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Halfway home, a big lift helped

It's a tunnel without walls or a ceiling, there's no tollbooth at either end, and it's only open on Patriots Day -- and no, it has nothing to do with a Big Dig cost overrun.

It's the portion of Route 135 adjacent to Wellesley College just before the Boston Marathon's halfway point, where students yesterday provided their annual "scream tunnel." Standing two-deep at barriers covered with inspirational posters, Wellesley's women provided water, oranges, and a big lift on a sweltering afternoon.

Many wore T-shirts with "Boston -- 13.5 miles" (with a directional arrow) on the front and "Wellesley College Scream Tunnel -- 2004" on the back. The shirts, which cost $10 and were provided by the Severance Residence Hall, were sold out by Friday. One poster -- "I think I can, I think I can," complete with a painted Little Engine That Could running uphill -- was among more than 50 hung by students from Munger Hall, who began the task Wednesday and completed it yesterday morning.

While the metal barrier did its job, the sound barrier had no chance as soon as the lead wheelchair, female, and then male competitors reached Cazenove, Pomeroy, and Munger halls. Marathoners, some showing the strain of their ordeal, blew kisses to the cheering throng, and high-fives were exchanged.

It's all part of a tradition as old as the Boston Marathon itself: In 1897, the Marathon's first year, the Globe reported that Wellesley College's favorite among the 15 runners was Harvard student Dick Grant. And in 1899, the Globe stated, "Nowhere were the contestants applauded more liberally" than at the college.

Yesterday's competitors also enjoyed the attention. There were "I love yous" shouted by the marathoners, many of whom were eager to grab cups of water and either drink it or pour it over their heads. All were greeted by lusty and sustained cheers that did not subside even as the pack thickened between 1 and 2 p.m. A couple of runners held cellphones high to relay their experience, while others pulled out pocket cameras to record the scene.

Both the long arms and strong legs of the law were in evidence because the contingents of Wellesley Campus Police and the town's police were rooting for their own: Wellesley Police Chief Terrence Cunningham and Lieutenant Jack Pilecki were among the 20,000-plus runners, as was Wellesley College Police Chief Lisa Barbin, competing on behalf of Leap Self-Defense Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides safety-focused education to girls. "Cheer for the Chief," posters were prevalent on campus during Barbin's pledge drive.

Barbin not only finished the race, she ran a personal-best 4:08:04 (net time, from starting line to finish line) and said passing Wellesley College "gave me the lift I needed." The previous four years, Barbin observed the marathon because she was deputy police chief. She decided to run this year after a seven-year hiatus from marathoning because "it was her great cause and I'm always telling young people about the benefits of being in shape and running."

"Everyone on the force is working today," said Wellesley patrolman Chris Fritts, who worked the midnight-to-8:30 shift before his scream tunnel duty. "It's loud here -- no doubt about that."

According to Munger residence director Deb Cady of Malden, students received e-mails asking that posters be hung for friends or relatives running Boston, so signs such as "Josh Davies -- you can do it," "Go Mo," and "Anna's Hot" were on the course. Davies, a runner from Florida, is a friend of the family of Cara West of Fayetteville, Ark., last year's Munger house president. Mo is California native and Wellesley College senior Maureen Mimnaugh, while Anna is Colby College senior Anna Royer of Lovell, Maine, a friend of current Munger house president Leslie Gibson.

"We went to Fryeburg Academy together and we're best friends from back home," said Gibson, who was part of a cellphone chain that updated Royer's progress every 5 miles and relayed the information to her parents and friends in Maine.

Money for the posters and paint, as well as the 15 gallons of water and dozens of oranges, was provided to Munger's 160 residents by 89-year-old John Archer of Milwaukee, another marathon tradition. Archer, whose nickname is "Black Bart," ran 21 Boston Marathons and never forgot the vocal support he received at Wellesley College.

There is an annual Black Bart Unsung Hero Award at Munger Hall, and this year's winner was Claire Douglas, a senior from Bow, N.H. The Munger residents are also preparing a scrapbook history of the Boston Marathon and Archer's involvement with it that they plan to present to him as a 90th birthday present.

"The Boston Marathon gives us a sense of community and a way to give to a Boston tradition. We're taping the race for Black Bart," said Cady. "He told us to scream so loud that he could hear us in Milwaukee. I don't know about that, but I've received letters from runners who said they could hear us in Natick."

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