By Richard Rourk
Running a marathon is not for the faint of heart, a fact that one local runner well knows. For many runners, including Unicoi County’s own John Hensley, the Boston Marathon acts as a true test of one’s self. Hensley had the dedication and perseverance to compete in this pinnacle event, but he said he wouldn’t describe himself as a marathon runner.
“I am not the stereotypical marathon runner,” Hensley told The Erwin Record. “If you look at me, most people wouldn’t think that I could run a mile based on my weight and stature.”
What many might see as disadvantages, Hensley used as motivation to compete in the world’s oldest annual marathon.
“Believe in yourself and fight to finish the race beyond the naysayers and the negativity,” Hensley said. “I am not what society sees as a runner, and that drives me.”
The Boston Marathon, which was first run in 1897, ranks as one of the world’s best-known road racing events. The renowned marathon was inspired by the success of the first marathon competition in the 1896 Summer Olympics.
“My journey to the Boston Marathon started in the fall of 2017, and I didn’t even know what my future would bring,” Hensley said.
When he first set his sights on running and completing the Boston Marathon, he knew exactly who to call.
“I reached out to Jeff King, who had triumphed in completing the Boston before,” Hensley said. “Jeff definitely pushed me as my training partner and my best friend to accomplish things I couldn’t even begin to fathom. Jeff is an absolute inspiration. I am shaped by the love and support of my family, friends and coworkers. What I believe in is that the best of us finished the race no matter the circumstances. I was overwhelmed by my family and friends, who all supported me along the journey and beyond.”
This year’s Boston Marathon was held Monday, April 18, and drew 30,000 runners.
Hensley said that he runs for those that society often overlooks. One group, in particular, that inspired Hensley to lace up his running shoes were the eight brave women who tore down gender barriers back in 1972.
“The Boston for me is about inclusion and in 1972 only eight brave women would conquer the course, showing the world progress for a change,” Hensley said.
“It’s amazing to think, here I am running in the Boston Marathon on the 50th anniversary of the Boston Marathon’s huge change to be inclusive and allow women competitors to enter,” Hensley said. “I have a daughter and it is hard for me to believe that at one time she would not be allowed in the race because of her gender.
“We have progressed so much as a society, and I am proud of that,” Hensley continued. “We need to focus on the things that unite us like the simple act of running.”
Tragedy at the Boston Marathon in 2013 gave runners, including Hensley, another reason to push themselves to compete.
“The Boston Marathon bombing was inspiring to me because two notable competitors this year were Henry Richard (the older brother of Martin Richard, a competitor killed in the 2013 bombing) and Adrianne Haslet who lost her leg in the bombing,” Hensley said. “They truly inspired me with their stories of personal tragedy and overcoming adversity.”
For Hensley, the chance to run for those who are not usually represented was an honor.
“Bib number 321 was designated as a number for neuro-divergent athletes,” Hensley said. “I wanted to bring honor to these athletes. The race was never about me or where I finished. I want people to know that we are all runners no matter the distance, time or personal goals.”
After his completion of the Boston Marathon, Hensley doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“I trained locally for years,” he said. “Every day was the same to me on each day.”
He has also run five other marathons and hopes to continue running.
“This achievement meant so much to me because the Boston Marathon for amateur runners is the holy grail and the high bar for running,” Hensley said. “I feel blessed that I was able to run the race and I will remember the experience for the rest of my life.”
He has another goal, too.
“I hope to inspire other runners to achieve their own personal goals, no matter the circumstance,” Hensley said. “Believe in yourself and accomplish your personal goals.”