, Leawood: "Boston's the best, most memorable and historic course of all. I love to talk to runners from all over the world, and the history is special. 2014 will be a wonderful experience for me and others who ran in 2013. The world will be focused on Boston and the fans and other runners will make it special. I will be glad for the runners who were unable to complete last year to run again."
Katie Coomer, 25, Prairie Village: "I want to celebrate the strength and spirit of the running community and the marathon. I think this year is about tackling your struggles and showing the world how strong you are."
Janell Rock, 44, Kansas City: "I ran Boston at the 'Millennium Marathon' in 2000. When you run one Boston (or even if you've only qualified), you feel like it belongs to you. You feel a sense of solidarity with the worldwide running community. For 2014, this community needs to prove that Boston is bigger than a coward with a bomb and that the spirit of the running community will not be deterred."
David Mellen, 62, Stilwell: "It is the ultimate marathon. I have spent 12 years trying to qualify. I was not allowed to finish last year."
Jeff Maher, 47, Overland Park: "It's going to be the most emotional celebration of sport I will ever be involved in."
Tom Howard, 37, Shawnee: "To finish what we started last year. To honor the families of those who were impacted."
Anne Kobermann, 34, Lenexa: "For me, the 2013 Boston Marathon is what made me a runner. I'd run marathons before, mind you, but I was not what I considered a runner. Watching the live feed of the bombing coverage at worked stirred feelings and reminded me what I liked about myself when I was running. A few days later I signed up for the Walt Disney World Goofy Race and a Half Challenge. In training for that and doing races along the way, I discovered myself as a runner. The Boston Marathon is the culmination of that evolution."
Nicole Dingley, 37, Kansas City: "The running community has created an unbelievable sense of passion around this year's Boston Marathon. That fact that I get to go, that I have the strength and endurance to be there, is so special to me. Also, I decided to support Operation Breakthrough in conjunction with this event. I raised about $4,500 for this awesome cause because the Kansas City community has been so inspired by this year's Boston Marathon and this cause!"
Jeremy Garrett, 37, Kansas City: "One notable reason is that I only ran the Boston qualifier as an act of solidarity with a good friend of mine who is now serving in Afghanistan. He is a Massachusetts native and we made a plan to both qualify for Boston and run it together. Plans changed when he got called to serve in Afghanistan, so now I'm running in part as a tribute to him."
Kim Gudenkauf, 43, Olathe: "To celebrate the spirit of runners, Boston and all affected."
Matt Kruger, 25 (he now lives in St. Louis but traveled back for the dinner): "I want to return this year to celebrate the best road race in the world, to help the city and running community heal, and to show that good will triumph over evil."
Stacey Sperry, 36, Leawood: "It will be an incredible tribute to the strength and resolve of Boston. Looking forward to the finish line of 2014."
Gene Webb, 46, Blue Springs: "I love the crowd and the spectators as they always cheer you on and support you. I am also running this for my sister Casey, who died last July."
Bruce Gilbert, 64, Overland Park: "It is very special to go back to Boston in 2014, as Boston was my first marathon in 1969. I feel so fortunate to be able to run it 45 years later. There were 1,151 runners in the 1969 Boston Marathon. I finished 161st that year."
Rodney Dean Pixler, 50, Liberty: "I get to travel with a great group of friends. I get to be part of one of the biggest celebrations of the year."
Kaylin Mayse, 38, Plattsburg: "This is my FIRST Boston Marathon! I qualified in San Diego after narrowly missing my time twice previously. Not only is this special to me because I'm reaching a goal, but also to prove that marathon runners CAN'T BE STOPPED!"
Jennifer Belmore, 41, Lee's Summit: "My family is from Boston, and my cousin lives in Watertown, where (terrorist Dzhokhar) Tsarnaev was hiding. It means a lot to be able to support my family's community."
Mark Logan, 48, Prairie Village: "After the bombing I decided I had to try to run Boston. Achieving a Boston qualifier had always seemed out of reach, but I trained like mad last summer. I trimmed more than 20 minutes off my PR, but fell three minutes short of qualifying. Fortunately, I met Anne Mahlum, the founder of Back on My Feet, and she offered me a spot on their team. I'm hoping to BQ at Boston."
Brad Rhoden, 61, Topeka: "Watching the events unfold during last year's event, I knew I would be in Boston in 2014 to support the running community and city of Boston."
Marla Rhoden, 58, Topeka: "Many of my best marathon memories revolve around Boston. It was the first marathon I ran with husband Brad in 1993. My four fastest marathon times were in Boston, and I love the city. I did not make it last year, but I was determined to go this year to show support for the marathon and the city of Boston. Terrorists will not destroy our will!"
Stephanie Zeller, 27, Prairie Village: "Ever since I qualified and ran the Boston Marathon in 2012, the experience has stuck with me, as I know it does with all runners. I said to my husband afterward, 'I'll run this race every year my legs will take me.' It's such an amazing tradition and race, runner or not, and I cannot wait to see it all again this year."
Mike Bonham, 38, Parkville: "Has been a dream to run Boston since I started running in 2012. Was a spectator last year and being so close to the tragedy, and the inspiring way the city responded, made getting there a necessity in 2014!"
Carl Vansant, 76, Kansas City: "This Boston will be my seventh. Boston is very special -- a great celebration. Of course I was greatly affected by the events of 2013."
Ken Beach, 61, Raytown: "It is the grand dad of all American marathons!"
Anthony Lee, 41, Leavenworth: "Because this time I am taking my family with me and it will be the first time that they will see me finish a marathon."
Brett Agee, 26, Kansas City: "The crowd support and enthusiasm are like no other race I have ever seen. I want to celebrate afterward in Boston since I wasn't able to last year."
Gary Mundhenke, 52, Kansas City: "We are excited to go back and see the bomb sites and the memorials there. I also want to do this to show that terrorists cannot keep us from doing things like a marathon."