On Sunday, April 20, a sunny day illuminated Kristine Lilly Way as Kristin Partenza raced down the pavement. But this was no ordinary run. In sneaky planning and detailed illustrations, the Partenza family had recreated the very important athletic event Partenza was supposed to have participated in that day–they brought their own version of the Boston Marathon home to Wilton, knowing that, to their mom, it meant much more than a race.
Complete with homemade marathon bib, a “start” and “finish” banner, and personal signs recreating Boston’s well-loved monuments (along with specialized encouraging notes), the Partenzas turned an ordinary day into an intimate celebration of Kristin’s recovery from a life-threatening health scare last year, showing that despite scheduling, hope does not have to be postponed.
“When you work hard at stuff, you just want your efforts to go noticed, or appreciated,” Kristin Partenza said. “The whole point of the Boston Marathon itself was to sort of celebrate my recovery and have closure over that whole thing, and by them creating this moment for me, it gave me all those things.”
Last October, while running the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota, Partenza suffered a bilateral pulmonary embolism, a life-threatening condition in which blood clots travel to the lungs. Running had always been Partenza’s passion–her stress relief, her joy, a consistent activity she could rely on–but in that race, it almost became deadly.
“It shook me to the core,” Partenza said, reflecting on the diagnosis.
Her life changed–and fast, as she transitioned from training hard to recuperating. “In early October I was prepared to run that marathon and I had logged so many miles and then, late October around Halloween, the doctors were like sure go for a walk around your block,” Partenza describes. She said she suffered panic attacks–fear like she “had never felt before–definitely debilitating.”
But she knew she had to move forward.
In her recovery, getting back and running meant everything to her. Running had always been a strong passion for her, and not being able to do that felt impossible. Partenza wouldn’t feel completely healed until she could run again.
“For me it was getting back to running and proving to myself that I could still do it–that I was going to be okay if I did it again,” Partenza said. “It was really getting back on the horse for me, and I didn’t feel quite like myself and confident again until I had that under my belt again.”
After a month of taking it easy, she began running again, very slowly–first with the help of some close friends to help her get over her fear of running alone, and then with a local running coach to help monitor her training. It was then that she set her goal: Boston would be her first marathon back.
Though she had trained for 10 marathons in the past, this training was different. “It was training my patience, and training to respect my body a little bit more and to not be urgent,” Partenza said.
So in early March, when the Boston Marathon race was postponed to September, though Partenza knew she was lucky, she couldn’t help but feel down.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel some form of disappointment [but] there was perspective,” Partenza said. “I didn’t have any regrets about my training, those several months of grit and hard work, and logging the miles. That was all the healing to me, that was stronger friendships, I was gaining confidence. So there was zero regret for any of that hard training because the race day itself didn’t affect that.”
But her family was not going to let her hard work go unrecognized. Jason Partenza, Kristin’s husband, said that the weekend of the marathon, he had an idea.
“It struck me as maybe we could do something fun,” Jason said. Getting each of their four kids involved, Jason gathered the children in the basement that Saturday to discuss surprising Kristin and doing everything they could to bring what they knew was a huge milestone for their mom to life.
Saturday evening, Jason handed Kristin a small envelope, and to her surprise, a personally made marathon bib in the classic blue and yellow coloring was enclosed inside.
“I opened [the envelope], it was my husband’s writing: he had made the bib. It said “04- 20-20,” she said. “It was everything to me.”
The next day, Kristin ran a half marathon through town, with her family at every pit stop cheering her on. But to her surprise, she was also greeted by the iconic Boston landmarks of the race–the Citgo sign, Heartbreak Hill, Scream tunnel–in handmade illustrations on posters that her kids held up, mementos she will treasure forever.
“They had these huge signs they had made by hand and it was of all the different landmarks that everybody knows about in Boston,” Kristin recounted, the joy apparent in her voice.
As Kristin ran the course, while it wasn’t the typical crowd of thousands, she said people cheered for her as she passed by, noticing the bib. And nothing made her happier than seeing her family around the corner.
“This was just sort of a little slice of heaven, knowing that in my own little bubble within the walls of my own house, I was special for a day,” Kristin said. “It felt amazing.”
Additionally, Kristin spent the day virtually running with the Boston Buddies Run Club to raise money for the The Second Step, an organization that helps fight domestic violence, in participating in the Boston Buddies Moley Mile Virtual Run. She joined 500 people who ran virtually that weekend, which in total raised over $7,500 for the organization.
Though she didn’t finish the race with a big crowd or on the streets of Boston, knowing her family was waiting for her at the end was an intimate and just as special experience.
“When you finish the Boston Marathon, you get goosebumps, you get chills [as] you turn on to those last streets,” Kristin said. “[Here], there were no strangers, there were no spectators; it was just my own flesh and blood out there, knowing that I was doing this, cheering me on. It felt really special.”
Though the recreated marathon might have been mini in size, there was nothing small about the way it impacted Kristin, or her family. Kristin added that for her, the recreation was especially meaningful because in running this race, not only was she proving to herself that she could persevere, but that she persevered even when it was hard, with the people she loved so much by her side.
Kristin said that she would advise anyone struggling now in recovery or treatment for an illness, the best thing they can do is to be patient, and don’t be afraid to lean on people.
“Over the past six months, I’ve been really vulnerable, and I’ve had highs and lows and I have leaned hard on the people that love me, and stuff that I used to do independently now I’m holding somebody’s hand to do,” Kristin said. “Anybody who’s out there, who is scared or not feeling themselves or feeling sick–rely on your support system and if you don’t have a huge support system, as a lot of people don’t…lean on the community.”
After the race, Jason and his kids took the little clips they had filmed and made it into a YouTube video. He said that he hopes the video gives people joy and hope in this scary, unpredictable time.
“People just need things to smile about right now,” Jason said. “It’s so great to see that you can come back from very scary situations health-wise… if you can just take things a day and the time.”
In its own way, the run is also a statement on what’s happening right now.
“So many people are on the frontlines battling this COVID-19, the least I could do was show up and complete my task at hand and be grateful for my health,” Kristin said. “It’s the same doctors and nurses that saved me and got me back on my feet that are now battling COVID-19. They are the real heroes and I feel like to complete what I set out to do was, in a way, honoring them. They saved me.”