Student runs marathon to say 'thanks'

Baltimore Sun reporter

Brian Boyle wants to run along the streets of the city that helped him learn to walk again.

He doesn't mind the pain of the 26.2-mile Under Armour Baltimore Marathon. He has had more than his share in the past five years.

The St. Mary's College of Maryland senior has no illusions about placing among the elite finishers in the 4,000-runner field. Just hearing his heart thump and feeling his lungs expand and contract means more than the feeling of breaking the tape at the finish line.

"I'll be there to celebrate life," Boyle says. "I want to say 'Thank you' to the city of Baltimore and for what it's done for me."

Last month, Boyle, 23, was honored by the Blood Services Division of the American Red Cross in Baltimore as its Spokesperson of the Year for his motivational talks urging others to give blood.

"He's the poster child for blood donations," says Mike Zabko, who leads the organization's chapter near Boyle's home in Welcome in Charles County. "He didn't wake up that morning five years ago knowing an accident would require massive numbers of transfusions to save his life. No one knows that. But we need donors to be there for us."

In July 2004, a 10-wheel dump truck broadsided Boyle's car as he drove home from swimming practice, hitting it with such force that his chest almost exploded. Boyle's heart was dislodged, he had broken ribs, clavicle and pelvis, and as emergency workers struggled to free him from the wreckage and get him to the hospital, he lost 60 percent of his blood. The trauma team at Prince George's Hospital Center debated the wisdom of trying to piece Boyle back together. But Dr. Said Daee urged his colleagues to work with him.

Boyle required more than 30 transfusions and was in a coma for two months. His parents, Garth and JoAnne, practically swapped their home for chairs next to Boyle's bed. When Boyle announced that he was ready to give up, his dad gave him a tongue-lashing.

Therapists at Baltimore's Kernan Hospital began intensive rehabilitation. Boyle went from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane, and his desire to compete returned. While researching triathlons, his story caught the attention of Peter Henning, executive producer of the Ironman World Championship television show in Hawaii.

Henning promised Boyle a bib in the 2007 competition, provided that Boyle could get medical clearance and finish a half-triathlon. He earned the bib and then, just three years removed from the horrific accident, the young athlete crossed the finish line in Kailua-Kona in 14 hours, 42 minutes, 25 seconds, 1,513th out of 1,850 competitors.

Since then, he has competed in eight triathlons and one marathon while juggling a full academic schedule with the rigors of writing a book, "Iron Heart," about his will to survive and the people who helped him. He has shaved four hours off his triathlon time and his weakest event - cycling - has become his strongest.

"It's a curious situation," says Boyle, who built his body through swimming. "I was such a bad rider, and I worked so hard last year, my first full year of triathlon, to improve my confidence, my endurance, my conditioning, that the swimming was kind of neglected."

The Baltimore event involves putting one foot in front of the other for, in Boyle's case, about four hours on a course he has never seen.

"I'll be ready for anything," he says, laughing. "To me, ignorance is bliss, as my whole background in Ironman would indicate."

Boyle's parents, along with some friends, will be at the finish line.

"I didn't think Brian would be alive, so watching him now is really just a miracle," JoAnne Boyle says. "We're thrilled that he's running at home. Baltimore means so much to us."

If you go What: Under Armour Baltimore Marathon

When: Saturday, 8 a.m.

Starting line: Russell and Camden streets

Finish line: M&T Bank Stadium

Field: 4,000 (more than 20,000 expected to participate in the running festival)

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