Boston Marathon runner from WNY will join woman who helped break gender barrier - The Buffalo News

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Boston Marathon runner from WNY will join woman who helped break gender barrier

Western New York "is a great community for runners," Melany Arrison says. (Photo by Amy Lucinski)

Melany Arrison's mother can't swim, wouldn't dream of getting on a bicycle and doesn't run.

“But she always likes to hear about my adventures," Arrison said.

Her father? That's another story.

Jerald Hill, of Mohawk descent, grew up on the Tuscarora Nation and worked for Martin Fireproofing Corp. – often climbing onto scaffolding, roofs and skyrise building projects with little concern.

When he died in 2009 after a series of strokes, "there was a fog in my life," said Arrison, a Town of Niagara native who lives in Clarence.

Hill and Arrison's mother, Barbara Stookey, split up when Arrison was young. Her father often was on the road for work. She wished she'd known him better – and believes she rediscovered him in a sense when she took up running after his death.

Not that it was easy on the rest of her family, including her husband, Craig, their three children –  Holly, 13, Hayden, 11, Hunter, 9 – and, of course, her mother.

“They thought I was trying to hurt myself doing an endurance marathon. I said, ‘No, to me it’s more a channeling and helping me feel stronger from a place where I felt very weak. It was cathartic,” said Arrison, 41, who has allayed those initial jitters after dozens of races, including two marathons, six triathlons and a 50-mile winter run.

She met running icon Kathy Switzer before the 2010 Niagara Falls International Marathon and became so enamored with the first woman to wear a numbered bib while running the Boston Marathon that she plans to join Switzer next month to run the 121st annual installment of that race.

[RELATED STORY: Syracuse University woman dared to run the 1967 Boston Marathon]

The 1967 Boston Marathon race director was unsuccessful in attempts to remove Kathy Switzer from the course but she was disqualified after the race because she was a woman. (Boston Herald file photo)

Arrison will be among more than 100 runners representing 20 countries April 17 as they help Switzer raise money for 261Fearless, her global nonprofit that encourages women to become more empowered through running and walking.

The group is named for the bib number Switzer wore in the tumultuous 1967 race, after registering as K.V. Switzer. The race director discovered her about mile 2 and tried to take her off the course. Her Syracuse University boyfriend and running coach thwarted the effort – as a photographer in the press pool snapped pictures.

Switzer was the first woman to wear a bib in the race - 50 years ago in April. She did so the year after a 23-year-old suburban Boston woman, Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb, snuck onto the course a couple of miles into the race and ran the rest of it.

The world of running hasn't been the same since.

Arrison has started a Crowdrise page and set a goal to raise $7,261 for the 261Fearless effort. Those who give will be eligible for $2,000 in donated giveaways that include gym memberships, an autographed Jack Eichel Sabres jersey and more. To support the cause, click here.

Switzer's nonprofit has become a social movement designed to improve the life of everyone, Arrison said.

"I'm living proof of it," she said. “If you get active, if you start to communicate with others, if you find that connection and commonality, we as humanity will improve. If you get yourself healthy, and are walking and running, and if you have other people you are expressing yourself to, you become a better person physically, emotionally, socially.”

Arrison will pay her own Boston Marathon travel expenses, and bring along her daughter, a Nichols School student.

“I think it’s significant for her to come and see this demonstration,” Arrison said.

Kathy Switzer used the initials for her first and middle names, 'K.V.', when she signed up for her first Boston Marathon as a 20-year-old Syracuse University student in 1967.

The contingent that will run with Switzer includes mostly women, but some men. The group will wear charity bibs – those who do so much agree to raise at least $5,000 for nonprofit group –  so didn't have to qualify for the marathon from a time standpoint.

Arrison can hardly wait. Her eyes gleamed as she recalled meeting Switzer for the first time.

“She shared her energy with me,” she said.

Arrison walked part of the marathon the next day but completed the run in about 4½ hours.

“For me, it was enormous accomplishment. My father and I had walked around the Falls a lot, so to end at the Horseshoe Falls, what a grand place to finish. And there was a rainbow. It was a moment. I felt like I’d finished, I’d healed, I’d triumphed. I felt victorious over all this doubt and grieving I couldn’t shake on a daily basis.

“From there, I took off.”

The ritual of running continues to bring feelings of commitment, renewal and appreciation, Arrison said.

Along with the 5 and 10Ks, marathons and triathlons, she's become the bicycling advocate for the Town of Clarence.

"I can’t imagine life without being able to run and bike," she said. "I know it’s a blessing."

Here's what else Arrison had to say about her fitness passions and the upcoming marathon.

Q. What do you expect at the Boston Marathon?

"I like to go outdoors and get lost in the landscape," Melany Arrison says. (Photo by Amy Lucinski)

Kathy told us she’d like to complete the marathon in under five hours. I’m the only runner from Western New York who will be running with her. It’s special and it’s humbling.

She’s going to engage the crowd. In mile 2 – where the pictures were taken 50 years ago – we’ll stop for global media and give a short little speech. They’re going to take pictures of all of us together. After that, she’s asked us to smile, engage the crowd, high five and soak in the atmosphere because you’re going to see the spirit on display. That’s what it’s all about. It’s Marathon Monday. Patriot’s Day. And it’s Boston. We all know about Boston these past few years and what this race means. ... My training is going very good right now. I’m feeling really solid. I would like to be very close with Kathy throughout the marathon, to stay within sight of her.

Q. Will all in the group be women?

It’s mostly women on her team but there are also men who represent the values of 261Fearless and are also running with us. I think that’s important. We’re equal. We’re partners. Things can be co-ed. It should be natural. We should be treated equally and enjoy each other, and have that marathon spirit. I'm a Toastmasters member and in my speeches, I point out that the Women's Movement wasn’t just women helping women. It was men helping women. It’s coming together.

Q. When you run, what do you tend to think about?

I like to go outdoors and get lost in the landscape and my own thoughts. Sometimes I train myself I work on one form of improvement, I’ve been able to help myself learn to land correctly and have an efficient running form.

Q. What do you suspect you’ll think about in Boston?

I will prepare for it and embrace it as it unfolds, take it a step at a time. Kathy said that in the first half, we’ll get lost in the crowd. ... In the second half, you have Heartbreak Hill, and that’s when all of that training and the can-do attitude has to come out. Those familiar with the race have told me, “You’ve never seen anything like this. There’s a crowd cheering the whole way.”

Q. Do you expect to think about your dad?

I imagine him at some points in races and it’s good and bad. I still miss him. But at other points, I imagine him sitting on the sidelines ringing a cowbell for me, cheering me on ... part of my support crew.

Q. You say you like running in Western New York.

We live in a great community for runners. We have the Turkey Trot, the Shamrock Run (on Saturday) and everything in between. I go to buffalorunners.com and, anytime I’m free, I sign up for a race.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

Twitter: @BNrefresh

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