BOSTON — Among the 36,000 runners making their way from Hopkinton to Boston in this Monday’s marathon will be dozens running on teams honoring the three people killed in last year’s bombing at the finish line: Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell and Lu Lingzi.
A group of runners from Boston University and members of the BU community are paying tribute to Lu, who came here from China to study and fell in love with her adopted home.
None of the runners knew Lu, and most of them had never met each other. On a recent Saturday morning, they gathered on campus to head out on a 16-mile training run along the marathon course. They all wore their white team T-shirts, emblazoned with a big Chinese symbol that means “Dream,” and under it, Lu Lingzi’s name.
“I’m just kind of getting over how big of a deal this is, that we’re running for her,” said team member Ryan Shea. “And I think until race day we’re not going to know how emotional it is. It’s going to be amazing though. And when we cross the finish line together, it’s going to be great.”
Shea graduated from BU in 2011 and lives in Boston. He and 200 other people submitted videos or essays in a BU competition for seven of the marathon slots the Lu family got from the Boston Athletic Association.
Shea’s video shows him running an indoor marathon: a spur-of-the-moment 26.2 miles on a treadmill, with no training. He did it the day after the marathon bombings.
“You know, the reason why I’m doing this is obviously for the families. I was at the race. Not only for the victims, but the people who ran and trained,” Shea said as he ran on the treadmill.
Yujue Wang started running just two years ago. The BU student created a video application not only about the joy the sport brings her — “From running, I learn to be passionate,” she said — but also her heartbreak over the marathon attack and her feelings about Lu, a fellow Chinese student.
“I feel this special bond in between us, because it’s like losing a sister of mine,” she reflected in the video.
“I never thought I would run in this year’s marathon before last year’s bombing,” Wang told WBUR. “But that event [was] just so shocking that I decided I’ll have to run this. It give me, like, goose bumps, and get me super pumped. I just, I have to go across the finish line. And we’re going to take that back.”
The runners say they’ve learned a lot about Lu, her determination, and her personality. And that gives them inspiration in their training. Lu came here two years ago as a graduate student in statistics, and not long before her death had passed the first part of her master’s comprehensive exam.
“She was very engaged in her studies. She worked extremely hard,” said professor Eric Kolaczyk, who was Lu’s advisor at BU. He’s not running, but he helped coordinate the university’s response to Lu’s death and realizes now how she touched his life and many others.
“Bubbly is the word that I’ve used to describe her, and that’s the one that just keeps coming back to me when I think of her,” he said. “She was very engaged with life around her in general.”
Kolaczyk recalled how he rushed back from a trip to Chicago upon learning Lu had died in the marathon attack, catching a flight thanks to the graciousness of strangers.
“On standby after having an entire line of people, after having an entire line of people let me go by,” Kolaczyk recounted, his voice breaking with emotion. “I kept showing them my card, and I said, ‘I’m really sorry, I don’t do this, but you see the young lady on CNN there that they’re reporting died? She was mine, and I need to get back.’ ”
Lu’s roommate, Jing Li, said she misses Lu every day.
“I still send message to her online, although I know that she will never get it,” Jing said. “But I still send it.”
Jing isn’t on the marathon team. She said she’s trying to honor her roommate’s memory in the way she lives.
“We need to learn [to] cherish all the people we met in our lives, and try our best to enjoy every minute,” Jing reflected. “[Lu] loved life, loved food, and loved music. I think every day she’s happy. And people love her, and she loved the people as well.”
And she was very fond of Boston. Jing says Lu regularly took in the culture and history of the city. The two had talked not long before last year’s marathon about how safe Boston felt. Lu loved the city so much, her parents buried her here, far from their home in China.
At a BU memorial service for Lu Monday night, Jing told mourners Lu would urge them to rise above whatever anger they’re feeling toward the alleged marathon bombers.
“We all know that Lingzi believed in beauty, love and forgiveness. At this moment of sadness, she must have hoped that our hearts are filled with sympathy, forgiveness and love ,” she said.
Lu loved ice cream and cupcakes, and flowers in spring, according to Jing. So she would have welcomed another April in Boston.
The coach of the BU team running in her honor, Jennifer Carter-Battaglino, is glad to see April bring marathon kind of weather. She’s kept Lu on her mind throughout months of preparation, like a recent round of 10 800-meter runs.
“And I got to about eight, and I was like, ‘I just want to be done with this,’ ” Carter-Battaglino said. “And then I thought, ‘But I’m doing it for Lingzi.’ And especially this winter, because the weather has been so horrible. So every time I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do this,’ or ‘I’m not motivated,’ or ‘I just want to stop,’ I would think of why I was doing it and who I was doing it for.”
In applying for her marathon spot, Yujue Wang recalled the words BU President Robert Brown shared with the university community after Lu’s death.
“When a star dies somewhere out there in the universe, the light will continue to travel across time to reach us,” Wang remembered Brown saying.
Those are words that will help keep Wang going if she struggles in the marathon’s final miles.
“Even though Lingzi has passed away, her spirit — just like the light — that has reached to me,” Wang said. “And I feel like I’ve got this power from her to so want to carry on this light.”
Lu’s parents recently established a Boston-based foundation in her name to support education and other issues important to her. The foundation also has a team running the marathon in Lu’s memory.
The interview with Professor Eric Kolaczyk was conducted by Joanna Shea O’Brien as part of the WBUR Oral History Project, a collaboration with Northeastern University’s “Our Marathon: Boston Bombing Digital Archive.”