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Boston Marathon Course section

A common cause on Commonwealth Ave.

By Michael Vega, Globe Staff, 4/17/2001

EWTON - They came to the crest of Heartbreak Hill, near the intersection of Hammond Street and Commonwealth Avenue, and staked out a spot on the toughest stretch of the 26-mile-385-yard course to serve as personal rooting sections in yesterday's 105th Boston Marathon.

With a brisk wind providing a chill on this sunny spring afternoon, fans came out in droves to cheer for a mother or father, a sister or brother, a husband or wife, an aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, boyfriend or girlfriend, grandson or granddaughter, boss or co-worker.

''For 20 years we've come to Heartbreak Hill, every single year,'' said Cathy Couette of Beverly, who came yesterday with sisters Nancy O'Brien and Cindy Dooley to root for their 37-year-old brother, Tim Downes, a landscaper from Centerville.

''My brother has run quite a few of these, but he's running this year with his girlfriend, Lori, for the second year in a row.''

Couette and her sisters threw down a few blankets on the roadside grass and set up a picnic, laying out pastel chalk for the older children - Tyler, 9, and Maggie Couette, 6, and cousins Tarin, 8, Taylor, 7, and Tucker Dooley, 10 - to inscribe inspirational messages on the pavement for ''Uncle Tido.''

''Run Tido Run'' was scrawled in blue, and another message in green chalk read simply, ''Go Lori.''

''We always come and stand right here, so my brother knows where to find us,'' said Couette. ''He'll stop for a quick pit stop, we'll give him some orange slices and some water, and off he goes.''

Those who couldn't continue after the arduous climb were aided by Red Cross volunteers manning a tent at the top of Heartbreak Hill. It was here, two years ago, that Bill Rodgers dropped out of the race, the effects of a flu thwarting his bid to set an American Masters record.

''I was here when he dropped out,'' said volunteer Marc Bober. ''But Bill actually dropped out for the same reasons most people do - he was tired.''

That didn't seem to be the case with men's wheelchair winner Ernst VanDyk of South Africa, who was the first competitor to come churning up the hill some 50 minutes into his race.

''Fifty minutes?'' marveled Bober. ''Fifty minutes into the race? That's not bad.''

Some 10 minutes later, Boston College assistant hockey coaches Scott Paluch and Jim Logue, and senior associate athletic director Ed Carroll arrived at a spot some 100 yards from the crest of the long incline. They had come to cheer for fellow assistant coach Mike Cavanaugh, who was making his inaugural Hopkinton-to-Boston trek.

''Cav told us he'd be right behind that guy [Elijah] Lagat [last year's winner],'' Paluch joked. ''He said he'd be right behind him, chasing him.''

Paluch's wife, Amy Jo, was stationed at Wellesley College with a cell phone. Paluch called his wife for an update. ''Seen Cav yet? No sign? OK.''

At that moment, helicopters began whirring overhead. The distant wail of sirens could be heard. It was the first sign the elite runners were approaching Heartbreak Hill. At 1:42, eventual men's winner Lee Bong Ju led a lead pack of five runners up the hill. ''You got Cav yet?'' said Paluch, cell phone pressed to his ear, as he called out to Logue, who was on the lookout.

''No, but there's a big dropoff,'' Logue replied, jokingly. ''Cav must be in the next wave, right?''

Six minutes later, Lagat reached Heartbreak Hill, struggling to churn his arms and legs. There was no sign of Cavanaugh. ''Well, Cav's supposed to be shadowing him,'' Paluch said in mock disappointment.

''Yeah,'' Logue chimed in. ''He missed his assignment.''

When Paluch's wife called at 2:02 p.m. to say Cavanaugh had been spotted in Wellesley, Paluch then telephoned Brian Gionta at his dorm room. The senior captain of BC's national champion hockey team was planning to accompany Cavanaugh for the final 6 miles.

When he arrived on Comm. Ave to meet the coaches, Gionta changed out of his jeans into running shorts, laced up his sneakers, and began the vigil for Cavanaugh.

At 3:15, Cavanaugh came into sight, bounding up the hill on legs that surprisingly still had some spring left. He took a water bottle from Paluch, got a few words of encouragement from Logue and Carroll, and was joined by Gionta.

''Hey,'' Paluch remarked, ''he was looking really good.''

Good enough, it seemed, to scale Heartbreak Hill and go the distance.

This story ran on page G08 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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