The walls of Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General) are all too familiar for Erin Spellman, MCAS ’21. Approximately 20 years ago, Spellman was born there. Not only that, but she’s had multiple family members treated for cancer at that very hospital. One of her young cousins was admitted to the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology—and when she visited as a member of the 2019 Mass General Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Team for the Boston Marathon, all of the memories from the times she spent as Mass General came flooding back.
“Like I said, I was born at Mass General, I spend a lot of time there, [and it] almost feels like a second home,” Spellman said. “So when I went back now that I’m running the marathon, we met the doctors and some of the patients, and a lot of memories came back from being there when my cousin was little.”
But the catalyst for Spellman’s journey to become a runner in this year’s Boston Marathon—her first marathon—was not just her memories at Mass General, but rather the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Her uncle was on the ground as a runner when the pressure-cooker bombs went off. Fortunately, Spellman was locked away in her hotel room, sick with food poisoning.
“We were supposed to be at the finish line, because my mom’s brother was running,” Spellman said. “I was just in our hotel room, and we turned on the news, and we had family members texting us saying, ‘I’m okay, I’m okay.’”
That night, she and her family holed up in her cousin’s Boston apartment, afraid to go outside with the threat of another bombing looming over their heads. And while the Florida native and her immediate family flew home before lockdown procedures were implemented, her Boston-based extended family proceeded to undergo an intense lockdown. All public transportation in the City of Boston was shut down and people were encouraged to remain inside as a city-wide manhunt ensued.
Along the highway driving back to the airport, Spellman remembers seeing the perpetrators’ faces plastered on signs—at that point, the brothers had yet to be taken into custody and the threat of another bombing still existed.
“Everyone was just in a panic about what to do that day, because no one had ever expected [that] something like that was going to happen,” Spellman said.
But 2013 also instilled in Spellman a feeling of pride for Boston. Following the marathon, Spellman and her family flew back up to Beantown for Game Six of the World Series, in which the Red Sox squared off against the St. Louis Cardinals. To cap off a tragic year for the city on a happy note, Spellman saw the Red Sox take home the World Series trophy. After witnessing this, she knew she couldn’t wait to be a part of the Boston Strong mentality that she had witnessed firsthand in the aftermath of the bombings.
“So 2013 just has this whole like Boston Strong, Boston pride thing,” Spellman said. “I was like, ‘I want to be a part of this. I want to run the Boston Marathon someday.’ I started running, like, after we came home from the marathon.”
While her uncle couldn’t finish the race due to the bombing, he left Boston unharmed. Spellman is no stranger to people with lasting effects of the bombing, though. Her high school cross country coach, after waiting for his friend at the finish line, is now deaf in one ear. Another woman named Adrienne Haslet, whom Spellman runs with as part of the Heartbreak Hill Running Company, lost a leg. And although Haslet had never ran a day in her life before becoming an amputee, she finished her first Boston Marathon just two years ago.
Spellman is in good company when it comes to group runs. This time last year, Spellman joined the Heartbreak Hill Running Company just as the other runners were getting ready to run the 2018 Boston Marathon. For her, this experience on a running team provided her with both a smooth transition to training for an enormous feat and a great deal of motivation.
“Every Saturday morning, you’ll see runners in Newton on Commonwealth Avenue. And that’s pretty inspirational, too,” Spellman said.
Many members on her team, Haslet included, face obstacles to running. Some runners even have children being treated in the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at Mass General—the program Spellman is championing the cause for.
“They basically live at Mass General now with their kids,” Spellman said. “You know, I don’t have it that bad. I [am] perfectly healthy.”
Spellman’s cause is not just one close to her own heart, but close to the hearts of her friends. Over the course of the past two years, Spellman’s friend Will Jarvis, MCAS ’21, has watched her turn her dream to run the marathon into a reality. Jarvis and his family also have an emotional connection to Mass General, with multiple family members who have been treated in the hospital, so seeing Spellman get up early on Saturdays to train long before himself and the rest of their friends woke up testified to the importance of Spellman’s cause not just to herself, but to those around her.
“Coincidentally, [Mass General] is very close to myself and my family,” Jarvis said. “So it’s just been kind of awesome seeing all of her fundraising going towards something that can affect so many people.”
Mass General won’t leave her side, even while she’s running. On her team for Mass General is Howard Weinstein, a doctor in the hospital’s department of pediatrics. Every Saturday morning, Spellman and Weinstein suit up to run—whether it be 10 miles or 21 miles.
“[Weinstein’s] running no matter what—no matter what the weather is, he’s always out there,” Spellman said.
In between working shifts at Mass General for Weinstein and taking classes at BC for Spellman, Spellman and the rest of her team have to fundraise to run the marathon. To raise money for a cause close to her heart, Spellman had to unlock her extroverted side—a form of communication she hasn’t always been comfortable with.
To raise her goal of $10,000, Spellman hosted a spin class at B/SPOKE Studios, invited her friends for ice cream at White Mountain, and sold Marathon Monday t-shirts—procuring whatever money she could from college kids. Luckily, Spellman notes that everyone at BC is obsessed with spin classes, making for a fun and easy fundraiser for a good cause.
“So I called around the city, and B/SPOKE Studios in Boston, they said, ‘Yeah, sure, you’ll be able to host a fundraiser,’” Spellman said. “All my friends came out, we had about 40 people there. They went crazy. Everyone got so into it.”
Already, her $10,000 fundraising goal has been met. Currently, Spellman has raised a total of $12,126 and counting. Along with working hard to not only meet but exceed her fundraising goal, Spellman has applied this tenacity to her training. Throughout the school year, Jarvis saw Spellman climb toward her lofty goal of a running a spring marathon—and it all started with shorter fall runs.
“In September she started running, you know, three, four, five miles a day. And by, you know, probably January, she was doing 20 or 21 every week,” Jarvis said. “We all know she’s just gonna kill it.”
And as she advocates for a cause near and dear to her heart, Spellman is constantly reminded that she’s helping children in the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology
by running the Boston Marathon.
“Whenever I’m out for a run [and] I’m kind of struggling, I think, ‘Okay, I’m doing this for other people because I’m able to do this,’” Spellman said. “‘So I can help out other people who can’t.’”
Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor