As he has done since 2009, Bryan Van Dorpe stood on Boylston Street Saturday amid cheers and clanging cowbells to coach 13-year-old Henry Richard in youth relay races that have become a highlight of Boston Marathon weekend.
“He’s improved, seeing him the last six years, tremendously,” said Van Dorpe, executive director of Youth Enrichment Services, or YES, in the South End. “He loves it. You can’t beat that. Someone who loves to run is someone who’s going to run for the rest of their lives.”
For some, the annual race organized by the Boston Athletic Association was a bittersweet moment, marking the last time they saw Richard’s 8-year-old brother, Martin, before he was killed near the finish line two years ago. But in the years after his brother’s death, Henry has continued running, and this year he was one of four teammates representing their squad in the All-Star Mile Relay.
His sister Jane, 9, who lost a leg in the bombing, was there to cheer him on, standing atop a cooler and calling out to the runners as they zipped between Dartmouth and Clarendon streets holding blue relay batons.
“I think every year brings further closure,” Van Dorpe said. “It’s so nice to be able to be part of this and bring out the communities and move forward. . . . This event, I think it’s a good thing for the team. I think it’s good for everybody.”
The Martin W. Richard Charitable Foundation supports YES, and some YES coaches run the Marathon on the Richards’ Team, MR8, Van Dorpe said.
Meaghan Carroll, 30, of Dorchester, is one of those runners. She said she attended the relay races to support a friend coaching the YES team.
“Whoo!” she yelled, shaking a cowbell. “You got this!”
Carroll said the relay promotes the kind of peace that Martin Richard had wished for the world.
In the aftermath of the bombing, a photo of Martin Richard holding a handmade poster that read, “No more hurting people. Peace,” circulated around the globe. His message served as the inspiration for the charitable organization that now bears his name.
“You watch all these young kids that are so great,” Carroll said. “It actually showcases what the Martin Richard Foundation is all about.”
In all, 18 teams and about 800 children participated in the relay races, according to the Boston Athletic Association.
Several young runners from Randolph thought they spotted Meb Keflezighi, the winner of last year’s men’s race, along Boylston Street and yelled out his name, hoping he would come over to greet them.
“He won the Marathon. That’s, like, huge,” said Robert Duarte, 13, a seventh-grader at Randolph Community Middle School. “I want to be in the Olympics in the future. . . . I have a role model [Keflezighi] to live by.”
But as the man Duarte and his teammates believed to be Keflezighi got closer to where they were standing, the children realized he was not the famed marathoner.
“I swear. I thought it was Meb,” Duarte said.
A friend, 13-year-old Jacob Nguyen, tried to soothe his disappointment. “You’ll meet him someday,” he said.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the youth relay races offer the “excitement and competition” that makes Boston’s Marathon so special.
“I love the relay,” said Walsh, who held the finish line tape for one of the races. “These are the kids and they’re running their hearts out. . . . It’s exciting to see that.”
For runners from Brockton, the event provided a chance to compete after middle school sports were eliminated this year due to budget cuts, said Steven Fortes, a physical education teacher at Plouffe Academy.
Sixty-seven children from Plouffe, Ashfield Middle School, and West Middle School represented Brockton at the relay, he said.
“Where there’s no middle school sports this year, this is something where they can build team camaraderie, school spirit, and actually more than that, city spirit,” Fortes said.
One runner from Brockton, 14-year-old Jaila Smith, said that two years after the bombing, she felt “proud” to race near the Marathon finish line.
“We can overcome anything. Both our cities, Boston and Brockton, are very strong cities,” said Smith, an eighth-grader. “Running now is a wonderful feeling.”
Van Dorpe said the relay race was the first competitive event of the year for the YES track and field team.
“Henry and the older kids, they’re doing so well in this sport and they’re really taking off with it. It’s something they can grow with and feel good about,” he said. “If kids learn [running] at a young age, they can love and aspire to do it for the rest of their lives.”