Mary Schwalm/Associated Press
Last year, Bobby Carpenter, a former NHL player who spent several years with the Washington Capitals, ran the 2016 Boston Marathon. Almost immediately after the race, people approached him and asked him if he would do it again. He replied that he would not do it for himself and was impressed with those people who had done the event. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at how Carpenter and paralyzed female hockey player Denna Laing finished the race together this year.
During the summer, Carpenter had the urge to run the marathon again and this time he wanted to finish it with Denna Laing, a former hockey player for the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), who was paralyzed as a result of a spinal injury sustained during the Outdoor Women’s Classic on December 31, 2015.
The plan was to run in the Boston Marathon while pushing Denna in a racing wheelchair. Carpenter had initially gotten to know Denna because she is the daughter of Dennis Laing, a hockey opponent from his childhood.
Initially, Laing was apprehensive. She was usually the athlete and did not want someone else running in her place. However, Carpenter mentioned that he wanted to run to benefit Journey Forward, an organization dedicated to helping those with spinal cord injuries and with whom Laing herself had trained during the past year after suffering her own injury. Eventually, she opened up to the offer, given that it would help the organization that had helped her during her rehabilitation. Carpenter would run the race and push her in the wheelchair 26.2 miles from the starting point in Hopkinton, all the way to the finish line in Boston.
In preparation for their joint race, Carpenter trained harder for the 2017 Boston Marathon than he had the previous year. Prior to running in 2016, the most miles he had run was ten miles, but he had survived. This time his training included more hill work, more core work, and more strength work, including weightlifting. They even tried to do a half-marathon in Florida in January, except the actual race was cancelled due to inclement weather. They practiced on a course at Marblehead for a final run-through before their actual race.
They leaned on others for advice, such as how to dress warmly and how to pace themselves. This included advice from the Hoyts, a father and son team who participated in 32 Boston Marathons. Dick Hoyt had run in over 1000 races while pushing his son Rick in a wheelchair.
Prior to the Marathon, Laing reported:
“I love the fact that we’re running for Journey Forward. It gives me a sense of doing something bigger than myself and that place has been so good to me. The people are great. And there are so many people in there working so hard every day. We’re all just looking to get better and keep getting to be our best selves. I think that Journey Forward’s the perfect representation of what the marathon stands for, because everyone’s looking at the marathon to go a little further and do something that they wouldn’t think that they could do before, and that’s exactly what we’re doing at Journey Forward. They’re pushing us to be better, go forward, and do something that you might not have thought you could a couple months ago or a couple weeks ago.”
There were many cheers as Laing and Carpenter traveled their last mile of the Marathon on Monday. They were both shocked to see 90% of the field of elite runners cheering them on for much of their race. By the end of the race, they had exceeded their original funding goal of $53,000. “It was incredible,” Laing said at a post-event gathering at Grill 23 & Bar. “It was definitely everything everyone said it was going to be and more. It honestly felt like everyone knew our names. The crowd was just incredible. I felt like everyone was talking straight to me, or waving straight to me. I’ve never said hi to that many people in my lifetime.”
Their final time was 4:32:30, not much different than the time Carpenter had accomplished the previous year (~four hours). Prior to the race, he was concerned since they were not able to train as much with the wheelchair, given Boston’s typical weather. Last year, he had run with headphones and did not interact much with the crowd. This year it was the opposite.
I donated and received an email with thanks from Robert Carpenter. For anyone who still wishes to donate to Journey Forward, the link is here:
By: Diane Doyle