DICKINSON, N.D. — “The last few miles were tough, but everything else people did to make it amazing was pretty great,” Kendra Miller, Dickinson, said about running the Boston Marathon virtually in honor of her mother and aunt who died of leukemia.
The Boston Marathon is one of the most challenging in the country, forcing runners to reach a qualifying time based on their age to partake in the run or be selected as a special entrant for a cause. The marathon only selects a few, less than a thousand per year, to run in the race without qualifying.
Miller was one such special cause entrant.
Miller was always athletic but took up running after she became a mom. All roads led her to Boston, but in April the event was postponed due to the coronavirus. Miller was sad, but her motivation was still on track because the marathon was never about her.
“That was my first ever marathon, and probably my last,” Miller said.
In 2014, Miller joined the Leukemia Lymphoma Society after losing an aunt to leukemia and decided to run and raise money, and awareness, for her aunt. But a year later, tragedy struck when her mother, Cindy, was diagnosed with leukemia nearly a year after Miller’s aunt died.
Miller secretly applied for the Boston Marathon and was accepted in October.
In addition to training for the run, Miller had to raise funds to support the trip.
“At first I was really nervous,” Miller said. “To think about running that far and training that much and I knew fundraising-wise … I think they wanted you to raise $18,000 at least for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. I knew this was going to be the most I’ve ever fundraised and it was going to be the most that I had ever ran.”
For Miller, the challenge was a way to connect with the pain and struggle of her mother, who died in January 2019 after a second battle of leukemia, and to bring awareness for those suffering from the disease.
“I knew I had to do it; this was going to be something for my mom,” she said.
Then the cancellation came.
Miller decided she was going to run the marathon in her hometown of Dickinson, where her family and friends would be able to witness her run and where she felt her mother’s presence even stronger.
On the day of the race, Dickinson’s weather turned cold and rainy, but Miller was warm and fired up for the run. Everything was leading up to this moment; she was ready. From right outside her house, she began to pace herself and began the fabled 26.2-mile journey.
Miller ran through the streets of Dickinson, keeping a steady pace and staying calm and motivated. Miller's family and friends gathered to support her in different spots of her journey. Other runners paid respect and support to Miller by joining her in her run throughout her journey. After a while, some would leave, but more would join.
As with every runner that takes on the challenge of the marathon, fatigue hit Miller midway through, but she never wavered. Her body was getting tired, but her goal of paying tribute to her mother got stronger with each step.
“About at mile 21, I started writing ‘Mom’ with the streets,” Miller said. “If you look at my route on a sheet of paper, you’d be able to read ‘Mom’ right in the route.”
Four hours later, near the end of the race, with nearly eight other runners alongside her, Miller embraced the final stretch, with her husband and son joining her to run the final few miles to their house. Streamers, balloons and an actual finish line were all present, along with cheers of encouragement getting louder and louder the closer Miller got to home.
At the end of the race, Miller’s aunts, father, friends and neighbors were all present to celebrate the end of such an emotional accomplishment.
“Right as I was coming through the finish … I remember turning to my husband welling up with tears, and I just said, ‘I did it,’ she said. “It’s just been a long road of emotions and time and there was the finish line. It was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling; that’s for sure.”
Tears poured down the faces of those in attendance like the raindrops coming down from the sky. Miller believes there was a reason for that.
“The rain was just my mom’s tears of joy from heaven,” Miller said. “She was there.”
Along with completing the race, Miller ended with a total of $25,000 in donations for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society.
“It leaves me speechless that so many people cared to donate to raise me up to that level,” she said.
Miller will receive the medal, shirt and other Boston Marathon finisher prizes in the mail in the near future and hopes the funds raised will continue to bring progress in finding a cure for the disease. Miller praised everyone that helped her accomplish the inspiring tale from helping with trial runs, during the run, and mental and physical throughout the entire journey.
For more information on the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, or to contribute to the cause, email Kendra Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.