Since returning from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, he had completely lost his confidence in running.
So 45-year-old Shariff Abdullah Peters, who is better known as the famous Singapore Blade Runner, began to get a lot of “Did Not Finish” (DNF) results in his subsequent races.
Said Shariff, a motivational speaker and mobility impaired athlete, “Since Boston, I could not perform well at races. I think maybe I was scared that something would happen close to the finishing line. And so my performances suffered during the year.”
His worst race was at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in December last year, where he had called it quits at the 9.5km mark of the full marathon – due to this fear of completing a race.
Actively fighting his fear
So when 2014 came, Shariff set himself the goal to actively fight his fear. His big breakthrough came at the Men’s Health Urbanathlon race, which he successfully completed this year. When he crossed the finishing line, he was ecstatic that his running confidence had returned.
Said Shariff with a happy smile, “I fought the fear and despite my doubts, I kept pushing on and completed the race.”
Made the decision to return to Boston
Soon after that, with his confidence restored, he made possibly the biggest decision of his running career – to return to the scene of the terror and bombings of last year, at the Boston Marathon.
“I decided to go to Boston again this year to show my support for the people there, especially the victims and families. This was the message I wanted to pass to the people in Boston,” said Shariff.
At the same time, he also hoped that a return to the bombing site would extinguish the ghosts of 2013 and completely drive away his fear of completing a running race.
Raising funds for the Boston Marathon
So to raise funds for the Boston Marathon, Shariff went to sell posters at school talks and at the Singapore Central Business District. At the same time, he also received $1,200 from his sponsor, The North Face, and about $500 in additional donations.
“Once I got enough money, I immediately booked a flight to Boston and hoped that everything would go well,” explained Shariff.
Suffering from back pains throughout the flight
However, the 24-hour flight to Boston didn’t go as well as Shariff had hoped. He said, “I was suffering back pains throughout the flight and I was worried about what it would mean for my race.”
So the morning after touching down in Boston, he decided to go for a short 5km run to warm up, before picking up his race pack at the expo.
So many mobility impaired athletes running in Boston
When he reached the hotel to join up with his competitors and saw the other mobility impaired athletes who were also taking part in the race, Shariff began to feel an emotional high.
So many athletes, like him, were relying on or even two prosthetic legs to run.
Said Shariff, “It felt so heartwarming to see so many more mobility impaired athletes this year.”
Being treated like a real VIP
And he felt so special with the preferential VIP treatment given to the mobility impaired athletes. All of the way from the hotel to the Boston Marathon starting line, they had security escorts.
He said, “We were sitting inside the bus and possibly more than 20 people with motorbikes, cars and even FBI agents were driving and riding next to us! It seemed as though our bus was carrying the US president!”
Even the cars along the road were required to stop at the sides, to make way for the bus carrying Shariff and the other mobility-impaired Boston Marathon runners.
Shariff added, “I felt really great at that point, and it was an amazing feeling indeed.”
Feeling flashbacks from last year
When the flag-off time for the race was drawing nearer and he was warming up for the marathon, Shariff began to feel the flashbacks from last year’s ill-fated run.
He said, “I felt flashbacks and wondered whether I would be able to complete the race this year, or if something would happen along the way.”
Nevertheless, a very emotional and nervous Shariff still made it to the starting line. When the race started, Shariff broke into a slow jog.
He said, “It was very slow at first, about nine or ten minutes per kilometre. I think I was so slow because I felt nervous about doing this race.”
Easing into a running routine
But he was soon able to ease into a running routine and the nervous pangs disappeared when he heard the screaming spectators lining the streets.
Explained Shariff, “During the race, everyone was telling me, ‘good job’ and when I heard their shouts, I even decided to cheer the spectators myself by screaming, ‘Boston strong, Boston strong!’”
To him, it was an amazing experience. A small smile plays on an emotional Shariff’s face, as he drifts back into the pleasant memories. He recounts the spectators shouting for him and motivating him throughout the whole race.
Said Shariff, “Right from the starting line, there were people, literally all along the entire 42km route. It’s hard to say ‘thank you’ to them, so as I ran, I was holding my thumb up and screaming back, ‘Boston strong! Boston strong!’ It was so emotional and happy! I even danced to the music when I heard people playing songs!”
He added, “I even heard one of the runners screaming, Majulah Singapura!” . That was at the eight-mile mark and Shariff had been wondering where the Singapore national anthem singing had been coming from. Later he discovered that it was from a fellow Singaporean runner.
Cramps and a blister
However, despite the enthusiasm and cheers, Shariff suffered a huge blow at the 18-mile mark of the Boston Marathon. That was when his legs started getting cramps and a bad blister had formed on his stump too, because the alignment of his prosthetic leg had shifted during the race.
“I just had to bear with the pain,” said Shariff. He couldn’t re-align his prosthetic leg, because he didn’t have the screwdriver that he usually carries with him. This was due to the new stricter security regulations at the Boston Marathon this year.
“Because of this, I was really suffering. But I couldn’t give up. I had to keep on moving because I didn’t want to disappoint all those who were cheering and supporting me,” he added.
It was because of this, that the Boston Marathon 2014 was so much tougher compared to the past two years. Said Shariff, “I felt so frustrated and in pain, going up Heartbreak Hill. I was suffering, but I wasn’t going to think about calling it quits.”
His Guardian Angel
Shortly after his pain started though, Shariff met his guardian angel, in the form of an American lady, Jennifer (Nocella Dugan).
He said, “She just came up to me and asked, ‘can I walk with you?’” He explained that Jennifer was supposed to be a guide for another mobility-impaired runner, Justin O’Connell, but she saw Shariff suffering and wanted to help him to complete the race.
With his face overcome with emotion, Shariff added, “She kept pushing me forward and held my hand and we completed the race together.”
Jennifer’s help was especially important to Shariff at Boylston Street, which was the site of last year’s Boston bombings.
He said, “When I made the turn into Boylston Street, the fear came rushing back. I felt so scared and nervous. I suddenly couldn’t shout ‘Boston strong!’ anymore.”
But Jennifer helped Shariff to get over his fear.
He explained, “She kept talking to me and didn’t let me think too much. She tried to distract me.”
And it was at this point too, with Jennifer’s help, that Shariff decided to take out the Singapore flag. As he ran down this final stretch with his national flag, he recounted that everyone was shouting ‘American Singapore!’ Emotionally overwhelmed then, Shariff realized that he was about to complete the 2014 Boston Marathon not only as a proud Singaporean, but also for the bombing victims of last year too.
He said, “I carried the flag for the last 800m and when I passed the exact spot that got bombed, I thought, ‘oh yeah, this is the place’ but the fear was not there yet.”
And when the fear slowly began to creep back though, Jennifer continued to push him on – to the finishing line.”
And with a huge smile on his face, Shariff said, “About 20m from the end, Jennifer and I held the Singapore flag together and we crossed the finishing line.”
Overwhelmed by emotions
The very moment he crossed the line, in 7 hours and 11 minutes, emotions immediately overwhelmed Shariff. “I was so happy! I couldn’t believe that I had done it. I was crying and the tears were there!” exclaimed Shariff.
Now that he has completed the Boston Marathon, Shariff feels that he has indeed extinguished his DNF ghosts from 2013. He said, “Now I feel that my confidence has returned. My fears have gone and I can train for my next few races now.”
Yes, it is definitely a huge weight off Shariff’s running shoulders. He has now come full circle.
Added Shariff, “Now, I want to pass the message to mobility-impaired Singaporeans out there, to come and get the experience of running Boston. You can qualify without problems, so register and train for the race. I want you to experience running a full marathon. Do your work, and like me, you can achieve your dreams.”
After the Boston Marathon, Shariff’s next major challenge will be the Everest Marathon in 2015. To undertake this journey, he needs to raise about $20,000. You may help this inspiring and determined athlete by donating to his cause at: sgbladerunner.com