An Unexpected Journey: Palatine High School Teaching Assistant Honors Father in Life-Changing Boston Marathon Event

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When Palatine High School teaching assistant Kimberly Grauer made a promise to her father to “finish Boston,” she did much more than that.

In the months leading up to the Boston Marathon, Grauer had been determined to share the story of her father’s battle with his disease. She applied and was accepted to run as part of the 200-member American Liver Foundation Team Run for Research. She spent countless hours fundraising, preparing for the Boston Marathon, and spending time with her father as he fought through his final days.

Making the best out of tragedy, Kimberly Grauer shows PHS spirit in Boston while waiting to come home after the marathon was cut short by a terrorist attack.

Two weeks after her father passed away from liver disease, Grauer was in Boston and the start of the 117th marathon seemed to be perfect. She had run a strong, bittersweet race filled with support from family and teammates, and had just one mile left in order to fulfill her promise to “finish Boston.” That’s when a police officer stopped in front of the runners and told them the marathon was over. Two bombs had been detonated at the finish line, a terrorist attack.

“We all thought he was joking with us, and we told him we still had one mile left to go,” Grauer said. “The officer informed us that the finish line had been blown up, several people were hurt or dead, and the marathon was done. People fell to their knees, they were crying, and no one knew what to do. We had no information.”

It took hours to locate her family and get word out that she was safe on that fateful April 15 day, and Grauer said she felt numb and in shock while she waited in a nearby temple for any news. It wasn’t until she received a voicemail from her colleagues at Palatine High School that she broke down.

“My PHS department is incredible,” Grauer said. “When I came back from the temple, I got a voice message from my brother saying my family was safe, and the second voicemail was from Palatine High School. That was the first time that I started crying because I work in the greatest, supportive department ever. I don’t think my department will ever really know what they did for me that day.”

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Kimberly leads a group of runners with a flag before the Indy 500.

Grauer had no idea that the attacks would lead to a series of life-changing events, including representing Illinois while running before the start of the Indianapolis 500 and further expanding opportunities to create awareness for liver disease. Grauer returned to Chicago as a 2013 Boston Marathon finisher because the Boston Athletic Association had counted all runners as finished, but her journey was just beginning. Only a short time went by before organizations began contacting Grauer to share her story.

She received an offer from Dick’s Sporting Goods to represent Illinois at the Pittsburgh Marathon. They invited one technical non-finisher from each state to participate in the marathon in honor of the attacks. After Pittsburgh is when she received the call to run before the start of the Indianapolis 500. She had brought a flag to run with, and was invited to lead the group around the track with the flag.

Indy 3“The Indianapolis 500 was a huge honor to be able to run,” Grauer said. “They sang the National Anthem and then we were running on the track, everyone was chanting U.S.A., and toward the end we ran through a tunnel of the rescue people, marines, and the military. They were all saluting us.”

Since the Boston Marathon, Kimberly has continued to work toward raising awareness of liver disease and helping individuals that have it. She is in the process of creating a charity called the Liver Project, as well as a support group called the Family Liver Project that will help the families of those suffering from the disease. Additionally, she is writing a book in which all proceeds will go toward the Liver Project.

“Even a terrorist attack isn’t powerful enough to stop runners or ruin this cause,” Grauer said.

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Kimberly’s father Chuck, who lost his battle with liver disease, was the inspiration for the start of her journey. She promised him she would “finish Boston,” and said not even a terrorist attack can stop runners or this cause.

She is now in a coveted volunteer position as one of 14 members on the Run for Research Runners’ Council and is looking forward to going to Boston each year for the marathon. Even though she never technically crossed the finish line, she still finished Boston for her father and told his story more than she ever expected.

“It is so surreal how has this started with the loss of my father and that promise I made to him when I said ‘we will finish Boston and your story will be known’,” Grauer said. “I didn’t know how I was going to do that. I never in my wildest dreams thought that everyone would know dad’s story. I just wanted people to know his fight was worth something and we are going to continue to fight this disease.”