By Aditi Balasubramanian
Boston University News Service
The 126th Boston Marathon kicked off the weekend festivities with its Opening Celebration, including an award ceremony featuring the first women to compete in the marathon in 1972 and Chris Nikic, the first person with Down syndrome to complete the Ironman Triathlon.
Starting just after 5 p.m. on Friday, WBZ anchor Kate Merrill hosted the event on the marathon’s Fan Fest main stage at Copley Square.
This year’s marathon marks 50 years since women were officially allowed to compete and the women’s division was inaugurated. As a way to commemorate the milestone, five of the original eight women were honored at the celebration.
Nina Kuscsik, Val Rogosheske, Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb, Kathrine Switzer, Pat Barrett, and Sara Mae Berman took the stage at the event. The other three women, Elaine Pedersen, Ginny Collins, and Frances Morrison were not present at the ceremony. Pedersen passed away in 2000.
“I have to tell you when we walked to the starting line that day, there were eight of us who qualified. Eight of us registered, eight of us ran and all eight of us finished. We knew no matter what, we had to finish the race. We didn’t say that to each other. We just knew that because we knew we were stepping into a new world,” said Switzer, who placed third in the marathon in 1972.
Switzer, who mentioned the men who ran that year were “wonderful,” pointed out that in the U.S., 58% of all participating runners were women.
The eight women were joined by some female high school runners who will be participating in the B.A.A. High School mile run on Saturday, April 16. The young runners presented the special guests with the B.A.A. milestone medals.
Dr. Cheri Blauwet, two-time winner of the Boston Marathon and member of the B.A.A. board of governors presented Val Rogosheske with the special bib number 1972 for Monday’s race.
Dr. Michael O’Leary returned to the stage to present the Patriots Award to former Boston Mayor, Martin J. Walsh. Since 2002, the Patriots Award has been presented to an individual, group, or organization based in New England that is “patriotic, philanthropic, inspirational, and fosters goodwill, and sportsmanship.” The Patriots Award consolidates the Boston Marathon with the fact it lands on the same day as Patriots Day and its location in Boston itself.
Walsh talked about his first year as Mayor in 2014, a year after the Boston Marathon bombing. He said the marathon that year was a time of “healing,” and “shaped my young administration and touched me personally.”
“We work with the survivors, the runners community, the Back Bay and everyone who loves the city. We built a memorial so we never forget those who have lost and what they taught us,” Walsh said, as April 15 marks nine years since the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The day is also One Boston Day, a day to practice kindness and be nice to people.
The event also featured members of Alpha Omega society, the Consul General of Greece in Boston and the mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, to display the wreath that the marathon winners wear on their heads.
It’s a tradition that goes back to 1984 where Greece donates the winner’s wreath to the Boston Marathon. The wreaths are made from olive branches grown in Marathon, Greece and dipped in 24-karat gold.
Soon after, the Dick & Rick Hoyt Award was presented to Chris Nikic. Russ Hoyt, the brother of Rick Hoyt and son of Dick Hoyt presented the award.
The award honors the memory of Dick Hoyt, who passed away in March, 2021. Before his death, he ran the marathon for over 30 years, pushing his son, Rick, who has cerebral palsy.
Nikic, who received the award, is the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman Triathlon. He completed his first marathon in October at the 125th Boston Marathon, followed by the New York City Marathon in November. On Monday, April 18, he’ll be competing again in his second Boston Marathon.
The celebration ended with a video of Nikic, who talked about his journey to the marathon.
This marathon also marks the end of Thomas Grilk’s role as the President and CEO of the Boston Athletics Association. Grilk will be stepping down from his 11 years as president and transitioning into a senior advisor role. O’Leary will be the new president of the B.A.A.
During his time as a leader, Grilk created the newly formed Boston Running Collaborative and was a founding member of the Abbott World Marathon Majors through Boston Marathon fundraising, the official Boston Marathon charity program, and the John Hancock nonprofit program that raised more than $300 million.
“It is the privilege of a lifetime, to lead this organization, the B.A.A. Now over the past 11 years, we’ve endured here a great many challenges with the Boston Marathon, some of them severe whether from the weather, or the savage acts of people who were the instruments of terror,” Grilk said. “But through the strength of everyone involved in the marathon be the runners, volunteers, spectators, my colleagues at the BA and our Organising Committee, the people of Greater Boston, in New England, we’ve endured and overcome.”