McKeon Steps Forward in the Face of Tragedy

If you ask Jack McKeon, MCAS ’19, why he decided to run the Boston Marathon, he’ll tell you all about how much his friends who had run it previously inspired him.

If you ask any of those friends, they’ll say the exact same thing about McKeon.

“I knew I wanted to do it here, because it seemed like everyone was having such a fun time during Marathon Monday, and then you see your friends run by and they look like they’re having a blast,” McKeon said. “It started off as, ‘I want to do this before I leave BC, so I’ll apply.’”

This motivation didn’t translate into results in his search for a bid—something he freely admits. He attempted a self-described “shotgun effect” by applying to as many charities as he could, with little success.

“I applied for a ton of charities in the fall, like probably 25 charities with a $7,500 dollar baseline, because I didn’t think I could get much more than that,” he said. “And then I didn’t get any of them, I got all rejections and waitlisted by one, which was Dana-Farber. It didn’t seem like it was heading anywhere, but I said ‘Yes, I’d like to be considered for the waitlist.’”

He went home last winter with low expectations for April. Soon after, his sister passed away from NORSE, a medical condition characterized by severe seizures that don’t respond to typical treatment methods. NORSE primarily affects young adults, and despite substantial research since its discovery in 2005, it seemingly appears suddenly and without any distinguishing warning signs beforehand.

“It was a bucket list thing at the start, and then it became much more,” he said. “I wanted to run something for her so I shopped around but there’s just no charity for that. So I thought that cancer would probably be the next best one, because she lost a lot of loved ones to cancer. I thought she’d like that.”

He started 2018 with a renewed purpose—but still no bib. He turned to his uncle, who had previously run the marathon for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Boston-based cancer treatment and research center. Shortly afterward, he returned with a belated Christmas present—with one major caveat.

“I kind of gave him a ‘You speak for me as far as this,’” McKeon said. “But he was like, ‘Oh yeah, by the way, I may have told them you could do $20,000.’”

The minimum amount each entry in the Boston Athletic Association’s Official Charity Program, which offers spots in the marathon to the runners representing a charity, has to raise is $5,000, with the average amount per runner clocking in at a little over $10,000. With only a few months to go, McKeon faced twice that, on top of training for his first-ever organized running experience.

“Most programs run three months. I’ve only been running since the day I found out and the very next weekend I had to start that three month program, whereas most people just ease into it and start doing five or eight miles,” he said.

Luckily, he didn’t have to go at it alone. His friends, who encouraged him to enter the marathon in the first place, rallied around him, offering him a crash course in long-distance running.

“I kind of jumped in, which was weird, but I had two good friends who ran it last year, Cat McLaughlin and Julia Olson. They did my first ten mile run with me,” he said. “My friend Jake Jordon, who ran it last year, has helped out a lot too.”

Some people might balk at the idea of training for a marathon that they won’t be running in, but McKeon’s friends showed no such hesitation. Even under an intense pressure to perform, McKeon’s can-do attitude made it more a blessing than a burden.

“The funniest thing about running with Jack is that he always says towards the end of our runs, ‘Thanks for pushing me guys, I couldn’t do it without you.’” said Catherine McLaughlin, LSOE ’19. “And I respond with a huffing-puffing, ‘Haha sure, no problem,’ even though Jack is the one pushing us.”

The irony isn’t lost on just McLaughlin, either.

“After every run, Jack says, ‘Thanks, you really pushed me!’ Or ‘I don’t know how I would have done that without you!’” said Julia Olson, MCAS ’19, another friend-turned-personal trainer of McKeon’s. “In reality, it was always Jack pushing me to be a faster runner, or to be more mentally tough.”

Although someone couldn’t tell by his high level of outward enthusiasm, McKeon has faced more than his fair share of obstacles on an already-fraught path. At one point, he lost a week to strep throat, making his dense training regiment even heavier. At others, the sheer magnitude of his task simply overwhelmed him—McKeon had to sacrifice tamer days in the name of constant progress.

“If you don’t schedule out your week, you can think ‘I don’t have time for these runs,’” he said. “It’s very easy to put it on the back burner, and I have.”

His fundraising efforts also constituted a community effort, as friends, family, neighbors, and strangers banded together to fuel his journey to $20,000, primarily through Facebook. Over $2,500 dollars of his total came from selling Marathon Monday t-shirts at BC, which was accomplished with the help Jake Jordon, CSOM ’19, and McKeon’s neighbor, a t-shirt distributor.

“This is the most I’ve ever heard someone has had to raise for a bib. But no feat is too great for Jack McKeon,” McLaughlin said.

With less than a week to go, McKeon just has the easiest part of his journey remaining: running the marathon—a bizarre thought.

In the end McKeon has been left in awe of the outpouring of support he’s received over the last few months.

“I just want to make sure my friends get credit, because they’ve been a big part of this,” he said.

McKeon’s friends are as excited as he is, if not more so, to see him race this Monday.

“One of the things that will get Jack to the finish line on Monday is not his athletic strength, but his endurance,” McLaughlin said. “He is the kind of guy that finishes what he starts and he finishes strong.”

“I am so proud of Jack, and can’t wait for him to experience crossing the Boston Marathon finish line. He deserves it more than anyone,” Olson said. “I’m not worried about him, because I know if he starts to doubt himself, he has an angel that will push him to keep going.”

Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff

April 12, 2018