For the past several years it has been the dream of Timothy Kilduff and the 26.2 Foundation to open an international marathon center in Hopkinton that would not only showcase memorabilia from Boston’s annual Patriots Day event, but also celebrate the international community of distance runners that has continued the sport from ancient Greece.
After the bombings at the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon, Kilduff and others involved with the project say they are even more determined to reach their goal of a $20 million to $30 million facility, to be built with private funds.
“We are going to proceed, but proceed with the utmost respect for what happened,” said Kilduff. “This is an idea that came from the heart, and I am convinced it can work.”
Kilduff, a former Boston Marathon race director who has been involved with the race since 1980, and its the foundation’s founder and executive director, said the center will be about more than running because the race is about so much more than being able to complete the 26.2 miles.
“It’s about community, governments, sport, people, and it brings the whole world together,” he said.
The center is planned for a site overlooking the Ashland Reservoir on property owned by Legacy Farms developer Roy MacDowell, who said he is lending the project his land-planning expertise and help with fund-raising.
“You can’t allow terrorists to change your life, you need to pursue your goals and dreams,” MacDowell said.
The bombings and events that unfolded in their aftermath will now be considered in plans for the center, however.
Included in the exhibits will likely be a gallery that could serve as a memorial to those killed, and a place to share oral histories where victims, first responders at the scene, and law enforcement officials can tell the first-person stories that brought the city and world together, according to Kilduff and Michael Neece, president of the 26.2 Foundation’s board.
Plans also include a Boston Marathon hall of fame where shoes, singlets, medals, and other tokens from record-setting times and dramatic feats can be catalogued, and interactive fitness and educational displays.
Kilduff and Neece also envision a marathon history exhibit, starting with ancient Greece, that could augment the statewide sixth-grade history curriculum that requires the study of ancient Greece and Rome. They envision a fitness, sports physiology, and nutrition center, interactive exhibits for children, meeting spaces, and outdoor trails.
Neece said programs now offered in Hopkinton could be spread across the state and country through leadership by the Marathon center.
For example, the 26.2 Foundation sponsors a fitness challenge in which students sign up to run the equivalent of 26 miles in any increments they choose. So if a youngster committed to run the distance in half-mile sections, it would take 52 runs to complete.
The foundation has done the same thing with books, encouraging students to sign up and commit to reading 26 library books. It has also housed international runners and organized school visits by some of the worlds best marathoners.
“We see this as a framework for promoting fitness and education,” Neece said.
In addition, Neece sees the center eventually becoming a clearinghouse for information about race logistics and “best practices,” and a communication link for directors and organizers of the more than 3,000 marathons held around the world each year.
“This is about so much more than running,” he said.
Neece and Kilduff say they chose to move forward with a feasibility study and design work in Hopkinton because they found “the perfect site,” and because of its significance to the race, something some people in Ashland have questioned over the years.
Ashland served as the starting point for the Boston Marathon from the first race in 1897 until 1924, when the route was lengthened from 25 miles to the Olympic standard of 26.2 miles and the starting line was moved to Hopkinton.
The two towns have had what Kilduff calls a “tongue in cheek” rivalry over their roles in the Marathon ever since.
Last year, a half-marathon road race was started in Ashland to raise money to “further rehabilitate Marathon Park,” where the original Boston Marathon started, “with an eye toward establishing a future museum nearby featuring ‘The Ashland Era’ of the marathon,” according to the race website.
While the 26.2 Foundation, a nonprofit organization started in Hopkinton 17 years ago to promote and support marathoning, is the catalyst for getting plans for the center started, Neece said there eventually will be a separate organization and board of directors, with members representing other Boston Marathon towns. The project is in the design and fund-raising stage, and the timeline for construction will be dictated by how fast funds can be raised, he said.
Neece said the difficult past two weeks showed the very worst of human behavior, and the very best. It also evidenced the universal language of running.
Neece said he was with Dimitri Kyriakides, son of Greek running legend and winner of the 50th Boston Marathon Stylianos Kyriakides, when he heard the news of the Marathon bombings.
“Dimitri had two phones, a US phone and an international phone,” Neese said. “Within a minute that international phone started ringing with people calling from overseas inquiring about what had happened.”
“The marathon is the only sport on the planet where ordinary runners can compete at the same venue with the best in the world,” Neese said. “Running is something everyone has done and everyone knows what it feels like to do. . . . Running is an international language.”