By Gabrielle Ciemny
BU News Service
The family of Martin Richard has been at the finish line of the Boston Marathon every year since 2013, when two bombs exploded during the race, killing the 8-year-old. Richard’s family will once again cheer Monday for the 100 runners representing their foundation, Team MR8, as they cross the finish line on Boylston Street.
A photo of Martin holding a handwritten sign that read, “No more hurting people. Peace,” circulated across the world days after the marathon bombing. This photo became a symbol of peace and the inspiration behind the Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation, created by Martin’s parents, Bill and Denise Richard, in 2014. Team MR8 became the official running team for the foundation and, over the last four years, about 400 runners for Team MR8 have shared a common bond — the Richard Family has inspired them in ways they never could have imagined.
“That lasting image of an 8-year-old boy will never leave my mind,” Patrick McMahon said in an email. “As a people, we should always find love and compassion for ourselves and our neighbors. Life is all about learning, and I feel that Martin continues to teach everyone that there is better for all of us.”
McMahon has run for Team MR8 the last four years and will run the marathon in Martin’s honor on Monday.
McMahon also works with the charity to help first-time runners train, raise money and build the confidence to know they are going to finish the race. Runners who do not qualify for the marathon are required to raise a minimum of $7,500. All the money raised by the foundation is donated to organizations and invested in projects in Boston related to improving athletics, education and the community. Martin’s Park in the Fort Point Channel is one large project underway. John Hancock donated $150,008 to the crowdfunding campaign, according to the Team MR8 website.
Past MR8 runners reflected on the the circumstances of the foundation’s beginning.
“No one would have been upset or mad with [the Richards] if they never wanted to be a part of the marathon again,” said Eddie Harms, who ran for Team MR8 in 2015 and 2016. “They are reminded every day that their son’s life was taken too early, but instead of taking their time and walking away from it, they stepped up.”
In addition to losing their son, Denise Richards lost sight in one of her eyes, Bill Richards lost part of his hearing and their daughter Jane lost a leg as a result of the bombing.
“I might not technically have anything to owe the Richards, but it feels like a lot more than that,” said Harms, who ran the 2013 Boston Marathon and crossed the finish line just minutes before the first bomb went off. He was on Clarendon Street, just a block from the finish line, when he heard the explosion and saw the smoke.
“Where I was so lucky to be able to have two legs and my hearing and my sense of sight, the Richard Family has each lost something, whether it be a little bit of sight, hearing, a leg, or life.”
Brooke Kelly, another Team MR8 member who ran in 2015 and 2016, said she remembers how “almost everyone” was in favor of the death penalty during the Dzhokhar Tsaernaev trial.
“And I remember reading an article about Martin’s dad saying they didn’t want that,” she said. “They didn’t want any other parents to have to go through what they went through.”
“I don’t know if I could be as strong as them,” she continued. “You look back and you’re saddened with what happened, but I am also proud and honored that I can continue to let people know who he is and what he was about.”
“I hope my kids grow up knowing who Martin is and keep spreading his message and act as kind and generous as he was.”
The foundation’s goal is to “encourage both youth and adults to improve the lives of others and become bridge builders, peacemakers, leaders and changemakers by being kind, compassionate and committed to inclusion and the acceptance of diversity,” according to its web site.
Chris Busbee, a member of Team MR8’s 2015 team, said in an email that he’s “not an emotional guy, but somehow his story, and that of his family, rocked me to my core.”
“I have run over 40 marathons all over the world, but never have I felt the emotion I had for Team MR8 in 2015,” he said.
The runners said that the image of Martin they carry with them and his message of peace is what keeps them motivated over the long and sometimes difficult training months.
“There is something Bill Richard once said that will always stick with me,” Harms said. “That is that you can’t choose the challenges life throws at you, but you can choose the way you respond to those challenges.”