Running for Andy
BOSTON – Ray Phillips, a cost price analyst with Electronic Systems Center Contracting, carries Andy Martin across the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2004. Mr. Phillips has been running the marathon for Andy, born with spina bifida, since 2000 and will continue to run until Andy can compete as a wheelchair entrant in 2014. (Courtesy photo)
Posted 4/20/2011 Updated 4/20/2011
by Mark Wyatt
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
4/20/2011 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Running the Boston Marathon each Patriots Day is a dream for many local long distance runners, especially for Ray Phillips, a cost price analyst with Electronic Systems Center Contracting and veteran of a dozen marathons, who just wasn't fast enough to qualify for the mid-April race.
Fortunately for Mr. Phillips, more than ten years ago he was given a chance to fulfill his dream and is still doing so today.
"I was given an opportunity to run the marathon via a time-waivered entry provided by Children's Hospital Boston through the Hanscom Federal Credit Union. They agreed to sponsor a runner by raising funds for the hospital," said Mr. Phillips.
Children's Hospital has a Patient Partner Program that pairs runners with patients afflicted with an illness who are being seen there.
"My main focus was that I would have an opportunity to run the Boston Marathon," Mr. Phillips said. "The patient partner thing was secondary."
It was when Mr. Phillips met Andy Martin, an inspiring 4-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair, born with spina bifida, at a Children's Hospital marathon team kickoff reception in December of 1999 that his reason for running the marathon would change. It marked the beginning of a 14 year project to help Andy achieve his goal of crossing the finish line in Kenmore Square as a wheelchair entrant.
"The defining moment for me was at the reception," Mr. Phillips said. "Andy seemed deep in thought. He looked up at me and said, 'Ray, are you running the Boston Marathon for me?' It was then that it was no longer about me. It was about Andy, his family, the marathon team, Children's Hospital and the people supporting my fundraising."
After meeting Andy at the reception, Mr. Phillips felt inspired by him and his positive spirit
"That positive energy carried over into my training runs," he said. "Running seemed much easier."
On one of his long training runs, Mr. Phillips was trying to determine a way to best dedicate the marathon to his new teammate.
"I thought, maybe I could write something on my shirt like, 'I'm running for Andy.' Then I thought, since he was carrying me during the race via his inspiration, it would only be appropriate to reciprocate it and carry him part of the way so we could cross the finish line together," Mr. Phillips said.
However, with strict Boston Athletic Association rules about vehicles, bicycles, strollers or roller blades on the marathon course, Mr. Phillips reasoned that if he carried Andy on his back for the final 600 yards, he wouldn't be violating any rules.
After speaking with Andy's father about his plan, Mr. Martin told Mr. Phillips about a backpack that Andy could ride in and look over his shoulder as they crossed the finish line together.
"This sounded like a terrific idea," said Mr. Phillips. "We tried it out prior to the marathon and it worked great."
With a photo button of Andy affixed to his shirt and "Team Andy" written down each leg to serve as a reminder that Andy would meet him at the top of Boylston Street and run the final 600 yards on his back, Mr. Phillips was ready.
"The crowd support and Andy's photo served to keep me focused on my mission by reminding me that my patient partner was waiting for me near the finish line and this inspired me to stay strong when my legs became tired and sore," he said.
During the first marathon, the exchange was not quite as smooth as expected, however, it wasn't long until 4-year-old Andy was soon on Mr. Phillips' back, beaming with pride as spectators cheered when they approached the finish line.
"When Andy was placed on my back for our dash toward the finish line, the extra weight (about 50 pounds) was a little more than I had bargained for," said Mr. Phillips. "The best that I could manage was a shuffle, although spiritually my feet felt like they never touched the ground. Making it across the finish line together was an incredibly joyous and emotional experience."
Typically, after crossing the finish line, volunteers scurry around to provide mylar blankets, offer water and place medals around the neck of each finisher.
"A volunteer stopped us and started to place the medal around my neck," Mr. Phillips said. "But since Andy's inspiration carried me for the entire race and I just carried Andy a short distance, it seemed much more appropriate that the medal should go to Andy."
Soon after the marathon, the two families got together to celebrate. Mr. Martin told Mr. Phillips a race day story about Andy, bundled in blankets in his wheelchair patiently waiting for Mr. Phillips to appear.
As the sound of the crowd grew louder, they cheered for the wheelchair entrants as they screamed by towards the finish line. Elated that he, too, could run the Boston Marathon, Andy excitedly declared to his parents that he wanted to do that next year.
Unfortunately, this was a little ambitious for a 4 year old and not possible with the minimum age requirements, but Andy, after a little disappointment, rationalized it was ok. It would give him more time to train.
"Andy's optimistic attitude has made quite a positive impact on me," said Mr. Phillips. "He's been a real source of inspiration to me in many ways."
The two teammates have crossed the finish line together every year since that first race in 2000 - including this past Monday -- despite broken femurs and kidney or urinary tract infections.
"We pledged to each other that we would cross the finish line at every Boston Marathon together until it's his turn when he's 18 years old in 2014," Mr. Phillips said. "His commitment to being a wheelchair entrant is stronger than ever, and he has been training in his racing wheelchair to make what was once a dream, a reality."
For more information on this 15 year journey between two friends sharing a common goal, visit Mr. Phillips' website at http://mysite.verizon.net/resz7py6/teamandy/index.html.