BOSTON - The last mile was like a hug, the cheers and support and love overwhelming. It had been like that the rest of the race, too, starting a couple of miles in when Bobby Carpenter and Denna Laing had been shocked to see "90 percent" of the field of elite runners acknowledging them on the course of the 2017 Boston Marathon, as Carpenter recalled. That continued through to the final steps, with Laing's arm growing tired and her voice growing hoarse.
"That last mile was really, really cool," Laing said. "It just got so loud, so quickly. I felt like I was doing a pretty good job recognizing all my friends along the course, but at the end there I just didn't have much of a shot."
Carpenter, a former NHL player, and Laing had decided last summer to team up to run the marathon, with Carpenter pushing Laing in a wheelchair for 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston, in an effort to support the organization Journey Forward. The organization and rehabilitation facility has been instrumental in Laing's recovery from a spinal cord injury sustained on Dec. 31, 2015, at the Outdoor Women's Classic, part of the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.
As of the finish of the race, the pair had well exceeded their original goal of $53,000, with more than $81,000 raised.
"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."
It was a warm day for a marathon, with temperatures in the 70s at the start of the race. That slowed times and complicated runs for many of the marathoners. But it didn't seem to slow Carpenter or Laing. For Laing, the warmth helped keep her comfortable, where lower temperatures would have been more difficult for her.
"The weather turned out for me," Laing said.
And the pair completed the race in 4:32:30, not much longer than the approximately four hours it took Carpenter to finish Boston last year.
"It went much better than I ever thought it would," Carpenter said, citing his concerns about his inability to train much with the wheelchair, given the Boston weather. "I never thought that we would break five hours, for sure. But everything went with us. The sun came out at the right time. When it got hot, the clouds went in. We had wind at our backs when we needed it. We had lots of space to move around. And we had so much support, it was unbelievable."
Last year, Carpenter had a completely different experience. He was focused on breaking four hours, on himself and his race. He ran with earphones in and didn't interact much with the crowd. This year? It was the opposite.
They took their time. They wanted to enjoy it. They wanted to do it right.
And at the end, each was delighted with the way it had all gone, with the race they ran, with the reception they got, and most gratifyingly, with the money they had raised. Because that was the most important of the goals: to raise money for Journey Forward, a place that has meant so much to Laing since the injury.
"It's tough to put into words how incredible it is," Laing said. "I just can't believe that so many people turned out to support us and turned out to support Journey Forward. I couldn't be more thankful. It's just going to go such a long way.
"I'd say a lot of my recovery is because of Journey Forward. I definitely would not be where I am today if it wasn't for them. So Journey Forward means so much."