Summer 2013: Boston Strong

Meet Kristin Feeney '11, one of thousands of runners who took part in this year's Boston Marathon. Learn more about her memories of that day and her plans to return to the streets of Boston next April.


Kristin Feeney ’11 and her boyfriend’s mother, Lora Gross-Kostka, at the Boston Marathon in April.
By Eric Townsend

If you don’t know Kristin Feeney ’11, you might recognize her footwear, a pair of pink Vibram Bikila “barefoot” running shoes that are now part of an iconic image in the days following the Boston Marathon terror attack.

An exercise science major, Feeney was less than a half mile from the finish line on April 15 when two bombs went off, killing three spectators and injuring scores more. Feeney, a clinical researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, had been running in honor of her father’s battle against cancer. Though stopped short of her goal, Feeney would soon offer her shoes to Boston magazine, which used them at the top center of a cover photo days later featuring the footwear of marathon participants.

Feeney talked with The Magazine of Elon about her memories of that day, her motivations for participating in the marathon and her plans to return to the streets of Boston next April.

What was your goal in running the marathon?

It’s kind of two-pronged. I wasn’t really a runner, even though it seems like I could have been since I did exercise science. I didn’t really exercise the way that I do now in college; I studied it more. I got into running toward the end of college and thereafter and I really enjoyed it. It was something that was therapeutic for me and it was a good outlet. It was something I enjoyed doing, but especially when my dad got sick, it became a way to spend time digesting such a large life change and a large life-moment, if you will. A lot of people will say that exercise is medicine, but it’s really true. It served a multiple purpose for sure.

Had you run a marathon prior to that day or was Boston your first?

It was my first so I call it my ‘almost marathon’ because, technically, I didn’t run a complete marathon. And the only way you can actually get into Boston (if you haven’t run a marathon before) is to connect to a charity program. You commit to raising at least $4,000 for a charity, and they have hundreds of charity spots and lots of different organizations that they give to.

You chose to run for the Dana Farber Institute.

Yeah. I actually work literally adjacent from the building; they are one of the most reputable cancer research organizations in Boston and in the country, and one of the reasons I was drawn to them is that they donate all of the money—not just a percentage—to a lab or a research group actively trying to find new ways to treat all different kinds of cancers. It just seemed natural. So was the race itself. I always wanted to run the marathon and it helped that I lived on the marathon course. It was easy to get out and do the training. I was one of the people who didn’t have to get a hotel or anything.

How were you feeling when you entered the final stage of the race?

They always tell you it’s that last couple of miles that really get you. I trained a lot and I did a lot of preparation but they’re right. Those last couple of miles really get under your skin. I was kind of in the zone of ‘finish and get it done.’ I actually had been crying for probably about two miles, just to let it out and keep going and to push myself, … [when] a woman turned around and said to me, ‘You have to stop. There was a bomb. People are dead at the finish line.’ It was a complete shock at that point. You’re already emotional for so many other reasons because it’s so sentimental.

I was about .4 miles or so from where everything happened. They basically stopped everybody at (mile marker) 25.8 and safely corralled people who literally had no idea what was going on. I hit a wall of people.

What was your reaction when you saw that wall and when you first heard something terrible had happened?

It was surreal. That’s the only good word I really have for it. I had gone through so much at this point and then suddenly this intangible goal that I had been working toward for so long was robbed. I thought it was a joke at first. … It’s definitely not what I wanted to feel. And then a split second later I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh, my family is there.” My parents have been waiting for me. I had tons of people who had been rooting me on. I was out of my situation within an hour; I was able to find my boyfriend and reunite with my parents. But it took many more hours that evening to find out that everyone who had been there for me was safely accounted for.

Brian Feeney, Kristin's dad
How do you think this experience is going to change you?

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on it. When my dad got diagnosed with cancer that really changed everything for me. Something terrible had happened in my life, I was motivated to do something good, and then something terrible happens when I’m doing something good. It teaches you that there will be a lot of really bad things that happen to you in life that don’t make any sense, and there’s no reason why they happen to some people and not to others, but there’s a huge sense of community and solidarity in that grief and in that confusion.

There are a lot of people who experience that same struggle. I’ve learned that you can’t stop living your life because of these kinds of things. Temporarily, you have to work through emotions, because that’s what you have to come to terms with, but a lot of your life is going to be living through the gritty, especially for people who have relatives who are really sick and terminally ill. I think that you begin to realize pretty quickly how to turn something tragic into something inspiring and to keep living in spite of it.

Are you planning on running the marathon again?

Absolutely. I always thought I was ‘one and done,’ and I’m still sort of in that mentality because I never got to an ultimate finish that would make it feel complete. But I have a very good community in the charity group. They’re very supportive and have really motivated me to think how it’s one more opportunity. It’s also cool because my dad, even though he’s sick and is still actively receiving cancer treatment, is hoping to get his doctor’s blessing to actually train and run himself. That would be really awesome, too.