They’re racing Monday from Hopkinton to Boston with Martin Richard’s name and number on their back. They call themselves “Team MR8,” 102 in total, and many of them will carry the memories of the young, spirited boy they saw grow up day-to-day in and around Dorchester.
“A good-looking kid — great athlete, great student, great friend,’’ said Mattapan’s Harry Benzan, recalling the Martin Richard he coached on the soccer field for one season. “He was Eddie Haskell meets Larry Bird and Tom Brady — the type of kid who made me feel like anything I said as his coach meant the world to him.’’
Eight-year-old Martin Richard, ever-smiling, eager to please, and delightfully mischievous at times, was the youngest of the three people killed in the two explosions near the Boston Marathon’s finish line last April.
Members of Team MR8, assembled in recent months by the charitable foundation the Richard family formed in his name, recently crossed the $1 million threshold in donations. The funds will be directed toward education, athletics, and community — and it is the close-knit community of friends around the Richard home in Dorchester that gives Team MR8 much of its identity.
Benzan, 48, will be running Boston for the seventh time (including three bandit appearances), and has privately pledged to knock off 26 pushups (one per mile) when he crosses the finish line. Martin was the kind of kid who appreciated extra effort.
“I can still hear him now,’’ said Benzan. “Whatever I asked of him, he’d volunteer to do more, like, ‘OK, Coach Harry, run up the hill? We’ll do it twice.’ Just that big smile, all the time. ‘Hi, Coach Harry, how you doing? What are we doing today, Coach Harry?’ ’’
When the inevitable pain courses through his legs around Heartbreak Hill, it will be Martin’s voice that will carry Benzan up, over, and on toward Boston.
“I’ll be drinking a lot of water, that’s for sure,’’ said Benzan. “Because I know I’m going to be crying through the whole thing. People are going to be saying, ‘Hey, who’s that crybaby?’ ’’
Team MR8 runner Lisa Jackson, age 47 and Holy Cross Class of 1989, lives less than a mile from the Richard home with her husband and four children. With seven kids perpetually dashing back and forth between the two households, she saw Martin nearly every day, including the weekend leading up to last year’s race.
“Oh my God, a little boy through and through,’’ said Jackson, recalling the Friday last April when Martin and her son Joe knocked on the Jacksons’ back door. “Both of them standing there, their faces totally covered in mud. Martin’s idea, totally. All you could see through the mud was Martin’s eyes lighting up. He was the kid. An angel. They loved him at school. We all loved him.’’
Jackson ran track in high school and college. This will be only her second marathon, hitting the streets again for the first time since running in the race’s 100th anniversary.
“I’ve had two ACL reconstructions, so never in my mind did I think I’d be doing this,’’ said Jackson, emphasizing the strength she has drawn from the Richard family. “It’s important to me that people remember Martin. And it’s something I figured, if I am physically able to do this, then how could I not do it?
“It’s an honor. I’m pround to be wearing his number 8.’’
Martin, whatever his sport, always raised his hand for No. 8.
“I’ll finish, no doubt about it,’’ said Jackson, who completed a 21-mile tuneup March 29 with a bunch of MR8 teammates. “I’ll be counting on his little legs to carry me over Heartbreak Hill.
“I can’t tell you how often I cry, thinking about him when I run. And I think of all the Richards — Denise, Bill, Jane, Henry — I don’t know how they get through the day. But to see them so strong, so inspiring . . . they’re just an unbelievable family.’’
Jose Calderon coached Martin in soccer, for two years. He and wife Amy and their three boys live on Melville Avenue, but a mile from the Richards. Their children went to the Neighborhood House Charter School, same as the Richard kids, the same school where Denise Richard is a librarian.
“Martin was a bundle of energy, always smiling, fun to be around,’’ recalled Calderon. “Win, lose, or tie, he always had that big toothy smile. You’ve seen the pictures.’’
Calderon, 42, an aerospace engineer for General Electric, will be running his fourth marathon, his second Boston. When he learned that the Boston Athletic Association offered the Richard family 100 slots for Monday’s race, he was among the first to fill out a Team MR8 application. Less than a third of some 350 applicants made the cut.
“I jumped all over it,’’ said Calderon, who grew up in Puerto Rico and came here nearly a quarter-century ago to attend Boston University. “I’ve know the family a long time, and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to help them keep Martin’s memory alive — and help them in some small way deal with their unimaginable grief.’’
Dorchester neighbor Pat Doherty, 46, ran Boston for the first time in 1993 and was in the race last year, only to see his run cut short near the Mass. Ave. bridge after the bombs exploded on Boylston Street.
“The emotion of it all sort of didn’t hit me until I got home to Dorchester,’’ said Doherty. “I mean, God . . . I don’t know what to say about that day.’’
Doherty will have Martin in mind, and like some other MR8 runners, including Benzan, he’ll be running with some anger.
“Just because of how [the bombers] tore that family apart,’’ said Doherty. “The way I see it, they had every opportunity to succeed in this country, between getting an education and everything else. I’m lost for words to describe what they did.”
The Richards, through their strength and courage and perseverance, said Doherty, should be viewed as heroes.
“They make this country great,’’ he said.
Rachel Moo, 38, grew up in Toronto, earned her teaching degree at Syracuse, and was Martin’s second-grade teacher at Neighborhood House. She’ll be running her first marathon.
“You’d better believe I’ll finish,’’ said Moo, who has since left teaching to pursue a master’s degree in sports leadership at Northeastern. “I’ll be thinking about what a privilege it is to run in Martin’s memory — and to be part of taking back the day, the city.’’
It was for a segment on peace studies and conflict resolution Moo designed for her class that Martin wrote what has become his signature poster, “No More Hurting People.’’
“Totally him,’’ she said. “He came up with that on his own — his message to the world.’’
Still resonating with Moo is the time when Martin asked her how old he had to be to run a marathon. They researched it, said Moo, and he said he would be back to her at age 18.
“ ‘OK,’ he said to me,’’ recalled Moo, “ ‘so when I’m old enough, we will run it together.’ That’s what prompted me.’’