The calls and text messages started blowing up Sylvia Morgese’s phone. “Are you okay?” “Are you alive?” With each buzz, the 22-year-old Father Lopez graduate grew more and more confused.
Morgese was just fine, sitting in a strength and conditioning class at the University of Central Florida, more than 1,200 miles from the spot on Boylston Street where a pair of homemade bombs killed three people and injured 264 at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
She had qualified for the Boston Marathon by posting a 3:19:24 time at a race in Jacksonville in Feb. 2013, but many of her friends didn’t realize that mark qualified her for the 2014 Boston race, not last year’s.
“Class couldn’t end soon enough, and I rushed home,” Morgese recounted. “I immediately felt an obligation to run the race of a lifetime and prove that the running community can come back stronger than ever from a tragedy like this.”
On Monday, she fulfilled that obligation, running and finishing the 2014 Boston Marathon in about three hours, 40 minutes.
‘Finding her niche’
Morgese ran high school track and cross country at Father Lopez, but something about the experience fell short.
“The longest distance you run on the high school track team is three miles, and I was always just attracted to the longer distances,” she said. “I kind of found my niche there.”
After graduating, Morgese stayed in touch with Lopez track coach Suzanne O’Malley, whom she credits with helping her train for Boston. After each race, former student would text former coach to go over her times.
“I think her passion really just transferred over to me, and she’s a lot of the reason I try as hard as I do,” she said of O’Malley.
The amazing race
Bib No. 11408 meant something. The lower the number, the faster the runner is compared to the field. And on Race Day 2014, that meant Morgese was slotted in the top third of competitors.
Not just anyone gets a spot in the 32,530-runner field. Runners must first qualify at any of the scores of certified courses around the world. For the 18-34-year-old age group, the qualifying time for Boston was 3:35 for women and 3:05 for men.
Morgese readied for the race by studying elevation charts, hoping to know the course sight-unseen. She says fell short of her own lofty goals, but a finishing figure wasn’t all she got out of the experience.
At past races, Morgese would encounter smatterings of spectators, some here, some there, a few at the 13.1 mile mark, and the rest at the finish. That wasn’t the case in Boston. Besides both of her parents and a few sisters from her Alpha Xi Delta sorority at UCF, she was cheered on by throngs of randoms who offered water, orange slices, anything they could to help the runners.
“This race was the most amazing of any I’ve ever run,” Morgese said. “I could just not believe the undying support from the entire city and the entire community. Everybody surrounding me was just so fixated on the marathon, people you could tell hadn’t run a day in their lives.”
Leffler leaves field in dust
Ormond Beach native Lauren Leffler also ran the marathon and finished with a time of 3:09:06. Leffler, a fourth-year orthopedic resident living in Greenville, S.C., finished 319th among all females.