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Tim's dream taken up by family team

Stephen, Kristen, and Michael Padulsky with their Yorkshire terrier in front of Boston College on Saturday. Stephen and Kristen are running the Boston Marathon today for their late brother Tim. Stephen, Kristen, and Michael Padulsky with their Yorkshire terrier in front of Boston College on Saturday. Stephen and Kristen are running the Boston Marathon today for their late brother Tim. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / April 20, 2009
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A few months before her brother died, Kristen Padulsky knew his long-held dream of running the Boston Marathon, of cresting Heartbreak Hill to the cascading roar of his Boston College classmates, was gone. Tim's battle with leukemia, a bitter two-year struggle, had taken too steep a toll.

In that heartbreaking moment, Kristen vowed to fulfill his dream for him. She had never run more than 3 miles, occasionally chasing Tim around a pond in their hometown of Woburn when they were growing up, but she made a promise: She would make the long run to Boston this Marathon day in her brother's stead.

When Tim Padulsky died at age 20 in September, her tribute took on a deeper sadness. She recruited her younger brother, Stephen, and in the months that followed, the two found solace retracing Tim's footsteps on his training routes along the Marathon course from the BC campus.

"The Marathon was so special to him growing up, and it was one of his life goals to run it," Kristen recalled in an interview on campus Friday. "So now it's our responsibility."

Kristen, a Boston College nursing student, and Stephen, a Boston College freshman, will run today's race to raise money for a scholarship in Tim's name at Woburn High School, where he was valedictorian four years ago. Like scores of Boston College students cheering them, they will wear blue T-shirts with the messages "Tim's Team" and "This Run's For You."

Tim, the siblings said with a chuckle, had a large collection of quirky T-shirts, with a vintage Mr. Rogers ranking as his favorite. When he was hospitalized, he had his family make T-shirts for his team of nurses, whom he dubbed "Timmo's Teamo." Making the cut, he joked, was by no means automatic.

"He would say, 'You're not on my team yet. What do you have to offer me?' " Kristen recalled, smiling sadly.

Growing up, Tim celebrated the Marathon as a holiday, researching the top athletes in advance so he would know the field. He rooted for the wheelchair athletes most of all, the siblings said, because he admired their determination.

When he got to high school, he joined the track team, and although he had limited natural ability, quickly developed a love for the sport.

"He was so far behind, sometimes the lead runner would lap him," his sister said. "But he didn't mind."

During his freshman year at Boston College, he began training for the Marathon, running up to 10 miles, often ending his runs with a climb up Heartbreak Hill, the legendary landmark of endurance. Even as he fell ill, he continued to train toward his goal.

"We later figured out that he was running 9 miles with a platelet count of 50,000," far below a healthy level, she said. "We wondered how he did it, but he just didn't let it stop him. That really defined who he was."

Knowing now how hard those runs must have been, the siblings say, pushed them through rough patches on their own training runs, amid an unforgiving winter that wore down the most dedicated runners.

"I'll be in pain and want to stop, but I know I can't," said Stephen, a soft-spoken 19-year-old who, like his sister, had no running history but adopted her cause without hesitation. The rail-thin siblings began training shortly after Tim's death, savoring the sun and crisp fall air after spending weeks in the hospital, and methodically prepared themselves to run longer distances.

Three weeks ago, they completed an 18-miler in about three hours, running from Boston College to their home in Woburn, passing through the city and along the Charles River, winding through several towns. It was a run Tim would have loved, they agreed.

The two are nervous about the last 8 miles of today's race, but are counting on adrenaline and inspiration to carry them to Copley Square.

A heavy sense of obligation to their brother, too, will help see them through, they believe.

"Time after time he'd have setbacks, and he would bounce back. He never gave up," Kristen said, fighting back tears. "We have no excuses. We have to live the life he would have expected of us."

For more information, visit s1.webstarts.com/TIMSTEAM. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.