Momentum Award: The Mile 21 Campaign Committee

For any student who has attended Admitted Eagles Day at BC, the one fact that perhaps never fails to be mentioned is how a stroll down Linden Lane will bring you straight to the Mile 21 marker of the Boston Marathon.

Marathon Monday has long been a strong BC tradition albeit an unorganized one. The BC community has taken advantage of its opportune location at the peak of Heartbreak Hill by gathering along the route every year, cheering on not only BC peers but every marathon runner as they truck through a pivotal point of course.

As BC as an institution progresses, overseeing instrumental changes in academics, student programs, and capital projects, the Mile21 Campaign launched for this year’s Boston Marathon show the promise of success and sustainability during this landmark period, much to the initiative, perserverance, and willpower of four visionary students: Matthew McCluskey, GLSOE ’11, Katrina Lufty, CSON ’12, Justin Pike, A&S ’11, and Cliff Baratta, A&S ’11.

“On Marathon Monday, [the four of us] were running around like chickens with their heads cut off,” McCluskey said. “But most of the work was leading up to the Marathon.”

Earlier in the semester, a dialogue began regarding the possibility of implementing programs on Marathon Monday, but few dared to take initiative. “Just kind of organically, Cliff, Katrina, Justin and I started to have this conversation, and pulled together a big meeting at the Office of Residential Life in conjunction with George Arey,” McCluskey explained.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Mile21 Campaign was the speed at which everything came together. Between the preliminary meeting on February 1 and the Boston Marathon on April 18 was a period of two months during which the Mile21 organizers had to orchestrate the entire effort from scratch. For what McCluskey, Lufty, Pike and Baratta were reaching to do, two months was not enough time.

“I think what was most impressive about this campaign was the students’ drive, dedication, and enthusiasm” said Student Programs Office director Sharon Blumenstock, in an email. As one of several administrators behind the Mile21 campaign, Blumenstock says it was easy to stay motivated in standing behind the Mile21 team through the countless hours of planning. “These students had an excitement and love for this campaign that was contagious. I enjoyed all the time I got to work with them and was thrilled to see such great results on the day.”

Among the ideas pulled from the preliminary meeting of a diverse group of student leaders and administrators, are what the BC community exhibited on Marathon Monday. Within two months, “Mile21” pinnies and sweatshirts were ordered, photographers to shoot a panoramic photo of Commonwealth Ave at Mile 21 were booked, security logistics were worked out with BCPD and the City of Newton, a blog was set up to provide updates and information on Campus School and other Marathon runners, and volunteers were gathered and organized into shifts. Outside Main Gate on Commonwealth Avenue, a blow-up “Heartbreak is Over” arch, demarcating Mile 21, was designed and tested out with BC Grounds.

“A lot of what we were doing [on the day of the Marathon] was managing the sheer volume of people. Hundreds of people came swarming when we tweeted our locations,” Pike adds, citing the overwhelming hype as a result of the huge build-up they created on the official Twitter page and blog. The tweets, messages, and status updates drew students out towards the Marathon route and to the Arch, dramatically increasing the Boston College student presence along Mile 21.

The crowds that gathered along Comm Ave. on Marathon Monday were merely the immediate indicators of the success of the efforts put forth by the Mile21 team. During the days before and after the Marathon, the Mile21 team was flooded with e-mails and the subject of widespread media attention, including Boston Globe’s report on the campaign “BC stakes its claim on Mile 21.” Runners emailed Father Leahy congratulating him on how BC students “stepped it up.” NBC’s coverage of the Marathon applauded BC’s portion of the marathon multiple times. A friend of McCluskey’s informed him that a runner burst into tears upon seeing the Heartbreak Hill arch outside Main Gate. In response to the skeptics and critics who viewed the entire Mile21 Campaign as an official partying excuse for a “sauced mass” of BC kids, the four point to the overwhelmingly positive responses to the event, especially the forums on the Runner’s World website valuing BC over Wellesley as the most meaningful part of the Marathon for people.

“BC is on Mile 21, yes. But we’re not staking a claim. We’re not saying ‘okay, now we’re here and this is ours.’ We are here and we are giving it the respect it deserves by making this more a formation of students in support of the runners through old and new traditions,” McCluskey explained.

“The entire idea of going out and supporting everyone who are trying to accomplish this incredible 26.2 mile feat really manifests BC’s philosophy of ‘men and women for others'” Baratta said. “In that sense, it not only promotes University goals and but is why people love BC so much, making Marathon Monday a tradition that speaks to itself.”

For all the media attention and accolades they’ve received, the four founders of Mile21 were most humbled by the runners, and the support from the administrators, described as the “dark forces behind the campaign.”

Just within the Campus School itself is an amazing group of students running for all different reasons, charities, and with various background stories. Milling around the Mods for that entire day does not do justice the significance of the Marathon to many others. For the BC community and the community at large, the Mile21 founders truly believed that the incredible stories by these runners should be shared and celebrated.

While BC is in a transitional phase of sorts, what makes the Mile21 Campaign unique has always been there. Between the administrators on board with the campaign to the student leaders who have contributed significantly to the implementation process, “it was truly a University-wide effort, ” Lutfy recounts.

“The people who are in the positions who could make this happen are doing it,” Pike said.

And those positions are by no means restricted. Here is a group of four fairly typical former and current BC students, inspired by their peers and the meaning behind the Boston Marathon so much so that they gathered together, with the support from administrators in taking the most difficult step to create this new tradition.

English teacher Matt McCluskey and BC class of 2010, was a former Resident Assistant and 48 Hours leader, and current peer advisor of the Lynch School freshman class. Aside from his RA duties in Walsh Hall and leading position of the Student Admissions Program, senior Justin Pike is the UGBC executive director of University Issues and an EMT for Eagle EMS. A Nursing and Theology major, Katrina Lutfy was the vice president of the Residence Hall Association and a member of the Navy/ROTC program at BC. A Jersey native, Cliff Baratta was a 48 Hours leader and chairperson of the Quality of Student Life committee.

“We came together as a group of four from different ends of the campus, barely knew each other, became fast friends, and worked really hard. Before we knew it, we got every office of the University and the City of Newton involved. And every step along the way, you can tangibly show the progress we were making. That’s what kept us going,” said Lutfy. The four of them together represent a cross-section of the diverse student body eager to be a part of what they hope will become a wider, integrated event, including more clubs and organizations and uniting more students.

Patrick Rombalski, vice president of student affairs and an instrumental administrator in the planning of Mile21, describes as them as “well experienced students who were successful in their own individual programs that came together motivated to create a longstanding positive tradition. They took advantage of their individual expertise and relationships to make such a great, though complex event, become a reality in such a short period of time.”

At the end of the day, many schools can stake their claim on a part of the Boston Marathon, running through Babson, Bentley, and BU, but no one can capture the spirit better than BC. While the Mile21 team credits administrators and the community at large, what they do not realize is that it takes even more initiative and willpower to make the first step, to reach out for the resources available to all students. Mile21 is a campaign surrounding a very inspirational event, with the inspirational message at its very core.