A little over a year ago this week, I sat on a picnic table at Cool Springs Church in Hanover County and listened to Scott Menzies describe his emotions about the upcoming Boston Marathon. Scott told me he was going to Boston chasing one last chance to see life the way Meg would have seen it. "I want to be where I know she was going to be and see what I know she was going to see," he told me. (Read One Last Race With Meg). This week, I got to sit down and talk with someone who was in Boston last year supporting Scott's journey, and as a result, came away with a dream of her own to chase.
When Kelley Schmidt found out Scott was going to run the Boston Marathon, not just in Meg's honor, but in her place - Meg had qualified to run Boston and was training for the race when she was struck and killed by a drunk driver - she knew she had to go there to support him. Kelley grew up in Boston, went to church with and was friends with Scott and Meg, and like so many of us, Meg's death filled her with a desire to do something to help Scott and his kids.
When Kelley arrived in Boston she went to the one place she knew she'd be able to see Scott - the shoe memorial. Prior to the race, Kel Kelly, who lives near Boston, had constructed a shoe memorial called the Soles of Love. Kelly built the towering display out of 700 pairs of shoes sent to her from around the world by runners answering her call to contribute to her tribute to Meg. It gave runners from as far away as Australia and Germany, as well as hundreds from Meg's hometown, a chance to be part of the journey Scott was about to embark on to honor Meg. Kelley Schmidt knew there was no way Scott would run past that memorial without stopping. And she was right.
The shoe memorial was also one of the first places Kelley and Kel Kelly went after they first met in Boston. Upon seeing the memorial, Kelley said she was amazed that someone who didn't know Meg could show so much love, compassion and support for Meg's family and friends. At the time, Kelley had no way of knowing where meeting Kel Kelly would ultimately lead her. Looking back on that day today, though, it's easy to imagine an angel in their midst who knew exactly where it would lead. Likely because she was in charge of the leading.
After Kelley saw Scott at the shoe memorial she hurried ahead to try to see him again. At mile 20 on the course she came to a desolate water station - a mysterious scene at a point in the race when the station should have been overrun with runners at their weariest and thirstiest. Kelley had been standing there but a second when one of those runners stopped to hydrate - Scott Menzies. At that moment, Kelley made the inspiration-filled comment that if she was ever going to run a marathon - it would be Boston.
There are times in our lives when we say things half-heartedly that just the right person hears and decides it's their job to pour in the rest of the heart. Several months after Boston, Kel Kelly called Kelley Schmidt and asked her if she wanted to run the Boston Marathon in 2015. She had a bib available through a charity she ran for - House of Possibilities - and it was Kelley's if she wanted it. Kel told Kelley to take some time and think about it. It was a serious commitment. After what seemed like only a few hours had passed, Kel asked Kelley if she'd made up her mind. She hadn't, really, but sometimes you don't follow your head, or even your heart. You follow the angel.
Kelley hasn't looked back. She's had her eyes focused on April 20th since the day she said yes. As she told me about the training she's battled through the past several months, she frequently broke into tears. The path to Boston has obviously been filled with as many emotional challenges as physical ones. Whether they've been triggered by a song or a thought about Meg and Scott and their kids and families, either on a treadmill at the gym or sneaking in road miles when the weather and babysitter permitted, Kelley said the tears have rarely failed to show up. One of the biggest challenges in preparing for the race, she said, is constantly wishing there was more she could do for Scott and his kids.
Kelley talked a lot about the demons that have haunted her throughout her training. Voices trying to convince her she couldn't do this. Asking her what difference it would make if she did. She said it wasn't until her very final training run that she would enjoy one, demon-free run. She met up with Ed Deiss and several other runners from the Megsmiles supporters group. They ran on Hickory Hill Road - home of the original shoe memorial for Meg. Kelley posted this on Facebook after that run:
Today I ran 8 strong #megsmiles with some pretty special people. Thank you Gale Foster Menzies, Farley Mennetti Allen, Don Booth, Ed Deiss & Bob Maistros for coming out this morning to Meg Cross Menzies' memorial & running a pretty tough course on Hickory Hill Rd. What a beautiful morning with the sun shining down on us & the presence of Meg to keep us going strong. I am Boston ready because of so many of you & will #Bostonstrong for all of you.
Last year I sat in a local library and tracked Scott's Boston progress online. I'd never experienced such emotion for an event I couldn't see or hear, only feel. So much of it had to do with how much I knew Boston meant to Scott. All that he would experience along the way. Come Monday it will be a similar experience tracking Kelley. As I talked with her last week I couldn't help but feel a baton of sorts was passed to her at last year's Boston Marathon. It was the last big race Meg ever trained for. She had such big hopes for that race. Scott ran it for her last year. Kelley this year. Through the Megsmiles group we have the opportunity to keep Meg's Boston dreams alive. And through us, Meg works every day to keep her loving and giving spirit alive.
Go get em Kelley. Your legs might get tired, the questions may come in droves, but the most incredible angel I've ever known will be right there with you. Probably scouting for someone to keep the dream alive next year.
If you want to track Kelley Monday you can download the Boston Athletic Association app or following her progress online at the BAA website.
Kelley and her family cheering Scott on in the 2014 Boston Marathon
Kelley's final training run before her own Boston Marathon run in 2015