For many people, running a marathon is a life changing event. Athletes train for months, even years, to make it through 26.2 miles, and crossing the finish line is a huge accomplishment. But for Kerri McGrath, running the Boston marathon was never on her bucket list. It wasn’t even the hardest thing she did that week. It was just one more thing she did to keep the memory of her son Colin, alive.
On April 15, 2019 Kerri and 10 of her friends ran the Boston Marathon as part of “Team Colin”, a group of runners who came together to support Colin’s Joy Project, a foundation that was founded by Kerri and her husband Brendan after their 2 year old son, Colin, was killed in a tragic accident last July. Colin’s Joy Project is a nonprofit foundation designed to spread joy throughout South Boston by enhancing play spaces and funding family-focused programming in the community. The McGrath’s created the foundation with the goal of raising $600k in 2 years.
The day of the race, Boston saw 3 of the 4 seasons; it was rainy, cloudy, windy, and finally hot and sunny. The only thing they didn’t have was snow (thank goodness)! Kerri said that in the morning it was a torrential downpour; all the runners were a little nervous when they saw the lightning and the crazy winds. And yet, when it was time to start running, the sky magically cleared up and it stopped raining. I’d like to think Colin had a hand in that.
Team Colin set a goal to try to finish under the 5 hour mark. 6 of the runners, including Kerri, ran the first half of the race together, and 5 of them finished at the same time. Their final time? 4 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds. They weren’t timing themselves while they were running, they were just focused on crossing the finish line before their goal...and they did. Right on time.
All of the runners struggled at some point or another during the course of the day, but every single one of them finished the race. One of the team members, Devin Quirk, achieved a goal of his when he qualified for next year’s marathon. But regardless of how fast they ran, each of the runners did something remarkable; they got out there and they represented Colin’s Joy Project, and Kerri says she’s so proud of everyone. She mentioned that the support of the community was amazing, and that everywhere she ran she saw people wearing CJP gear and cheering her on. Brendan and their daughter, Sloane, carried orange and green balloons (the Colin’s Joy Project colors) so that Kerri could see where they were cheering from even before they were able to spot her. She said having the support of her family, of Colin’s Joy Project, and of the Boston community made all the difference, especially when running the notorious Heartbreak Hill, a series of 4 hills that runners have to suffer through before they can cross into Boston.
It was during the path through Heartbreak Hill that Kerri began to feel a little discouraged, and understandably so. She had been running for close to 4 hours at this point and had covered 16 miles; her feet hurt, she was feeling a little delirious, and she just thought “why am I doing this?” And then she remembered her reason why. A little curly haired boy who was taken from this Earth way too soon, and who would be so proud to see his mama cross that finish line. And so she drank some gatorade, ate some Swedish fish, and said “let’s do this”. Because she’s done harder things than this. She’s been through worse than this. And she made it through. So this marathon was just one more hard thing she needed to get through. Kerri’s friend Katie Marshman said that it was Kerri’s positivity that got her through to the finish line, and despite her vomiting at the end of the race she’s so grateful to Kerri for the experience!
Grief sometimes feels like a marathon, and unfortunately it’s not something you can train for. Crossing the finish line didn’t erase the grief Kerri felt from losing her son; nothing can do that. But it did change something for Colin’s Joy Project.
Later that evening, Kerri, Brendan, Sloane, the rest of Team Colin, and numerous friends and neighbors from South Boston gathered at the Local 149 to celebrate the accomplishments of the runners, and Kerri was able to make a big announcement. Thanks to the dedication of everyone who supported Colin’s Joy Project in their fundraising efforts, they were able to raise over $700k in 5 months. Because of the success of fundraisers like Neighborhood Night at Capo, being chosen as the charity for the Commonwealth Cup and the 50/50 raffle at the Bruins game 2 playoff game, news coverage of the marathon team, fundraisers at EverybodyFights and The Rinx, and more, they far surpassed their original goal, and in a much shorter period of time.
So although crossing the finish line didn’t bring Colin back, it did make it possible for Colin’s legacy to live on in South Boston. The McGrath family is now looking forward to doing “less fundraising and more legacy-building”, and we can’t wait to see what they have planned.
Congrats to Kerri and all of the Team Colin runners…you did a hard thing and made it look easy! You’re inspiring in so many ways, and just like they were during the marathon, the South Boston community is with you every step of the way.