Thanks to a jubilant crowd and sunny, 75-degree weather, John Odom says he was so excited Sunday he almost ran a little bit.
The 66-year-old who suffered a severe leg injury in the Boston Marathon bombing last year was the first to carry the baton at the California kickoff of the One Run for Boston, a coast-to-coast relay to benefit those affected by the bombing last year. Odom walked about 50 yards with the baton in Santa Monica, Calif., before handing it off to his daughter, Nicole Reis, who ran the first, 7-mile leg of the relay with about 100 other runners. Odom was at the marathon finish line waiting for Reis to cross on April 15, 2013, when the blasts took place.
“It’s hard to come up with words about how I felt,” said Odom, of Redondo Beach, Calif. “I just felt so honored to be able to do that and get the run started. It was just fantastic.”
Odom’s left leg below the knee was paralyzed in the explosions that killed a little boy and two adults and injured almost 300. He spent two weeks on life support and underwent 11 surgeries on his leg after the blasts. Today, he walks with a cane and a leg brace and must wear compression socks to keep swelling down.
In this, the second year of the charity relay, Odom has emerged for the runners as the face of why they are doing the run, but also perseverance in conquering the effects of the explosions.
The 3,300-mile, 3,000-runner relay is the brainchild of three friends from the United Kingdom who watched coverage of the marathon bombing on television and felt moved to do something to help. They organized the first relay with the help of social media, internet links to U.S. running groups and an online mapping site to help them plan a route in a country they didn’t know. The grassroots effort started out quietly but gathered attention and steam as it bore East. Runners’ entry feels went toward raising $91.000 for the One Fund Boston, the charity set up to help those adversely affected by the bombings.
This year, the organizers are aiming to raise $1 million for the One Fund Boston and are having runners raise money for the charity. They have reworked the relay so that stages can accommodate more runners.
Sunday’s kickoff at the beach in Santa Monica included the signing of the National Anthem by the New Direction Veterans Choir, a singing group made of veterans who’ve been homeless.
About 100 people watched as the organizers and Odom said a few words and the relay began.
“I think â€¦ people have used One Run for Boston to sort of move on and not dwell on the horrific events that were the cause and inspiration for why we’re doing this,” said organizer Kate Treleaven of Devon County, England. “Now, we’re looking to move on, help people overcome the emotions they’ve been harboring since then.”
Reis and organizer Danny Bent helped carry the baton for the first, eight-mile stage which ended at the University of California Los Angeles. Many of the runners in that stage were at the marathon when the bombs took off and/or took part in last summer’s inaugural One Run.
As they did last year, Treleaven and Bent will follow the relay in a car, this time in one donated by Toyota and decorated in the One Run’s blue and yellow colors. Each also will run various stages each day.
Odom and his wife, Karen, said they plan on being in Boston for the arrival of the baton April 13. Karen Odom said their participation is a way to thank the organizers for thinking of the road the survivors have ahead in terms of rehabilitation, surgeries and relearning how to live life.
“I’m just so proud of Kate and Danny,” Karen Odom said.