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May 2, 2013

A Story of Caring and Sharing in the Face of Tragedy

"You are a finisher in my eyes," a story of caring and sharing in the face of tragedy
 
2013 marks the first year my daughter, Laura ran the Boston Marathon and like many first-time marathoners she trained for months in advance for the 26.2 mile trek.
"A couple of years ago, if you had said 'you're going to run a marathon in a couple of years,' I would have laughed and said you're absolutely crazy," she later told ABC New's Byron Pitts. "I couldn't even run a mile."
Laura's family - me, my wife,
Laura WellingtonDiane,  her aunts Sarah and Carolyn, and her boyfriend Bryan - were on hand to cheer her on.

As she approached the half-way mark, Laura developed problems with her knee and considered quitting. "My brain was telling me to stop," Laura recalled," but my heart was telling me to just keep going."

I'll let Laura's Facebook post from that evening tell you the rest of the story: 
 
"As some of you know, I was 1/2 mile from the finish line when the explosion went off. I had no idea what was going on until I finally stopped and asked someone. Knowing that my family was at the finish line waiting for me, I started panicking, trying to call them. Diverted away from the finish line, I started walking down Mass Ave towards Symphony Hall still not knowing where my family was. Right before the intersection of Huntington, I was able to get in touch with Bryan and found out he was with my family and they were safe. I was just so happy to hear his voice that I sat down and started crying. Just couldn't hold it back. At that moment, a couple walking by stopped. The woman took the space tent off her husband, who had finished the marathon, and wrapped it around me. She asked me if I was okay, if I knew where my family was. I reassured her I knew where they were and I would be okay. The man then asked me if I finished to which I nodded "no." He then proceeded to take the medal off from around his neck and placed it around mine. He told me "you are a finisher in my eyes." I was barely able to choke out a "thank you" between my tears.

Odds are I will never see this couple again, but I'm reaching out with the slim chance that I will be able to express to them just what this gesture meant to me. I was so in need of a familiar face at that point in time. This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be okay."
 
Laura began her post by saying "Please help me by sharing this," and share it they did. By morning, it had been reposted many thousands of times (and at this writing it has been shared close to 300,000 times!) and she learned the couple who befriended her were Brent and Karin Cunningham, of Sitka,Alaska.
  
Boston Marathon MedalHearing of the story, the ABC News program, 20/20 flew Brent back to Boston and reunited all of us for a wonderful dinner where Jack Fleming, from the Boston Athletic Association, presented both Laura and Brent with finisher medals. Jack put the medal around Brent's neck and then handed Laura's medal to Brent, who placed the medal around her neck, then kissed her forehead, looked into her eyes and said, once again,  "You are a finisher!"  
 
At the close of our time together, Laura reached into her pocket and pulled out a second Boston Marathon finisher's medal. Brent stepped back and said, "You listen to me Laura Wellington. I don't want my medal back. It's yours. My gift to you," to which Laura replied, "Brent, this isn't that medal. See? This is my medal! I got my medal a few hours later when I picked up my bag. I want you to have my medal"!  
 
Now, Laura has Brent's medal, he has Laura's medal, they both have extra medals from the B.A.A, and we are all counting our blessings along with a host of new friends. We will be forever mindful of the terrible tragedy that beset so many on that day, yet every time we look at that medal, we will remember that good people like Brent Cunningham make this world a better place.

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Dick Reck on May 15, 2013 1:08 AM
Parker - What a beautiful story.  The whole story in Boston has affected me emotionally a number of times.  Your story about Laura's experience reignighted those emotions again. 
 
Thank you for sharing this.  We all learn a lot during our lives about adversity and the lessons we learn about our world are sometimes challenging. 
 
The kindness of Americans and the love we share with one another is what sets us apart.
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Tom Hanke on May 15, 2013 10:09 AM
Wow, that is an amazing story! Thanks for sharing it Parker. Glad to know you are all safe!
 
Tom
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Lynda Doose Snyder on May 17, 2013 1:47 PM
Thanks for sharing!  The proud HTHS tradition has been handed down to
another generation!
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