Democrat File Photo
Rianne Erlwein crossing the finish line as the top female runner at last summer’s 5K River Run in Callicoon.
Story by Eli Ruiz
BOSTON April 19, 2013 Rianne Erlwein had just finished running in her first Boston Marathon and was feeling good, not only about her race but the entire day.
She and her mom, Dawn, were on a bus headed back to the car when they started getting calls from friends and family on their cell phones. “Are you OK?”
They had no idea what people were talking about. They didn’t hear any of the explosions that ripped through the finish line, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others. In fact, they didn’t know anything had happened and they were just a mile or so away.
“We were really blessed to get out of there when we did,” said Rianne, a 19-year-old sophomore at Utica College. “It’s just such a shame someone would do something like this to innocent people, and on Patriot’s Day no less.”
Rianne’s memories of her first trip to Boston, though marred by the events that unfolded, remains a positive one. “It’s such a beautiful city and the people there were so nice and inviting,” she said. “Regardless of what happened there, that obviously had to do with evil people and nothing to do with Boston and the wonderful people who live there.”
Regarding the actual race, Erlwein said, “It was just so exciting and cool. So many people ran. It was like an ocean of people from elite runners to just people that qualified like me, and even people just running for a loved one they lost or some other cause. It was amazing and probably the most exciting experience I’ve ever had.”
Erlwein didn’t even think about running in Boston until her old high school coach at Sullivan West, George “Shak” Shakelton, informed her that her time of 3:33.53 in the Bob Potts Marathon in York, PA last year qualified her to run in the Boston Marathon. Still she was not convinced that she wanted to run in another marathon.
“Once he [Shakelton] put that in my head, I started thinking about it a lot, but it was the middle of school and I just wasn’t sure if I could do it,” says Erlwein.
An avid reader of running magazines, Erlwein adds, “I’m reading one of my running magazines one day and there was an article about people who dream of running in the Boston Marathon but either just missed the qualifying time by tenths of a second, or worse, they suffered some injury and couldn’t do it. I decided right then that I was going to do it. I might never get a chance like this again.”
Rianne quickly began training for the big race soliciting help from both her high-school and college coaches. “They really supported me through this whole thing, Shak helped me as far as training tips and things like that. Coach [Jason] Rose [her Utica College coach] actually put together the workouts for me.”
Rianne’s training regiment included long daily runs, as she explains, “sometimes I’d do it twice a day. I had a weekly quota of miles and it would change every week, sometimes increasing and sometimes decreasing in order to get my endurance up.” Rianne’s highest weekly tally came in at 75 miles run. She also ran three different 5K’s to get her ready for the big April 15 event.
The night before the race, Rianne and her mother made the drive to Boston to pick up her bib and number as required by race officials. With a microbiology exam on the horizon, the trip to Boston doubled as an impromptu study session. As she explains, “I drove the whole way to Boston while my mom quizzed me for my test. It was actually very helpful, because with training, it was really hard to fit everything I had going on in.”
The rigors of training certainly paid off as Rianne would finish the marathon with a time of 3:22.19, more than 11 seconds better than the Bob Potts Marathon time that qualified her for Monday’s race in the first place.
Ironically, Erlwein never had a lifetime dream to run in marathons like some of those people she read about in the magazines. As she tells it, she didn’t see nearly as much success her senior year in high school as the years prior. “Honestly, I didn’t have a very good senior year athletically at Sullivan West and it carried over into my freshman year at college.”
After her first season with Utica’s track team didn’t turn out quite as she’d expected, Rianne decided to take a break from competitive running, and explained, “I wanted to do something for myself. I didn’t know exactly what, but I was determined to do something different.”
It wouldn’t be long, though, before Rianne would find the perfect outlet to satisfy her newfound desire. Ironically it would once again involve running, but for herself.
Erlwein made it her new goal to run a marathon. Not content with just a 5K, or even a half marathon, Erlwein decided she wanted to go the full 26.21875 miles that comprise a full marathon. That’s when she entered and trained hard for the Bob Potts Marathon and ran her time that qualified her for Boston.
Obsessed with all things sports from a very early age, Erlwein could always be found on the areas various fields courts, or just about anywhere a game was being played. Active in AYSO soccer and Callicoon’s youth basketball league, Erlwein even played pee-wee football for two years.
“I was a tight-end on offense and a cornerback on D,” she offers. Never wanting to be treated differently on the gridiron by her male counterparts, Erlwein says, “I’d take my hair up in a bun and tuck it up in my helmet so they couldn’t tell I was a girl.”
By the time Erlwein had reached sixth grade at Sullivan West she’d developed quite the affinity for soccer, admitting, “At that time I was what you could call a soccer nut. It was all about soccer for me and track wasn’t even on the radar.”
That same year, after the school’s varsity cross country season had concluded, coach Shackleton, having noted that Erlwein was seemingly always around, offered a proposition: “He came up to me after the last race and asked me if I’d be the manager for the indoor and cross-country teams,” remembers Erlwein.
The offer piqued young Erlwein’s interest, but she was torn. “I really loved soccer, so I was very unsure,” says Erlwein. “In the end, though, I decided to do it.”
By the end of that first season keeping the girls on that team hydrated and properly equipped, Erlwein had not only cultivated a great rapport with the older girls, she also developed a passion for running. She explains, “After that first season being the manager I was totally hooked on track. I would run with a lot of the girls during practice and I became close with a lot of them. I just loved those girls.”
The next year as a 7th grader, Erlwein took the physical fitness test required of seventh and eighth graders before competing at the varsity level. She quickly starred on the team she merely managed the year prior, helping lead the squad to a Section IX title beating perennial track powerhouse Tri-Valley by one point and thus qualifying for the New York State tournament.
In fact, as one of the top five track athletes in Section IX through most of her career, Erlwein represented the section at states as an individual in 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades.
Also a top student, Rianne earned an academic scholarship to Utica College and wanted to earn a spot on the Pioneers’ track team.
So it was no surprise that last Monday Rianne was one of the more than 27,000 athletes to participate in the world renowned Boston Marathon.
Still young and idealistic, the heinous crime committed in Boston on Monday could easily have left Rianne with little or no faith left in humanity, but she remains optimistic.
“Whoever did these bombings is obviously someone who is evil,” said Erlwein. “Whoever did this is not representative of the average American. From my experiences in life, I truly believe that people are generally good and want to do good and something like what happened Monday actually reinforces my beliefs because everyone has seen the scenes of first responders and even average people just running into the chaos. They ran right into the path of danger to help the injured and it doesn’t get much better than that. After all, if I let what happened change my views on people, then that would mean that whomever did this won. That’s not gonna happen.”
Rianne Erlwein’s official race results with checkpoint times from Monday’s Boston Marathon:
Overall finish: 6,390
Gender finish: 1,032
Division finish: 842