Twenty-six miles into the Boston Marathon, rounding the final corner onto Boylston Street, Larry Grogin was exhilarated by the scene.
The crowds, loud and festive, were singing “God Bless America” as runners neared the finish line.
A runner in uniform passed him, an American flag in his hands.
Twin bombs, allegedly set off by two radicalized brothers in an act of terrorism, killed three spectators, injured hundreds, and created instant citywide bedlam.
“It was in the midst of this really happy day, where you went from this exhilarating, highest place, to chaos,” said Grogin, a Franklin Lakeschiropractor. Confusion reigned as to what had happened: Grogin recalls being told “not to go to the finish line” as emergency units poured past him.
“I have never been in a war,” he said, “but that’s what it felt like.”
It had been Grogin’s second Boston Marathon, this time in support of a charity for children with serious illnesses, and he was left with regret for not finishing the race, and grief for being unable to assist the injured.
But soon after, he made a commitment to turn tragedy into triumph: Both to raise funds for his charity and to honor all those affected by the tragedy, Grogin will run 250 miles from his Franklin Lakes home to and through the Apr. 21 marathon in Boston.
When he starts out Sunday at a pace of 32 miles a day, he’ll do so with an impressive running resume: more than 200 marathons and 28 Iron man triathlons over more than 30 years.
Running the Boston Marathon, aside from its 117-year history, seemed to be no different from those others. But its aftermath left Grogin wandering the streets, anxiously seeking his wife, Cheryl. Finally, after two long hours, he found her and others from their charity team, uninjured and safe in a pub near the finish line.
“I didn’t feel like a hero,” Grogin said. Sitting in that pub, hugging his badly frightened wife until any sign it was safe to leave, Grogin said he kept thinking “Why didn’t I run to save people?”
Grogin said he’ll now “making up for my good fortune.”
Training has been nearly year-long, and he says there’s no secret skill to readying for a marathon, or for the 250-mile run.
“Someone told me that marathoning is 98 percent mental and 2 percent in your head. A completely non-physical act,” Grogin says, listing his routine as eating properly, resting and running, with a set regimen of vitamins — and determination.
Other than running, his favorite hobby is cycling; and with both being “loner” sports, he’s used to occupying his mind with music. But this time, the long run will including gabs with John Renaldo of Wayne, a fellow marathoner who will join him. The two have trained about seven hours a day.
Their cause, for which they want to raise $1 million — they’re up to almost $20,000 so far — is the late actor Paul Newman’s, “The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp” in Ashford, Conn. The organization offers “a different kind of healing”: a free summer camp for seriously ill children. Grogin began volunteering as a counselor there about 15 years ago, when he moved back to New Jersey after 20 years in California. He had been raised in Paramus, his father a public insurance investor and his mother a teacher. His mother died of breast cancer at age 40, “and that’s why I became involved,” Grogin said. “These are great kids, and the world shouldn’t see them as dying, because they’re living. We are celebrating their life.”
Heading to Boston, Grogin will wear the necklace of one of the campers. “Grogin’s Heroes;” others who will run with him for parts of the journey, will join him in the marathon to support the camp.
In that light — and referencing movie character Forrest Gump, who ran across the country because “I just felt like running” — Grogin invites anyone to join him for either a moment or a mile for a dollar donation and knowing that “something good had to come from something so horrible.”
“I wish I could wave a magic wand and make them all healthy again,” he said of the campers. “But if I have to be as a nuts as Forest Gump to help these kids, so be it.” And with a big smile, Grogin held the necklace draping his neck and said, “These kids are our wings, our angels. And to them, camp is the best place on Earth. So it’s worth it.”
To donate, visit Crowdrise.com/larrygrogin or visit the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp website at holeinthewallgang.org