The man who beat the Boston Marathon
Doug Laufer finished the 2013 Boston Marathon 60 seconds before the first bomb exploded. Unbowed and optimistic, he’s heading back.
This is a tale of two photographs.
In the first, Doug Laufer is gingerly crossing the finish line, relief etched across his exhausted features. Behind him, out of frame, many other runners are slowly finishing. On either side of the road, hundreds of spectators are whooping and cheering the racers’ achievements.
The second photograph was taken exactly one minute later. During this frozen moment in time, you can still see the runners and the stewards and spectators watching the race. But, in this picture there’s also a bright yellow and orange flash on the right side – the first Boston bomb exploding.
In the immediate aftermath of that blast, and the second one that followed just seconds later, all was confusion and horror: It was bloody chaos at the finish line. Below ground, stuck on the subway for a time, was Laufer’s girlfriend (who had gone along to support him). She did not know where he was or his condition.
It was a horrific day. And, after the long journey home to Denver, Laufer understandably didn’t really want to talk about Boston at all. Until now.
Four years on, everything is different. Laufer, an accounting professor at MSU Denver, and his girlfriend, college lecturer Betty Connor, will be returning to Boston later this month for Patriot’s Day. Only this time, they’ve done a switcheroo: Connor will be running, while he watches.
“I’m really excited for Betty because it’s her first Boston Marathon and she worked really hard to qualify,” Laufer says. “Though as a hardcore runner, it’s always difficult to watch other people run.”
As for the past, it’s just that – the past. “I have watched the race on TV every year since the bombing,” Laufer explains, “and I’d say the enthusiasm that exists now is maybe even stronger.
“I’m in a very positive space now as far as going back to Boston, and the marathon itself, is concerned,” he adds. “I’d even go so far as to say I’m Boston Strong – and that’s coming from a Yankees fan!”
It helps that there will be diversions. While Connor gets bused to the race’s start 26 miles away, Laufer will go and watch the Boston Red Sox’s traditional Patriot’s Day morning game.
“The race ends quite close to Fenway Park, so I’ll be able to track her on my phone while watching the game, then run out when she gets near,” he says.
He chuckles, and acknowledges he’ll exit the game quickly, even if it’s really close at the bottom of the ninth. “There are certain things any sensible man knows he absolutely needs to do.”
In speaking to Laufer, one word that springs to mind is perseverance.
This popular professor, who specializes in teaching accounting fraud, has been running at least one annual marathon since 1979. After narrowly missing death at Boston in 2013, you might think he deserved a break – but since that fateful race he has endured a catalogue of misfortunes.
In 2014, Laufer contracted sepsis, an often life-threatening condition. Laid low for a quite some time, he nonetheless started training again as soon he was able. In late December that year, he managed to complete the appropriately titled Last Chance Marathon.
By 2015, his arthritic right hip – a long-standing problem – was literally starting to grind him down. Laufer recalls, “You don’t realize how severely such an ailment can come to dominate your life. It’s like the ‘boiling a frog’ analogy. At first it’s not too bad, but then it gradually, almost without you noticing, grows worse and worse up to a point where it’s unbearable.”
Even so, you’ll probably not be surprised to read he still managed to run a marathon that year.
Laufer welcomed 2016 by finally having a hip replacement operation. So, definitely no marathon that year, then? Wrong. On Dec. 30, with just a day left in the year, Laufer ran the Santa Fe Trail Marathon.
If you haven’t heard of that particular race, there’s a good reason. “It wasn’t an official marathon,” he explains. “I just chose a joint-friendly dirt trail and ran the correct distance by myself. So technically, I came in first and last place.” He and friends had an awards ceremony that evening.
A picture is building, you’ll notice, of a guy who doesn’t like the idea of giving up. Laufer thinks that his innate sense of fortitude, of persevering against the odds, also explains his MSU Denver longevity. (He celebrates his 22nd anniversary as a campus professor this year.)
“Lots of things about my work can drive me crazy,” he laughs. “But the students here are unique. We have so many students who are older, parents, struggling financially – people who have had to overcome all kinds of challenges just to get here.
“I’ve taught at other schools, but it’s much more fun to work with people who have had real world experiences and maybe lived through tough times. My students here are not only terrific fun to work with – a lot of the time they carry the classes. I’m just the bus driver.”
Perhaps more than anything, Laufer respects the competitive drive that keeps many of his students toiling away. Which brings him back to the running. Despite his growing list of ailments, Laufer has already signed up for the Chicago Marathon this October, which he fully intends to run – “If my doctor lets me,” he says. He even plans to do the Boston Marathon one more time before his running days are over.
And that competitiveness even extends to his closest relationships. “You know, Betty and I go out running together,” he says. “At first, I was much faster than her. Then I busted my hip and she started racing ahead. Now I’m getting better and, little by little, catching up again.”
He beams. “You’ve got to keep persevering.”