Determination and friendship help get Dick Davis across Boston Marathon finish line

Tina Comeau
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By Tina Comeau



When runner Nicole Gushue saw her friend Dick Davis struggling in pain around 10 kilometres from the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon, she knew what she had to do. She knew what she wanted to do.

“I saw Dick . . . I could see that he was struggling,” she says. “He was very weak, he was walking crooked. His body was twisted because he had back pain.”

Because Davis, 71, has a vision impairment, Gushue placed her hand on his arm and said, “Dick, it’s Nicole, are you okay?” He told her he was in discomfort. She turned to another woman that she had been running alongside of and told her she needed to stay with her friend.

Aside from the fact both runners are from Yarmouth, Davis knows Gushue well. He regularly runs with her husband Jeff. In fact, Davis credits Jeff Gushue with helping prepare him for the 2013 Nova Scotia Marathon in Barrington, where he qualified for the Boston Marathon. Davis had previously told this newspaper about running in marathons, “I’d heard they were really hard to do and that I should do them before I got too old.”

For Gushue, 43, this was her second time at the marathon. She was there last year running as part of the Mass General Boston charity team in memory of her cousin’s son Nick Defelice who had died of cancer in 2012 at the age of nine.

But Gushue never got to cross the finish line last year. She was 0.6 kilometres from the finish when she was turned away because of the explosions near the finish, which had injured hundreds and killed three.

And so like others who didn’t get to finish the race last year, she was invited to come back to this year. She was once again running with the Mass General charity team, but her approach to this year’s marathon was different, considering that she hadn’t trained as much over the winter.

“I was going to be just take it all in. Run when I could run. Walk when I could walk. If I wanted to take a picture, I was going to stop and take a picture,” she says.

She adds the mood at the marathon among the runners was very upbeat.

Being there the second time, Gushue was more familiar with the process and the crowds – although she is still amazed by the numbers of runners and spectators.

For Davis, this was new territory. He talks about sitting on a bus that had more runners on it than had competed in total at last year’s Barrington marathon, and about it taking an hour for the bus to travel a distance of Yarmouth to Hebron before the race started.

Gushue had been doing well in pacing herself during the race. She had completed her first 10K in 1:14, the second one in 1:15 and the third in 1:19. She had projected that it would take her just over five hours to complete the 42.8 km (26.6 miles) of the marathon.

But then she saw Davis around the 33-km mark and says she knew at that moment that her race time was over. She just couldn’t leave his side.

There was a medical tent behind them and Gushue asked Davis if he wanted to go inside. He said no. So Gushue instead suggested he sit to give himself a rest.

“We went over to the side and before he even had a chance to sit on the curb, one of the spectators took a lawn chair and just shoved it right under him,” she says. “And almost immediately the spectators had water in his hands. An officer came over and asked if he was okay.

“After that he said, ‘I’m going to try again.’ He started to run, I said it was up to him if he ran or walked, just do what’s comfortable. He ran for a bit and then he said, ‘I need to walk.’”

Gushue tried to convince Davis to stop in one of the medical tents but this worried him. He was worried that if he went into one of the tents he wouldn’t be allowed to come back out to finish the marathon.

And he really wanted to finish.

And so, with about eight or nine kilometres left, he asked those in one of the medical tents if he would be allowed to come back out. They assured him he would.

After he received a back massage Davis and Gushue went back onto the course. They ran and they walked. And they stopped inside more medical tents as they made their way along the course. In total they stopped in four tents.

At the last tent they spent about a half hour as the medical volunteers checked Davis’ blood pressure and brought up his body temperature. Gushue let those at the finish line who were waiting for them know why it was taking them so long to finish.

“A little bit later Dick got the clearance to leave again and so off we went and we just walked the rest of the way,” says Gushue. “The last 2. 6 miles we walked.”

As they reached the area where Gushue had been turned back the previous year, she stopped to take a photo. And then they reached Boylston Street, the final stretch to the finish line.

By now the crowd of spectators had thinned considerably, but along the way Gushue and Davis had already experienced the amazing show of support for the 36,000 participants of the marathon. An estimated 1.5 million spectators had positioned themselves along the route to encourage and cheer on the runners.

Gushue and Davis weren’t the only ones from Yarmouth, or with ties to Yarmouth, that ran this year’s Boston marathon. Marco Albright, who had run the marathon last year, finished this year in a time of 3:10:16. Bobby Lou Reardon finished with a time of 3:52:33. Denise Robson had a time of 2:53:16. And Kimberly Cox finished with a time of 3:48:18.

Gushue and Davis were now more than seven hours into their run. But their times, of course, don’t tell the whole story.

Their story is not about hours and minutes, it's about friendship, support and determination.

As they neared the finish line Davis kept telling Gushue to go over the finish line first, but she said to him, “No, we’ll over go over it together.”

As they got closer he told her to tell him when to start running. Even though his body was twisted and he was in pain, he wanted to run across the finish line as opposed to walking across it. Gushue told him when to run.

In the end Gushue did cross the finish line first, but only so she could turn around and take a photo of Davis as he crossed the finish line.

And after that they hugged.

For both runners their marathon was still an incredible experience, even if it wasn’t the experience they had expected.

Davis tells the Vanguard he is very lucky that Gushue saw him on the course and stayed with him. He says he was a little sore for the next few hours but after that he was fine.

Asked what’s next on tap for him as far as races are concerned, Davis says with a laugh, “Maybe the Sheila Poole race, something more around the 10K range.”


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Organizations: Boston Marathon

Geographic location: Yarmouth, Barrington, Boston Hebron Boylston Street

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