A Front Row Seat of the Finish Line: A Boston Marathon Story

When Larry Keegan was a young boy, his father would take him to watch the Boston Marathon every year. Deemed by his father as the perfect location to see the competitive runners push through their last six miles at the base of Heartbreak Hill, the two would camp out at the top of Lake Street, cheering on the leaders regardless of the country they represented. In 1972, shortly after he began teaching science at Winthrop High School, Keegan was urged by a colleague to take on the role of coach to the newly formed girls track team, and without having any track experience, he threw himself into learning about the sport.

During his time as coach, Keegan continued to go to the marathon every April, and eventually invited seniors on the team to join him for the tradition. In 1978, his role as spectator transformed into volunteer, and his seniors made the transition right along with him, handing out waters and Gatorade  to runners as they crossed the finish line. Keegan’s dedication to the annual volunteer tradition, gained the attention of The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) and they soon asked me to be a captain of food distribution, leading his team of seniors.

This year will mark Keegan’s 42nd year volunteering for the marathon as captain of the team, doling out Gatorade to exhausted runners as they take their final step.

His years of volunteering have come along with many memories, one that stands out among the rest. For Keegan, April 15, 2013 started out as a normal marathon Monday. He greeted his 80 volunteers and alongside team members, he headed to Boylston Street at 10:30 a.m. to man the Gatorade volunteers, which were located approximately 100 yards beyond the finish line, a position that offers a front row seat of those taking their last strides.

The sound of one loud boom, converted the day from a familiar and friendly to a day that was laced with confusion and chaos.

“No one knew what happened.  My first thought was a generator exploded.  We all froze, somewhat in shock, especially because no one knew what was going on.”

Keegan described the boom as sounding like a cannon, followed by a cloud of smoke. Moments later, a second boom sounded, this time closer to where his team was stationed. More chaos ensued, as shouts with the word “bomb” came from all angles. Police and volunteers jumped into action, pushing  the tables aside and demanding everyone to find safety. 

“They needed open space for emergency vehicles to reach the victims,” said Keegan, who urged several volunteers to run to the Boston Common, as he stayed behind to make sure other volunteers who were not familiar with the city of Boston, were safe.

Making matters worse,  all cell phone service was shut off, adding to the fear of the unknown and the pandemonium of the day, bolstering the panic of the crowd.

“My concern was to help my volunteers and obviously, to try and find my family,” said Keegan, who eventually made it to Maggiano’s restaurant alongside his volunteers.

 “The rest is history.  Seven years have gone by, the bombing will live with us forever.  We continue to volunteer at the marathon,  our life’s will continue.  Each year we reflect back to the 2013 marathon bombings. We are truly “Boston Strong.’”

Over the years, Keegan has run many 10ks, which are a 6.2 mile road race. He’s also run in several half marathons and the New Bedford Marathon. In 2016, he was inducted into the Winthrop Athletic Hall of Fame, for the 30 years he spent as the legendary, “Coach Keegan.” Under his realm the girls track team won 17 conference championships. He believes that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Jim Evans, Athletic Director of Winthrop High School, during his time as coach.

“As for my running, it is all behind me. I spend as much time as possible with my wife Deborah and our families and our eight grandchildren (a ninth one on the way.)  I will continue to volunteer at the marathon as long as my feet will allow. I will never drop out of the race but I do realize my time to volunteer is coming to an end. I hope someday to sit in the VIP section with Deborah and enjoy the view knowing ‘we paid our dues.’”

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