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Boston Marathon runner ‘fulfilling something I feel has been left open’

Everyone who toes the line at the Boston Marathon is chasing some goal. Some runners are motivated by the desire to set personal records. Others are motivated by the historic glory of the century-old event. Glenn Stowell, running for the first time this Monday, is motivated by Victoria McGrath’s selfless legacy—a legacy that took root early in her life and has continued beyond her death last year.

McGrath was seriously injured in the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Her steady rehabilitation was set to be capped by a Boston Marathon run of her own this year—something of a victory lap following the trials of recovery. Her boyfriend, Stowell, who described himself as “a horrendous runner by nature,” was set to run the event alongside her. Last year, however, McGrath died in an overseas car accident. The Northeastern student received a posthumous degree in 2016. Through the grief and shock that followed, Stowell felt compelled to run the 26.2 miles as planned, in tribute to McGrath.

“This marathon is a personal thing for our relationship; it’s both a happy and sad occasion,” Stowell said in the weeks leading up to the race. “It’s fulfilling something I feel has been left open.”

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

More than just running the race, Stowell is raising money for the FourBlock Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterans transition home and back into the workplace after their tours of duty. McGrath had been very involved in the organization.

After the 2013 Boston Marathon, McGrath’s “road to recovery was a long and winding one,” Stowell said. “And while it would be hard to say anyone can recover fully from something so serious, she realized there are people who have far longer, steeper, windier roads.”

In the intervening years between the bombings and her death, McGrath occasionally attended physical therapy with combat veterans whose shrapnel wounds were strikingly similar to hers, Stowell said. “She was struck by commonalities she had with those folks,” Stowell explained. “She understood a lot of the different things they were wrestling with.”

McGrath was motivated into action. She became involved with FourBlock, helping to grow its new Boston chapter.

“My intention is to see that her work is carried on, and that her legacy remains in place,” Stowell said.

That legacy is one of kindness, determination, and understanding, said Eric Ahn, FourBlock’s director of communications.

“In addition to the kindness and determination, the rare gift that Victoria brought to the FourBlock community was empathy,” he said. “It is rare to find people who try to do a deep dive into veterans’ needs. Quite often, the opposite is the case and people build solutions for veterans before learning about the issues. Victoria, upon deciding that she wanted to support the veteran community, spent time learning what veterans needed and how she could help.”

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

All the money raised through Stowell’s efforts will “go directly toward growing our career development programs for veterans in Boston, specifically to aid veterans transitioning into civilian jobs,” Ahn said.

This sort of selfless work was nothing new for McGrath.

Her father, Jim McGrath, said Victoria had been a compassionate, benevolent person all her life.

“When friends were hurting, or needed help, she was the kind of person they could count on,” he said. “We’ve [Jim and his wife Jill] heard story after story about occasions where someone needed a hand, and Victoria was always there.”

Stowell’s run, then, as well as numerous other projects completed in Victoria’s name—most recently the dedication of a new Dorchester playground in her honor—is merely an extension of the compassionate legacy she’d built.

It’s that legacy, and Victoria’s memory, that has motivated Stowell throughout his training.

“I’ve never been a runner; I’m not terribly tall, I’m not terribly light, and I’m sure my feet hitting the ground will register on the Richter scale at some point, but I signed up to do this with her, and now for her,” Stowell said. “Even if this weren’t in her name—if Victoria were to see the people she loves doing the good things we’re doing, she’d want to be doing them too. She was always looking to be better than yesterday, and she was always interested in helping other people.”