Thousands walk, run Boston Marathon's final mile to honour bombing victims, reclaim experience

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BOSTON - Rosy Spraker was only a half-mile from the finish line of her seventh Boston Marathon when the bombs went off. She received her medal later in the mail at her Lorton, Va., home. But she couldn't bring herself to wear it until Saturday, when she and thousands of other athletes joined victims of the blast to run and walk the last mile of the race.

"Now I feel like I've earned my medal," Spraker said, beaming, after she crossed the Boylston Street finish line, encouraged by a cheering crowd. "I wanted to run for the victims, for freedom, to show the world that nothing is going to stop us."

"Somebody that thinks that they're going to stop a marathoner from running doesn't understand the mentality of a marathoner," said her husband, Lesley, after he placed the medal around Spraker's neck.

On April 15, explosions near the finish line killed three people and wounded more than 260.

On Saturday morning, about 3,000 runners and bombing victims gathered in light rain to run the final mile of the world's oldest annual marathon, said Kathleen McGonagle, spokeswoman for those organizing the event known as OneRun.

OneRun honours victims and emergency workers and allows runners to reclaim the final mile, McGonagle said.

"For the runner that didn't get the chance to finish the marathon, this is the chance for them to experience the final mile that was taken away from them," McGonagle said.

For many runners, it was also a chance to heal from the events of that harrowing day.

"It was very emotional to run down this street and see all the people cheering," said OneRun organizer J. Alain Ferry, who was prevented from completing his ninth consecutive Boston Marathon on April 15 and ran the final mile Saturday.

"There were a lot of tears," Ferry said, clutching his 2013 marathon bib, with the number 22084. "And I can feel in my throat that there are going to be more. This was a scab for everyone that just was not healing."

While the event was not a fundraiser, donations from some corporate sponsors covered OneRun operating costs, McGonagle said, and any leftover funds will be sent to a charity set up to benefit bombing victims.

Before the race, the National Anthem was sung by the choir from St. Ann Parish, where 8-year-old victim Martin Richard's family worshipped.

"It was a beautiful thing," said an emotional Steve Poirier, of Chelmsford, who had been running his sixth Boston Marathon when he was turned back last month. "As a runner, you want the chance to finish. Better late than never."