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Following Their Footsteps

Marathon 2009For some members of the Tufts President's Marathon Challenge team, this year's race has become a family affair.


Hae Sun Robyn had never really thought about running, but when her daughters took up the sport, she followed – literally.

"My daughters played field hockey and their coach told them they should be running to keep in shape," Robyn says. "I didn't want them running in the streets, but I knew I couldn't stop them. So I started running behind them to make sure they were safe."

Now, a decade and three marathons later, Robyn and her daughter Misha, a fourth-year veterinary student at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, will join a number of other members of the Tufts community participating in this year's President's Marathon Challenge (PMC).

For the sixth year in a row, the PMC has pulled together a team of 200 Tufts students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents and friends from around the country, training together with the support of Coach Don Megerle for the annual Boston Marathon. The team also raises funds to support nutrition, medical and fitness programs at Tufts.

The world's oldest annual marathon, being run for the 113th time this year, is a 26-mile and 385-yard challenge of physical and emotional endurance. While some go it alone, many others, like the Robyns, choose to run with their greatest supporters—their family.

"We Have to Do This!"

Unlike her mother, Misha runs more as a hobby, jogging mainly to stay in shape. As a cheerleader on the sidelines of her mother's three marathons, Misha had never thought of running with her until her second year at Tufts.

"My mom had come out for a parent's weekend and there were members of the previous year's PMC team selling mugs to raise money," she says. "When she found out what they were doing she said, 'We have to do this.'"

With conflicting schedules it didn't come together right away, but now, two years since that moment, the time has come.

"I have always wanted to run Boston, it's most runners' dream, but I could never qualify," Hae Sun says. "Just to do it together gives me such great satisfaction. I know once she gets hooked on running it will become part of the rest of her life."

Motivational Support

For Howard Tomlinson, it has been 30 years since his last marathon run, but the idea of experiencing the Boston Marathon with his daughter Deirdre has put him back in the game.

"The lengths a father will go to spend quality time with his daughter," he says with a laugh.

Going into her senior year as a civil engineering major, this will be Deidre's second attempt at the Boston Marathon in the past two years.

"I had never thought about running as something you would do for fun until I got to Tufts and started jogging to stay in shape," she says. "Then I had the opportunity to run a 10-mile race with some of my best friends from high school and learned that I could run longer distances, though it was challenging. At that point I wanted to better my time."

"My goal is to run to support her, and go at her pace."

— Howard Tomlinson

In her junior year she ran a half marathon. At that point, she says, it was "no longer a choice" -- she had to run the marathon.

Running with the 2008 PMC team, things didn't go exactly as she had hoped. Due to injury, her training was cut short and, though she finished the marathon, it was a long, grueling struggle.

"This summer my wife and I were living in Hong Kong, and I had Deirdre and her sister join us in Asia around the time of the Olympics in Beijing," Howard says. "The conversation sprung up about whether she was thinking about running it this year, and I assumed she wouldn't because last year was so hard."

Surprised that she was not closed to the idea, Howard suggested they run together.

"My goal is to run to support her, and go at her pace," Tomlinson says. "I want to make this marathon a better experience for her than last year."

Catching Up

For Katie and Patrick Burns, who have been running since high school, the marathon has been a way to keep the busy siblings close.

Currently a first-year student at the Tufts University School of Medicine, Patrick admits that his sister has always been the more serious runner in the family. Though she took a break from running during her college years, Katie, a material program manager for Raytheon, says she then jumped right back in the race.

"I got back into it after I graduated, training for a half-marathon, and I was addicted," Katie says. (continued)

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Profile written by Kaitlin Provencher, Office of Web Communications

Photos by Alonso Nichols, University Photography

This story originally ran on Apr. 20, 2009.