BOSTON (CBS) – “If you want to claim you’re a marathoner, you have to run Boston.”
Those are the words of Tom Nealon, a Florida man who decided on his 50th birthday it was time to cross “run a marathon” off his bucket list. He ran the New York City and Chicago marathons, and the annual Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C., but could never qualify for Boston.
So 10 years ago, he took a different route to getting to the starting line in Hopkinton. He decided to run to raise money for the American Liver Foundation, and asked to be matched with a patient partner.
That’s when he met one-year-old Zachary Rue, who was diagnosed with a liver condition at birth.
“I found something that changed my life,” says Nealon. “It made me a better person, brought meaning to my life.”
What seemed like an odd match at first became a magical one. The Rues and Nealons are now so close, they’ve come to think of each other as family.
“He’s my real friend,” said Zachary, now 11-years-old. “My whole life I knew him. I don’t remember a point when I didn’t know about him.”
“From the moment we spoke, it was like we knew each other,” Zach’s mom Heather recalls of meeting Nealon. “He’s our super hero.”
And as their bond grew, so did their fundraising. Now, it’s known as Tom and Zac’s Million Dollar Marathon Campaign.
“Last year we raised $213,000. We ended up making a million in 10 years,” said Nealon.
It’s a remarkable accomplishment, but probably not what Tom will remember most about the 2012 Boston Marathon. He was among the final wave of runners to cross the finish line, and when he did, he needed an assist from Heather.
“I collapsed into Heather; she broke my fall,” he explained.
“He made a pinky swear with me, because I can’t lose him,” she said.
From that, the two forged a plan. Tom would run Boston one more time, but he wouldn’t be alone.
“I’m going to be caboose, sweep up everyone,” said Heather. “But I’m going to finish.”
So at Mile 17, where Zac usually waits to give out water to Tom, he will now get to pass a refreshing cup to his mother as well.
“There will be an official handing off of the torch, so to speak,” said Tom.
This year, it’s double the excitement for Zac when it comes to his favorite part of Marathon Monday.
“Crossing the finish line with Tom, and this year with my mom and Tom,” he said.
“The reality is that impossible is possible when you have the friends and support and love that I’ve found in this whole exercise,” said Nealon.
For more information on Tom Nealon’s Run For Research, check out his fundraising page.
Tune in to the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 on WBZ-TV, the only station with start-to-finish coverage of the race!