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Bobby Carpenter, Denna Laing set for Boston Marathon

Retired NHL forward will push former NWHL player in wheelchair Monday

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Approached immediately after the 2016 Boston Marathon, his first such race, Bobby Carpenter was asked if he would ever do it again. The former NHL forward, who played 1,178 games with the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils, considered the question.

"I said I probably wouldn't do it for myself," Carpenter said recently. "I was so impressed with all the other people who did it, left it at that. Through the summer I got the itch to do it again. Obviously Denna was my first choice."

Carpenter was referring to Denna Laing, the player on the Boston Pride of the National Women's Hockey League who sustained a spinal injury Dec. 31, 2015, in the Outdoor Women's Classic, part of the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium. It left her confined to a wheelchair. Carpenter had known her father, Dennis, since they played against each other as kids. And if he was going to run another marathon, he wanted it to be with Denna Laing, for Denna Laing.

That was how the partnership started, one that will compete in the 2017 Boston Marathon on Monday, with Carpenter pushing Laing 26.2 miles in a racing wheelchair, in the mode of the marathon's most famous duo, Dick and Rick Hoyt.

Not that Laing initially was convinced. She was apprehensive. After all, she always had been the athlete. She didn't want someone else to be the athlete in her place. But once Carpenter mentioned that he wanted to do the run to benefit Journey Forward, an organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those with spinal-cord injuries, and a place where Laing has trained for the past year, she was all-in.

Those were the magic words.

"At first I was a little hesitant just because I didn't know really how I was going to feel about sitting in a chair," said Laing, 25. "But Bobby said that we would run for Journey Forward and, for me, to help that group out is a no-brainer. So I quickly got on board."

In running Boston last year, Carpenter, 53, didn't put that much effort into his training. The marathon marked the first time he had topped 10 miles. He survived, though, and has gone through an entirely different process to prepare for running with Laing, including more hill work, more core work, more strength work. He didn't need to work with weights last time. This time? Absolutely.

Carpenter and Laing did a half-marathon together in Florida in January, though they had to improvise after the actual race was canceled because of inclement weather. Since then, they hadn't been able to do much training outside until Sunday, when they took to a course in Marblehead for a final run-through before the race.

"You're working on all the little pieces and on marathon day we'll kind of put them together," Laing said. "I think the big thing that's working in our favor right now is the camaraderie that we're developing. I have never run a marathon, but I'm going to have to bet that a lot of it is mental. So I think just building the good team that we're building right now is going to go a long way on Marathon Monday."

They have leaned on others who have done this before, absorbing advice about how to stay warm, how to be comfortable, how to push the chair optimally, how much to stop and how quickly to run. Those tips have been invaluable in calculating how to attack the race and in easing their minds in the run-up to the event. That has included some advice from the Hoyts, the father and son who ran 32 Boston Marathons before retiring in 2014.

"I pretend I'm doing what he did, but it's not even close because we have new technology. We have new equipment," Carpenter said of Dick Hoyt, who pushed his son Rick in more than 1,000 races. "I can't imagine what he had to go through 25 years ago. I can't imagine."

Ultimately, for Carpenter and Laing, the point of all of this is to raise money. They have already surpassed their $53,000 goal, with more than $65,000 raised. To donate, click here.

"I love the fact that we're running for Journey Forward," Laing said. "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."

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