Boston Marathon bombers weren’t going to douse students’ ‘dreams’

Dreamafar High School Marathon runners.



( has been chronicling the tales of more than two dozen people affected by the Boston bombings at last year’s marathon.This is our next installment. Read their stories.)

Jamie Chaloff and Mary Kennedy were having a nearly perfect day.

The co-directors of Dreamfar High School Marathon had spent the better part of their morning and early afternoon on April 15, 2013, celebrating their organization near the halfway point of the Boston Marathon in Wellesley, Mass. Dreamfar is a non-profit organization that trains high school students to run the Cox Providence Marathon in May (the Boston Marathon requires runners to be 18 years of age).

While the organization celebrated, runners who support Dreamfar made their way through the course. As the afternoon wore on Chaloff and Kennedy, who had finish line passes, made the trip to their final destination of Boylston Street so that they could watch those runners complete the race.

When they got to the Prudential Center on Boylston, though, they were met with a sea of people running away from the finish line.

“At that point it sort of is a mob mentality,” Kennedy said. “When we said, ‘What are you running from?’ people said, ‘We don’t know. We think there were gunshots.’”

Eventually, Chaloff and Kennedy returned to the Prudential Center, where they saw on a television in the building what had actually happened – two explosions that had killed and injured those in the area of the finish line.

“Our husbands kept calling us and saying, ‘You need to get home. Do you know what’s going on in town?’” Chaloff said. “But we didn’t go home. We couldn’t go home until we spoke to all of our runners. We knew we were safe – we thought we were safe anyway.”

Luckily, after making numerous phone calls, Chaloff and Kennedy knew those running for Dreamfar were safe – most had never crossed the finish line and were kept back after the attack. Chaloff and Kennedy were also relieved that their more than 100 students were still with their families roughly 12 miles away.

Although the attack shook the Boston community, Dreamfar still had a goal to accomplish – in three weeks those high school students would cross the finish line in Providence.

It was a goal that had started six years earlier when Chaloff took nine students that she called “misfits” and convinced them to train for a marathon.

“They were the kids that smoked pot. They were the kids that drank. They were the kids that hated school. They were the kids that reading was a chore,” Chaloff, who is a special education teacher at Newton South High School, said.

“They were pretty hand-selected.”

The nine students thought running a marathon was easy, in part because Chaloff, who was in her late-40s at the time, could run one.

Each week the students ran maintenance runs and one long run. For them, a long run started with a mile and increased over the course of the 30-week training program. Then, in the beginning of May, they completed the Providence Marathon.

Dreamfar has grown drastically over the past six years as more than 100 students from nine schools spend some of their weekdays and every Saturday training with mentors who help them through their runs, giving them the encouragement they need to make it through the race.

Despite the larger size, the group’s motto is still the same.

“We always finish what we start,” Chaloff said. “You learn so much more than just running. It’s about taking the small goals, breaking them up and actually finishing it. For most of our students it’s the first thing they’ve ever finished.”

In the days that followed the Boston Marathon attack, Chaloff invited the students to come to her home and talk about how they were feeling. While most of the students had not fully made the connection between what had happened in Boston and their race in Providence, one group wanted to do a team run as a way to process everything.

“They saw the resiliency of the running community,” Kennedy said. “I think they felt really proud to be a part of that and wanted to keep that spirit alive. Like this is something that I can do to show my support in a way, but it was an abstract thing for them.”

Three weeks later, Dreamfar participated in the Providence Marathon. While some of the security measures were different – with armed officers located near the start and end of the course – the students ran and accomplished their goal of finishing the race.

Boston Marathon Tribute

“There’s something so special about the kids,” Kennedy, who has trained both adults and students to run marathons, said. “There’s something a little bit different – seeing the culmination of 30 weeks of them kind of jumping in feet first, trusting all of us and trusting each other.

“They were doing this and they really didn’t know what it was. And there they were – the smiles on their faces of what they accomplished and what they have ahead of them now is just magical.”

When spectators line the sidewalks for the Boston Marathon this year, they will have a chance to see eight runners representing Dreamfar, and, depending on where those spectators are along the racecourse, they will also see a large group of students with signs supporting those runners.

“We’ll do it together like we do everything,” Chaloff said.