Newtown residents running 26 miles for 26 victims

Dr. Laura Nowacki will be running the 26.2 miles of the Hartford Marathon todayto honor the 26 children and educators who died last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Nowacki, a Newtown pediatrician, rushed to the school shortly after the shooting, as both a doctor and the mother of a fourth-grader there.

“I found my daughter safe, but then I had to run up to the school as a first responder, and then I had to go back and face all those parents whose kids didn’t come out,” the 48-year-old mother of four said. “It just hit on all levels. It hit me to the core. Running for me has kind of been a therapy for 12/14.”

Nowacki is part of a group of 26 runners from Newtown participating in the marathon or half marathon for the 12.14 Foundation, which is raising money to build a performing arts center in Newtown. The group includes a family member of one of those killed, a woman who does not want her name publicized.

A second group of Newtown runners will be running on behalf of the Newtown Memorial Fund, which is raising money to offset the mental health costs of those affected.

Nowacki said for all of the Newtown runners, this is not just a fundraiser. About half the students who died were her patients. The educators were her children’s teachers or aides to a son who has special needs, she said.

“Running a marathon is about facing your pain, and overcoming,” she said. “You have to face it, walk through it, run through it. These families will never overcome it, but they will have to learn to live with it. At the end of our marathon, we experience joy. And I hope someday these families will again experience some joy.”

This is Nowacki’s sixth marathon, and second since the shootings at Sandy Hook.

She could not bring herself to run for two weeks after the shootings. But once she did, she found it to be an emotional release. She ran with three other Newtown residents at the Boston Marathon, marking each mile for a particular victim, thinking about that child or educator and something specific she knew about them.

“Then I ran that last stretch down Boylston just to let it all out, and be like a kid and run like the wind, run like we did that day to get our kids,” she said.

She finished about a half hour before two bombs went off directly across the street from the VIP seating area where her family had been sitting minutes earlier, holding signs that included ones shaped like green hearts with “SHS” on it.

“It didn’t stop me from making plans to run this, in fact it reinforced it,” she said. “But it made me not want to have my kids at any big events like this, which is awful. But that is the part that was scariest, knowing that my kids were right there in harm’s way, again.”

Police have said there will be extra security in Hartford, where about 15,000 runners are expected to participate in the marathon, half marathon or 5K race today.

Dr. Sarah Baroody, who also knew many of the children and educators who died, organized the Newtown runners, who will each be wearing green shirts (green and white are the school’s colors) with the 12.14 logo on it.

This will be her first marathon. The 40-year-old said she had thought about running one before the shooting.

“All my excuses vanished, for almost everything in my life,” she said. “The realization that it was 26 miles and there are 26 souls, made it even more important for me to run in their honor.”

The group expects to raise about $10,000 for the arts center, which she said is being planned as a place of expression, enjoyment and healing.

“What we want to do is create a tribute, something positive for the community moving forward,” she said. “And everyone is for that.”