Ori Ayalon, an Israeli-born Bostonian, laces up for training for her first run in the 2024 Boston Marathon. She is one of 26 Israelis who ran the race. Right, Ayalon rested with her 2024 Boston Marathon medal after crossing the finish line.

Runners show Israeli resilience in Boston Marathon

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Runners show Israeli resilience in Boston Marathon

Ori Ayalon, an Israeli-born Bostonian, laces up for training for her first run in the 2024 Boston Marathon. She is one of 26 Israelis who ran the race. Right, Ayalon rested with her 2024 Boston Marathon medal after crossing the finish line.

Only one year ago, Ori Ayalon was a newcomer to running.

The Israeli-born Bostonian played sports and rowed throughout her years at Brookline High School. Running was never her thing.

But in one of life’s unpredictable twists and turns, Ayalon became a runner and last fall, signed up for the 2024 Boston Marathon.

One week before the 128th race on April 15, the 23-year-old Newton resident was excited for her first-ever run in the prestigious, challenging 26.2-mile marathon.

“It was close to my heart,” she told the Journal in a phone conversation.

Growing up in Brookline, her family joined the annual Patriots’ Day crowd in Coolidge Corner to cheer on the runners in the festive atmosphere. She never imagined she’d be among those tens of thousands of runners. On a bright sunny Marthon Day, when tens of thousands of spectators cheered runners, Ayalon, in bib number 25118, crossed the finish line, in 4 hours, 44 minutes, 45 seconds.

Her new path began last May when she made a work visit to Israel. She missed her workouts and decided to lace up a pair of running shoes for a run on the beach in Herzliya.

A friend from the Israel Defense Force reserve unit – where Ayalon also had served for two years – joined her.

To her surprise, she enjoyed herself.

“I saw I could run like him,” she recalled. “Maybe there’s something there and I want to get better at this,” she thought at the time.

Ayalon, a student at Brandeis University, is running as part of the highly selective charity team for Boston Medical Center, where her parents have worked since they came to Boston to complete their residencies when she was 8.

“The hospital gave us the opportunity to move to the U.S. and it feels like the right thing to do to give back,” she said.

To date, she has raised more than $7,600, exceeding her goal.

Ayalon was one of 26 Israeli citizens registered in a field of some 30,000 entrants for this year’s marathon, according to the Boston Athletic Association, which administers the race, the oldest marathon in the country.  One Israeli is a triathlete; another is a 73-year-old from Tel Aviv.

Last year, another Israeli, Kenyan-born Lonah Salpeter – who was not expected to run this year – came in third in the women’s race. The Israeli national women’s record-holder won the 2020 Tokyo Marathon and represented Israel in the 2016 Rio Olympics and in Tokyo in 2020.

In 2008, Deena Kastor, an American Jew, won the U.S. Olympics marathon trials in Boston.

The two women are featured in “The Boston Marathon Handbook,” an engaging new book and resource-filled guide by Marc W. Pollina, with a forward by Jack Fultz, who won the race in 1976. Sprinkled throughout are contributions by 18 notable Boston marathoners.
Pollina met Salpeter and Kastor while running Boston marathons, he told the Journal. Salpeter was running ahead of him along the Charles River. He was delighted that after reaching out in a congratulatory email, she was happy to be included in his book.

He recalled meeting Kastor on Newbury Street, along with her husband, Andrew Kastor, a coach for elite runners.

The 51-year-old runner and best-selling author of 2018’s “Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory,’’ won the bronze in the women’s marathon at the 2004 Olympics. She’s been inducted into the International, National, New York, and Southern California Jewish Sports halls of fame.

“I’ve been a big fan of Deena for years, so it was an honor to showcase her in the book,” Pollina wrote.

Both Salpeter and Kastor, who’ve competed around the globe, said Boston stands out.

“From the history and legends of the past, to the dreams it inspires in present-day runners, the Boston Marathon offers so much to celebrate in our sport,” Kastor commented in the book.

“Boston is a unique course, and it’s very exciting because of the fans cheering us a lot with such good vibes,” Salpeter commented in Pollina’s book.

Last fall, as Ayalon was beginning to train for her first marathon, came the shock of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which has weighed heavily on her.

Several of her close friends were murdered that day, IDF reservists who – while off duty – immediately left their homes to help protect civilians under threat.

As the days and weeks passed, Ayalon was consumed by thoughts of the well-being of her family and friends; She couldn’t bring herself to run.

She questioned whether the marathon was the right thing to do. She reached out to a close friend who’s an Israeli paratrooper.

He encouraged her to continue with her plans.

“‘Living your life in the way that you’re a proud Israeli and making yourself seen is what people need now,’” she recalled him saying.

His supportive words helped her change her perspective. She realized that doing things that are not only about the war is also important, especially with the negative way Israel is seen in the media, she said.

“I definitely want to be an Israeli who shows the good and this is the way to do it.” Θ

For more information on Ori Ayalon and her marathon charity team for Boston Medical Center, check out givengain.com/project/ori-raising-funds-for-boston-medical-center-68184.

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