She was supposed to make her marathon debut here three years ago, but life threw in a detour. What Serena Burla thought was a cranky hamstring turned out to be synovial sarcoma, a malignant soft-tissue growth as big as an egg. Had the cancer been lurking elsewhere it might have gone undetected longer. “But because it was in my leg, running saved my life,” she said.
That was all Burla wanted after a radical procedure removed both the tumor and the dominant muscle in her right hamstring. “I went into the surgery just hoping my life would be saved,” she recalled. “Whatever happened after that was a gift.”
At first, keeping up with toddler son Boyd was enough. “Little kids run,” said Burla, who has taught them in special education classes. “That’s what they do.”
Then, against lofty odds, her jogging led to running which led to racing again — at the New York City Marathon, at last year’s US Olympic trials, and Monday in the 117th Boston Marathon on the same hilly course that her father covered on a collegiate lark in 1974.
“That’s why I’m a believer, because some things can’t really be explained,” said Burla, 30, who lives in Falls Church, Va., and who’ll join Olympians Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher as the top Americans in the elite women’s field. “I just kept saying, ‘OK, I can do this.’ ”
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