I recently finished my Phd and the Boston marathon. Both of them were dreams of mine for more than a decade. I started my undergraduate degree in mathematics exactly 11 years ago and in the same year ran my first marathon. Over the next few years, I did miserably as an undergraduate and never got around to running another marathon. I took a year off and then went to Kansas where I wasn't unhappy but desparate to move to a better department and nicer city. Boston was the ideal city for me to do a Phd and also home to the most prestigious marathon in the world. The mathematical world is fairly snooty and moving up from a place like Kansas was harder than I realised. Though I applied to 10 depts I got rejected by 9 of them (2 of them didn't recognize my undergrad degree). Brandeis was the only place which accepted me and had I been turned down by them I doubt if I would have stayed on in Kansas to finish my Phd. The Brandeis admissions committee consists of only the graduate advisor so it was basically only one person who could have rescued me from complete obscurity. I don't know what prompted Jerry Levine to choose me when everyone else rejected me but I'll remain indebted to him forever.
Last year in April I went and saw the Boston marathon and promised myself that I would do it before I left. I hadn't run seriously for years and was very unfit but I started training for it and joined a running club. It wasn't going to be easy to finish my thesis and run a marathon but Steve Burton, the coach, managed to keep tabs on my training though he was the coach for almost 50 people. Even though I was running only 2 days a week, he convinced me I could do it again and told me what pace to follow. I ran 2 marathons in the last year and his advice and encouragement is what kept me training through the bitter Boston winter and the stress of finishing my Phd. Training for a marathon was also a great way for me switch off from my thesis.
Sadly, both of them died recently due to cancer. Jerry died before my graduation and Steve was too unwell to cheer his club during the marathon. I found out about Steve's death yesterday and I know the whole club is still in shock. Not being able to thank them personally will always be one of my biggest regrets but I guess thanking them in cyberspace is what I'll have to do.
These are the links to two websites in their memory - at Brandeis University and the Somerville Road Runners. They were both very accomplished, passionate about their work and extremely kind and generous human beings.