How to run the Boston Marathon as a college student

For lifelong athletes, running the Boston Marathon can be seen as a “bucket list” item. But how can someone run the Marathon if they aren’t selected as a Boston Marathon qualifier? Special Olympics Massachusetts offers runners the opportunity to join its Xtra Mile Team, and run the Marathon as a member of a community dedicated to inclusion.

Boston Marathon

Brigid running the 2022 Boston Marathon. Featuring Aunt Colleen’s initials written on her left hand.

Meet Brigid Knowles, a 21-year-old student at Boston College, who ran the 2022 Boston Marathon as part of the Special Olympics MA Xtra Mile Marathon Team.

“I have been an avid runner my whole life and really enjoy doing it, so always knew I wanted to run a marathon, I just never thought I would do it this soon,” she said. “Being at BC and being involved with Special Olympics, I knew that running the Boston Marathon for this organization was exactly what I needed to do before graduating.”

Brigid’s connection to Special Olympics started long before she decided to take on 26.2 miles. Her Aunt Colleen has Down Syndrome, and when Brigid started interacting with her and her friends at a young age, Brigid’s passion for the Special Needs community blossomed.

“My Grandma Bea, a staunch supporter of Special Olympics, encouraged me to fulfill my Confirmation service hours by volunteering. From there, my journey with this group of Olympians began,” she said. “I became a coach for the Sound Shore Stars Special Olympics team in Westchester, NY throughout high school, and continued my involvement as a student at Boston College. As a coach and volunteer, I have been afforded the opportunity to teach these individuals the skills necessary to compete and to never give up.”

Brigid used the “never give up” mentality instilled in the athletes she coached, to go after her own dream of running the Boston Marathon. There was just one catch… she needed to raise $10,000.

How a college student raised $10,000 in two weeks

So, how did a college student fundraise the $10,000 necessary to run as part of the Special Olympics Xtra Mile team? According to Brigid, she was able to accomplish this in just two weeks. As part of the Special Olympics MA Xtra Mile team, Brigid was given fundraising ideas and her own custom fundraising page.

By reaching out to family members, coaches, friends, and anyone else she considered herself close with, Brigid was able to secure the funds.

“I sent an email outlining why I chose to run for Special Olympics, how special the Boston Marathon is (especially as a student at BC) and a link to my fundraising page. Within two weeks, I had reached the fundraising goal,” she said. “I was very surprised; but that should show other people it is way more than doable!” Brigid went on to explain that she had shared her fundraising link to her Instagram bio, and her friends and family also shared her fundraising link out to their own platforms.

Why run the Boston Marathon with Special Olympics Massachusetts?

When you register for the Boston Marathon as a runner for the Special Olympics MA Xtra Mile Team, you join a community of runners dedicated not only to running, but to inclusion as well.

Brigid (second in from R) posing with some of her Xtra Mile Teammates.

“The Xtra Mile community was extremely supportive,” she said. “They had group runs, weekly Zooms, and various social events that we were able to attend and were able to talk about how our training was going, anything we were nervous about, and hear stories about the role that Special Olympics played in their lives.”

Through the Xtra Mile Team, Brigid and her fellow runners were also introduced to Heartbreak Hill Running Company, who provided them with a solid Boston Marathon training plan. And at the end of it all, Brigid finished the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:24:27.

“Crossing the Boston Marathon finish line was one of the most surreal feelings ever. I honestly don’t think I was even able to conceptualize what I had done; but I remember thinking to myself during the race that I just needed to keep going even when I felt like I couldn’t,” said Brigid. “I wrote my Aunt Colleen’s initials on my hand and every time I felt like stopping, I looked down at my hand and she and so many of the other athletes I have had the pleasure of getting to know kept me moving.”

If you or anyone you know might be interested in applying for the 2023 Boston Marathon through Special Olympics Massachusetts, but have some questions or concerns about the process, please reach out to stephanie.esposito@specialolympicsma.org.

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