The medal was, in all regards, his. He had run the 26.2 miles through Boston, sweat-drenched, sore and sunburned.
But Scott Menzies knew it really didn’t belong to him.
And upon arrival back in Hanover County, Menzies gave the medal back to the person who had really earned it, the one who had trained for the race for months but who had to watch this one from above – his late wife, Meg.
It now hangs on a roadside cross on Route 54, the place where tragedy befell the Menzies family in January when Meg was struck and killed by a vehicle while doing what she loved – running.
“I went and took the medal and put it on the cross and I kind of said, ‘You wear this for a little bit,’” Menzies said. “I don’t feel like it’s my medal, I feel like it’s our medal. It’s just as much hers – if not more hers – than it is mine.”
Menzies, a sergeant with the Ashland Police Department, was with his wife the day of the accident. The two were in the middle of one of their “running dates,” times when Meg would slow down enough for Menzies to keep up with her and the husband and wife could talk and enjoy their time together.
In the days after the accident, Menzies initially thought he wouldn’t be able to run again, because of the painful memories of that day. But, he eventually decided to finish what Meg started.
Menzies contacted the Boston Athletic Association, which organizes the annual Boston Marathon, to ask if he could run in his wife’s honor. The organization had heard about the accident and agreed to give Menzies an exception to run in the event because he hadn’t formally qualified.
Meg had previously competed in the Boston Marathon in 2012. That year, Menzies said, runners were offered the opportunity to defer to another year because of heat. Meg ran it anyway but didn’t get the time she wanted; 2014 was going to be her year.
She had surgery on both ankles, built her strength back, trained, and had run a few shorter races in preparation for Boston.
“It meant a lot to Meg and so it meant a lot to me because I wanted to kind of finish what she started,” Menzies said.
“It was an extremely emotional, tough experience,” he added
Menzies is no stranger to endurance athletics, having competed in his own share of long-distance races. Like many things, he has his wife to thank for that.
At one point, the 5-foot 8-inch policeman was up to 230 pounds. He recalls feeling out of shape – getting in and out of his police cruiser could be challenging at times, for example – and in 2007, Menzies began trying to get back in shape through running. At the urging of his wife, a longtime runner, Menzies began to seriously train.
“Meg told me that if I could do three miles, I could do a marathon,” Menzies said. “I just sort of laughed and said ‘OK.’”
He signed up for a training program through race organizer Sportsbackers and ran in and completed the Richmond Marathon in 2007.
“I didn’t finish well or strong, but finished it,” he said.
After that point, Menzies said he was hooked. He began shedding pounds, thanks in part to Meg’s cooking, and exercise became a regular way for he and his wife to spend time together, just them and the miles ahead. For Meg, an accomplished runner who could complete full marathons in 3 hours, the eight- to 11-mile jogs were a cakewalk.
“Running was always such a high for both of us and we very rarely had any bad running conversations because we were always feeling good,” Menzies said. “Those runs were really like our dates.”
In the days, weeks and months following Meg’s death, Menzies said his family has received an outpouring of support. He still struggles to understand why so many have come to his family’s side.
“We’re an average Christian family, we’re not actors, we’re not famous people, we’re not rock stars or superstars, we’re not professional athletes – although I would argue Meg was a professional athlete as fast as she was – so for people to react this way…is amazing,” Menzies said.
That support travelled to Boston. Menzies’ first stop there was to “Soles of Love,” a tribute memorial prepared by Kel Kelly, which contained an array of more than 700 running shoes.
“[Meg] was very humble, I can only imagine now she’s kind of blushing in heaven,” Menzies said.
In a way, though, the attention makes sense because of the person Meg was, her husband said, adding that he could talk “forever” about all the positive things surrounding his wife and who she was.
Though many have defined Meg foremost as a runner, she was dedicated to more than just beating her last time around the course.
“She was a fantastic mother – top notch, best – my children would say that. She was the best wife and she was the leader of our family hands down and I didn’t mind that. I enjoyed it. I took orders from her every day,” Menzies said.
Since Meg’s death, care of their three children – ages 9, 7 and 5 – has fallen to Menzies, who’s now starting to figure out the work-life balance that he didn’t worry about as much as he said he should have when Meg was a full-time mother.
Meg’s faith was also important to her. The family still attends Cool Springs Baptist Church, and Menzies said that Meg would have wanted to be known as a devout Christian and that she would have wanted to see this tragedy result in more people reconnecting with faith.
“Her challenge for me, and I feel her telling me sometimes – maybe it’s her or God – but I feel like the momentum that Meg’s story has gained – I feel like she would say somehow we need to bring people into church,” Menzies said.
Menzies’ own faith was affected, initially, by the accident, which he said remains difficult for him to understand. He said wide-ranging support – everyone from the national and international running community to here at home, from his Ashland Police “family” – has helped him through this ordeal with his faith intact.
“I refuse to believe that God’s not working right now,” Menzies said. “I don’t believe God caused this; I believe because of what happened He stepped in and said ‘Let’s do something.’”
Following the Boston Marathon, Menzies worried that he’d have a “Now what?” moment. Though he said completing the run in Meg’s honor definitely helped with the grieving process, the road ahead remains steep.
“My family’s still grieving; this is still very new to us,” Menzies said. “I feel like there is still a long way to go for me and my family.”
Part of the recovery process has entailed revisiting the site of the accident. Menzies still runs the same route down West Patrick Henry Road that he and his wife ran that day in January.
A memorial of runners’ shoes has overtaken a road sign there as a lasting tribute. Flowers bloom on the shoulder of the road near the medal-adorned cross – hallowed ground.
Menzies said he visits this place often. He speaks to Meg here, just as he would if she was running by his side, or just a few paces ahead.
Even when Meg was alive, on the occasions he’d run without her, Menzies said she was never very far. Today, that’s still the case, but it’s taken on a whole new meaning for the grieving husband.
“There are times I struggle feeling her, and I feel her more when I’m running,” he said. “I talk a lot when I’m running, I cry a lot when I’m running. And I know there are times when cars pass me, I’m sure the drivers are thinking, ‘What in the world is wrong with that guy?’ But I don’t care.”