By Jill Harmacinski
---- — LAWRENCE — On April 15, John Brien had just made it past Heartbreak Hill when he was told to stop running. A Boston marathon volunteer halted him and other runners, explaining “there was an explosion at the finish line and they had to stop the race,” he said.
“So Heartbreak Hill has new meaning for me,” said Brien, 61, a first-time Boston marathon runner who had trained for months.
Brien, a criminal defense attorney in Lawrence, immediately worried about his wife, family and friends who were waiting for him at the finish line. Fortunately, while there were some close calls, everyone close to him was unharmed by thebombings on Boylston Street, he said.
While Brien, who lives in Salem, N.H., was unable to completely finish the marathon last month, he is extremely appreciative and proud of the money he was able to raise for cancer research.
Brien was a member of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge Team. His patient partner is Caroline Hamilton of Methuen, a sixth-grader at St. Michael School in North Andover, who has battled brain cancer for the past six years.
As a charity runner, Brien hoped to raise $4,000 for Dana-Farber. At last tally, his donations toppled $14,000.
“There are sure some wonderful people out there,” said Brien, who lost his father Al Brien and sister Rosemary “Rosie” Brien Brodette to glioblastomas, brain cancers, in the past 25 years.
As news spread that he was running the Boston Marathon to help Dana-Farber, Brien said donations from friends and strangers alike started pouring in. “I got a letter from a woman who lost her sister 20 years ago to brain cancer,” Brien said. “She thanked me for doing this for Dana-Farber.”
The night before the marathon, Brien and Caroline Hamilton were together at a pre-race pasta dinner for the Dana-Farber team members.
“John is just a fabulous human being ... His support is just incredible,” said Sarah Previte Hamilton, Caroline’s mother.
Hamilton said it was she who originally supported John and his family 10 years ago when his sister died of brain cancer. The Brien family formed “Rosie’s Team,” and walked together in the Jimmy Fund Walk.
“I initially started supporting John. Never in a million years did I think the tables would turn and he’d be supporting me,” Hamilton said.
After Caroline’s diagnosis, the Hamilton family formed Team Chickaroo,which is dedicated to raising money for pediatric brain cancer research at Dana-Farber. The team has raised nearly $500,000.
“Which is not bad for a couple of kids from Lawrence,” she said, referring to herself and husband Rick.
Sarah Hamilton said her daughter’s brain cancer “is presently incurable. But I am optimistic we are going to find a cure.”
Team Chickaroo is hosting a golf tournament on July 8 at Hickory Hill in Methuen. Registration information is available at teamchickaroo.com.
Later this month, Brien hopes to be among thousands of runners who get the change to run the last mile and cross the marathon finish line in Boston. And he’s ready to run the 26.2 miles again next year.
“Absolutely. I will do it again next year, God willing,” Brien said.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.