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Murphy’s Law: Never quit
Travis Lazarczyk catches up with runner who spent 46 days in hospital prior to running in Boston Marathon.
Kaylene Murphy ran with the wind blowing rain sideways into her face. She stopped a couple times when she spotted family along the Boston Marathon course, but Murphy proudly, almost defiantly, states she never walked. She ran every step of the Marathon on Monday, in conditions nobody will call ideal to run a block, much less 26.2 miles.
“I’ll probably never see weather like that in a race again,” Murphy said on Thursday, after she’d had a few days to recover. “I kept saying to myself, ‘How is it coming down this hard?'”
Murphy ran for her late mother, Kathleen Murphy, who succumbed to cancer when Murphy was a teenager. Murphy ran because less than three months ago, she could barely walk.
Murphy, 21, grew up spending a lot of time at a family home built by her father, Andrew Murphy, in the small Somerset County town of Moscow. Last year, her father made that getaway their full-time home. In early December, Murphy decided to have surgery for a digestive problem she’s dealt with for six years. The digestive dysfunction paralyzes parts of Murphy’s intestines. It’s tricky to manage, but doable, she said. For a while, Murphy had medication delivered through a port right into her intestine, but with that came surgery every six weeks to replace the tube. The December surgery would remove parts of Murphy’s intestines. She’d recover at Boston Children’s Hospital five days, a week tops, and resume training for the Boston Marathon.
If only. That week turned into 6 1/2 weeks. Forty-six days. A persistent infection led to four more surgeries. An athletic senior at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Murphy saw her weight drop, her muscle tone slip away, and her energy vanish.
“It’s so weird to not have muscle,” Murphy said.
Running the Boston Marathon to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Kathleen received treatment, is a family tradition for the Murphys. Kaylene’s father has run it. An aunt has, and Murphy ran Boston two years ago, in 2016.
“It’s kind of the way my family gives back to them,” Murphy said.
As the days went by, Murphy’s Boston Marathon acceptance letter hung in her hospital room. Some days it was motivation. Many others, it was a mean practical joke. Murphy’s morale dropped. She was in a bad place, Murphy said, wallowing in her own pity party.
Murphy would walk, from her room at Boston Children’s Hospital, across the 10th floor bridge, to the pediatric cancer center at Dana-Farber. The walk was just over a quarter mile, but in Murphy’s condition, it was exhausting. It also was eye-opening. On one of the walks with her father, he said something that sparked her.
“He said, ‘We have it so good,'” Murphy said. “Wow, I’m complaining because I’m winded but I can still walk. That changed my perspective.”
Murphy continued her walks. She started doing lunges in the hallway, pushups in her room. She juggled, walked up and down the stairs. She moved. On her window, Murphy painted an inspirational phrase. “Just a bad day, not a bad life,” She wrote it backwards, so it could be read by visitors. It became a greeting.
When she was finally released from the hospital, Murphy had 88 days to get into marathon shape. She still had not run, and needed to regain some of the weight she’d lost. The first week, she walked on a treadmill, eating fistfuls of trail mix at the same time. Then, she ran a mile on the treadmill.
“My body was so confused as to what happened to it,” Murphy said.
By the end of the second week of training, Murphy was running three miles. She visited her brother in Hawaii, and entered a 10K. After running that, Murphy ran the three miles back to where she was staying.
Murphy went for a 15 mile run, then 16 1/2, then 20. Dana-Farber was counting on her. Murphy was counting on herself.
“I caught up pretty quick,” Murphy said. “The Marathon was my motivation to get better. If I didn’t have that goal, I wouldn’t have anything to work for.”
On Monday, Murphy pushed through the rain and wind. She never got cold, Murphy said, until she crossed the finish line at Copley Square. A group of the nurses who treated Murphy during her 46 day hospital stay were at mile 23, cheering her on. That helped Murphy get through the final few miles. She crossed the finish in 4 hours, 43 minutes, 21 seconds.
Murphy’s health is better. She’s working toward graduation.
“It’s my normal and it’s fine,” she said.
There will be more marathons, too. Hopefully, with better weather, and with more ideal training conditions.
“I’ve got more in me,” Murphy said.
With what Murphy endured to run this year’s race, it would be foolish to doubt her.
Travis Lazarczyk — 207-861-9242