She was never the fastest on her high school’s cross country team, but on Marathon Monday, Caroline Humphrey, MCAS ’19, will line up to compete with some of the top runners from across the world in the one race where being fast isn’t everything—it’s not a sprint, after all.
Beyond solely increasing her agility, her road to the marathon has been widely shaped by the charity she is running it for: The Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation (Stepping Strong). Although it was not an organization she sought out initially, she has grown to love it. In Boston, the process of being accepted to a charity for the marathon is highly competitive, so she’s excited and grateful for having even been selected. Stepping Strong was founded by the family of Gillian Reny, a high school senior who nearly lost her leg during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. She was taken to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she was treated and ultimately made a full recovery.
Humphrey applied to Stepping Strong without any previous ties to the organization, but during her training, it has become one she holds close to her heart.
“After meeting the Renys and all of the other runners, it has been a community I can’t imagine not having,” she said.
Established in 2014, Stepping Strong has brought together experts of multiple disciplines to perform trauma research and provide treatment to both civilians and military heroes who have experienced traumatic injuries.
Humphrey grew up in Pelham, N.Y., but she often watched the marathon in person while visiting her extended family in Boston. Most of Humphrey’s family is from Beantown and have been avid spectators of the marathon for generations—but she is the first in her family to actually run it.
“I’ve always wanted to run the Boston Marathon, and it kind of became a ‘now or never’ [moment] when I became a senior,” she said.
Senior year has been the ideal time for Humphrey to train for the marathon because she is enrolled in a much lighter course load in comparison to previous years—she said she has “no excuse not to run.”
Even though Humphrey was the slowest on her Pelham Memorial High School cross country team, she still loved the sport of running. Humphrey’s enthusiasm for running is the reason why her older sister, Elizabeth, was hardly surprised to find out that Humphrey would be running the marathon.
“She’s always had a passion for running,” Elizabeth said. “I think it has always really been a great way for her to clear her mind.”
Humphrey’s younger brother, Shea, is also a large source of inspiration for her. In 2017, the 13-year-old was unable to walk due to a complication from his mild cerebral palsy. He needed to have six separate corrective surgeries on his feet and legs to provide better alignment and support, requiring him to wear double leg casts while in recovery. His recovery process involved six weeks of no walking, and when he began to walk again he required extensive assistance.
In the fall of 2018, when Humphrey began looking into charities, her brother was lacking motivation to learn how to walk again, but Humphrey’s drive to run the 26.2 miles encouraged him to strive to take a few steps. Fortunately, her brother has begun walking again with assistance and will be in Boston to cheer on his sister as she sprints toward the finish line.
In the crowd of spectators, Humphrey will find the familiar faces of her relatives and friends. Because many of her extended family members are from the Boston area, 13 relatives—including many cousins—plan to station themselves at each mile. Her fellow Eagles are also confident in her abilities and will be there to support her.
“I know Caroline is going to do great, and we are all looking forward to seeing her at Mile 21,” her friend J.J. O’Donnell, CSOM ’19, said.
Although training for a marathon can seem daunting, Humphrey has maintained a positive mindset because she doesn’t have a particular time that she’s shooting for—instead, she hopes to finish the marathon while having fun and supporting a great cause. Luckily, she hasn’t had any injuries while training and has found yoga to be helpful in stretching her muscles.
In addition to preparing for the marathon, Humphrey has devoted her time at BC to the service organization 4Boston, for which she serves on Council as the leader of St. Columbkille Partnership School in Brighton.
With just over a month remaining until graduation, the hardest part for Humphrey has been balancing her social life with her training—particularly her early morning runs on Saturdays.
“It’s been hard because I don’t want to miss a Friday night out with my friends since there are only so many left,” she said. “My roommates have been so supportive, though, and sometimes they’ll run with me.”
This dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed by her peers, who admire the hard work she has put into her training. O’Donnell recalled a moment a few weeks ago when he had woken up at noon and was returning from Dunkin’ Donuts when he saw her running down Commonwealth Ave.
“Clearly, I felt pretty bad about myself with a donut and iced coffee in hand, but it definitely speaks to Caroline’s determination with her training plan,” he said.
According to those who know her best, Humphrey’s humility is another one of her defining characteristics.
“She does all these really cool things, but doesn’t really like the attention,” her sister said.
This contributed to another bump on Humphrey’s road to the marathon—fundraising for Stepping Strong. With her $8,000 goal, Humphrey described the process of reaching out to family and friends to ask for money as being difficult. Although Humphrey has struggled with raising money, O’Donnell praises her creative fundraising tactics, including a social event she hosted at Lansdowne Pub in Fenway, where a percentage of the profits were donated to her team. With less than a week left, Humphrey has raised over $7,000 and is still climbing toward her goal, but she is confident she will be able to reach it.
After graduation, Humphrey will stay in Boston to work as a technology consultant for Deloitte, a management consulting firm. With her dedication to the sport and support from her family and friends, the once slowest runner on her high school’s cross country team plans for running to remain a part of her life.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll run another marathon,” she said.
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor