Inspired by Survivors, Bellantonio Competes for Kids’ Camp

When two homemade bombs were detonated five years ago at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds, the city rallied in support, coining the term “Boston Strong.” Since then, the phrase has appeared on countless t-shirts, flags, and bumper stickers in support of the marathoners and the police who patrol the race.

When Danielle Bellantonio, MCAS ’18, saw the strength of the city—her sisters were Boston College students at the time—in the aftermath of the bombing, she was in awe.

“It was totally inspiring to see how runners pushed past that and how Boston itself pushed past that,” the senior said.

When she arrived on campus freshman year, her goal to run the marathon was only further affirmed as she watched the runners race by at mile 21. The atmosphere surrounding the race inspired her to apply for a bib sophomore year. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able  to get one. After studying abroad in Spain junior year, Bellantonio came back as a senior, ready to try again.

After applying online and interviewing over the phone, she found out that she had been accepted to run for The Hole in the Wall, a camp in Connecticut—Bellantonio’s home state—that allows children with serious medical conditions to attend summer camp. The campers have diagnoses ranging from cancer to sickle cell disease to HIV/AIDS, but at camp they have the freedom to go horseback riding, swimming, and fishing.

Although Bellantonio hadn’t heard of the camp before she started applying for the marathon, she found that she knows more people with connections to it than she initially thought. The fact that it’s so close to home and has meant a lot to people close to her has made running all the more special.

It’s been important to feel that connection to the organization for which she’s running—on the cold, snowy days that Bellantonio has had to go for her runs, she thinks about why she’s really doing it. Having that in the back of her mind has made it possible to push through the tough New England winter weather.

“You kind of have to remind yourself that it’s only temporary,” Bellantonio said.

Her training began in December and has been building up significantly every week. When she started out, she ran three to five miles around three times per week, with a long run once a week. She increased her mileage every week: Her longest run totaled 21 miles, about a month before the race. Since then, she’s been in tapering season, slowly decreasing the mileage to rest before the 26.2 miles she’ll run on Monday.

One of her roommates, Sarah Hanson, MCAS ’18, is running the marathon as well. She pointed out Bellantonio’s spirit when it comes to training.

“The easy part is the actual marathon, the hard part is getting yourself up day in and day out to train, regardless of the weather,” she said. “Danielle did all of this and more with a smile on her face.”

Bellantonio said having Hansman there, going through the same things, has been great for support. Although they haven’t been training together—they both prefer to run alone and their schedules don’t quite line up—Bellantonio said that having each other to calm their nerves the day of is going to be incredibly helpful. Her roommate certainly agrees.

“Danielle is the person everyone wants in their life,” Hansman said. “Danielle has been a loving and supportive part of my 4 years and BC and I couldn’t thank her more.”

Even though the day of the marathon might be stressful, Bellantonio says that she uses running as a stress reliever. Before college she mostly ran for sports: She played soccer, field hockey, track, and lacrosse. Her strength was always the running involved, so when she got to college and no longer had practices, she started to run for fun.

She uses it as an outlet, allowing her mind to wander as she got to know the streets of Boston through running. She ran a 5K her sophomore year in Newton and a half marathon in Cambridge this past fall. Something different about this race compared to past races, however, is the intense financial component. Bellantonio’s goal, which she has met, was $7,500. Although she was stressed in the beginning, she quickly realized just how much her friends and family were there to support her.

“Luckily I’ve had really, really gracious donors,” she said.

Bellantonio went to work fundraising as soon as she accepted her bib around Christmas time, posting on Facebook, holding Chipotle fundraisers, and hosting a raffle night in her Mod. She was especially grateful for her friends’ support, noting that despite everyone being a broke college kid, her friends did their best to be there for her financially and emotionally.

She said that when she struggled, her friends were there to tell her she was going to be able to do it. Apart from the encouragement that they gave her, she thinks about why she’s doing what she is.

“I try to remind myself what I’m running for,” Bellantonio explained. “I think it’s a couple of things. First, it was such a big goal of mine for so many years and to accomplish such a dream is gonna be such an amazing feeling. But also to know that I ran to raise so much money for children who really need it.”

Thanks to Bellantonio’s fundraising, three children are going to be able to attend The Hole in the Wall this summer for free.

“I think finishing the race on behalf of them is going to be such an amazing feeling,” she said.

Apart from the opportunity she is able to provide for the campers, Bellantonio feels that the race is serving as one of her final memories at BC. As a senior, she’s moving to San Francisco after graduation to work for Deloitte in its marketing department.

“I would say, in a way, running the Boston Marathon is also a farewell to my home city,” she said.”

She felt that she got to know Boston through some of her runs and is looking forward to doing the same with her new home in San Francisco.

She has her sights set on a few more marathons: While she’d like to race in some of the larger marathons in the United States, including New York and Chicago, she would also love to travel the world and run. She cited marathons in Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo as potential future endeavors.  

Bellantonio says that part of her drive to run comes from BC’s student culture of hard work and always pushing to achieve personal goals, no matter what they are. She said that this year, she knows over 20 people running the marathon. They’re in a GroupMe together, constantly sharing tips for routes, brands of running gummies for extra energy, and inspirational quotes.

Although she loves the support that comes from being in a group of runners, Bellantonio prefers to be alone as she runs.

“I think running is very personal for me,” she explained, noting that she feels more relaxed on the days that she runs.

As for running after the marathon, Bellantonio said she plans to take a break, but not for too long.

“Yeah, I think I’ll definitely take a few days off for sure,” she said. “I think running, for me, is so much a part of my life that I will definitely keep going.”

Featured Image by Sam Zhai / Heights Staff

April 15, 2018