Hours after the sun set on the running of the 119th Boston Marathon, Maickel Melamed pressed on through the wind and the rain and the ache in his muscles. Doubt crept in around mile 24, but the crowd that had stuck with him into the early morning saw him flag and began counting his steps aloud, the rhythm of their voices carrying him forward.
“In any marathon, you have to know why you’re doing it. Because in the last mile, the marathon will ask you,” Melamed said Tuesday afternoon. The 39-year-old Venezuelan with a condition similar to muscular dystrophy crossed the finish line on Boylston Street about 4 a.m., almost 20 hours after the race began.
“For you. I run for you,” he said later Tuesday at a ceremony in City Hall, where he was awarded a medal by Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “I run to send a message, to rise the bar of expectation for your own self.”
Melamed accepted his medal from a wheelchair, wearing his purple Marathon jacket and surrounded by his supporters, who were dressed in bright T-shirts bearing the phrase: “Boston 42K VAMOS” — “Let’s go.”
He was hurting, he said, just hours after taking his final steps down Boylston Street.
“It was real tough, but it was marvelous,” he said.
The clocks on the course were turned off at 5:26 p.m. Monday, said a spokeswoman for the Boston Athletic Association — six hours after the final runner crossed the starting line, and more than 10 hours before Melamed would finish. He ran the Marathon as an international participant who received his bib through a tour group, said the spokeswoman.
Melamed was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, he said, which cut off his oxygen, and the oxygen tank that doctors tried to use to reverse the effects was empty. They thought he had only seven days to live.
In 2009, Melamed started running a distance of 500 meters, he said, and ran farther and farther until he could complete the full 26.2 miles of a marathon. Boston was his fifth finish, having completed marathons in Berlin, Chicago, New York, and Tokyo, according to his Facebook page. But Boston was special, he said: He had come to the city for treatment as a little boy.
So it was an honor, he said, to run more than three decades later with his team of supporters through the streets of the city that treated him, its residents cheering him on.
“The message here is that love is more powerful than death,” Melamed said. “I learned to say, ‘Good morning’ with a smile on my face here in Boston.”
Walsh said he heard of Melamed’s remarkable race on the radio Tuesday morning and was moved to assemble the ceremony to celebrate the last person to cross the finish line.
“The Boston Marathon is such an incredible race of stories,” Walsh said. “When I heard Maickel’s story of loving Boston and being treated at Children’s Hospital, where I was treated as a little boy, I felt it appropriate to ask Maickel to come in today and recognize him.”
As a boy growing up in Dorchester, Walsh was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a childhood cancer, and treated at Children’s Hospital.
Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans presented Melamed with two T-shirts, one bearing the yellow-and-blue ribbon that became emblematic of the city’s resilience after the 2013 bombings. Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn was also on hand for the ceremony.
Melamed was joined at City Hall on Tuesday by his team of supporters, without whom he said he never could have finished his five marathons. They stuck with him throughout the Boston course, he said, and video posted to his Facebook page shows them holding umbrellas over his head and counting out his steps in the wet and blustery dark.
“I’m not running alone,” he said. “I am not crossing the finish line, we are crossing the finish line. It feels so much better. It feels like a family.”
Despite the dreary weather, Melamed said the course was “fresh to my soul.”
Melamed appeared tired Tuesday, but his sense of humor remained sharp. Asked if he walked the whole way or if he relied partly on his wheelchair, he responded wryly:
“For you, I walk. For me, I was running, my friend.”
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