Smoke, gurneys, disoriented pedestrians darting in terror—footage of the Boston Marathon bombing aftermath last April 15 was incomprehensible to most Americans watching in horrified disbelief. But the experience was a normalcy-shattering reality for Bill and Denise Richard of Dorchester, Massachusetts, who had been cheering on waves of runners shortly before the second of two bombs detonated feet from where they stood, killing their 8-year-old son, Martin.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Scarsdale resident Andrew McMurray had been elated to receive word he’d won a lottery spot—one of only 100 selected from 15,000 entrants—in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii a few months later. Now, the Longmeadow, Massachusetts, native’s gut wrenched as details unfolded, with friends at the finish line and having competed in the race twice before himself.
McMurray, a 46-year-old father of two, was especially drawn to news coverage of the Richards. “This was the family that was hardest hit,” he explains. A triathlete for the past five years, McMurray had previously raised, along with Zachys Wine & Liquor in Scarsdale, where he is vice president, more than $150,000 for carefully selected charities through his competitive efforts. After learning about the Richards’ seemingly senseless suffering, he knew he’d found the cause to which he would dedicate his journey to the World Championships.
“We wanted to reach out from afar and help those who were helpless,” he says. “People could identify with that family as opposed to the broadness of The One Fund Boston.” In an email asking friends for their support towards his largest undertaking to date, McMurray wrote, “The Richards family has inspired me to race. I plan on harnessing all my anger, frustration, and helplessness bottled up from watching that fateful day and leaping forward…to show America’s unwillingness to get knocked down.”
Despite his self-described “laser-focused” motivation, McMurray admits, training was long, grueling, and emotionally charged. “You do hit those low moments, but you think of how much worse it could be, and that gives you inspiration.” Most people, he says, couldn’t fathom why he would possibly sign up to swim 2.4 miles, bike-ride 112 miles, and run a full, 26.2-mile marathon, all in immediate succession. He wrote to his circle of supporters, “I need to find a way to prove that virtue can come from resilience, toughness, courage, and commitment.”
Finally, on Saturday, October 12, at 6:30 am, after six months of intense preparation, McMurray joined more than 2,100 of the world’s best triathletes on the harbor in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, to take on one of the most daunting physical challenges in the world—starting with the mass, open-water swim, a scene including television choppers, huge crowds, and the sun rising over Mount Hualalai.
While Kailua Bay runs about 79°F, out of-the water, athletes must endure punishing heat and humidity riding through scorching coastal lava fields, as well as trade winds that can blow cyclists off the road. Twelve hours, 49 minutes, and 28 seconds later, McMurray made it to the end, with thousands of cheering spectators on hand to congratulate him. “When I crossed the finish line, the announcer noticed I was wearing a ‘Boston Strong’ hat, and it was incredible,” he says. “It was somewhat of an out-of-body experience to finally finish.”
Sweetening the feat, he and Zachys had raised more than $21,000 in contributions to help the Richards family rebuild and recover. Besides the devastating loss of Martin, an avid young sports fan, Bill and Denise’s 7-year-old daughter Jane lost her leg, while Denise suffered a serious eye injury and Bill took shrapnel from the bomb in the legs. (Eldest child Henry escaped physically unscathed.) With hits on the “Andrew Competes” website reaching close to 1,400, donations had poured in from as far as the Netherlands and Denmark, along with awe-inspired well wishes to McMurray.
While their fundraising closed officially on November 15, McMurray says the process has been rewarding in itself. “It’s been a number of months since the event and it’s not part of daily conversation, but you can see how strongly people feel about it. It really speaks to the resilience that we’ve gained since 9/11.”
As for the secret to balancing his day job, family, and training, he says, “That’s the million-dollar question. One, it comes from learning to live off of less sleep. Two, the business was very supportive, along with my family and children.” But, for at least a while, he says, it’s time to tip the scales the other way. “I am absolutely taking a break. It works well because it’s the busiest time of the year in the wine industry. For the rest of the year, I’ll be doing quiet little runs and walks with the dog.”
Not that he’s likely to come to a full stop anytime soon. “We’ll see what January brings,” he qualifies.