Every heat stroke is serious, but this one was bordering on catastrophic. A body temperature of 106 degrees can cause a coma or brain damage. Left untreated, that level of heat stroke can become fatal.
Boatman could’ve died at Mile 23.
She was eventually taken to the medical tent at the finish line on Broadway where she was under the care of Tom Coniglione, the doctor who is the marathon’s medical director. He knew how dire her situation was, but he and his team are trained to deal with heat stroke like hers.
“You listen to me,” Coniglione told Boatman. “We’re gonna get you through this.”
Four hours later, Boatman walked out of the medical tent. She was the last runner to leave, and the finish line corral, normally bustling with runners wearing newly acquired medals and volunteers handing out everything from T-shirts to bananas, was totally deserted. A ghost town.
Boatman looked north up Broadway, and there was the finish line.
So close, yet so far.
“It was the saddest finish line,” she said just after noon Sunday.
“This,” she said, “was the happiest finish line.”
* * *
With the finish line behind her, Chrissie Boatman’s tears turned into smiles. She smiled as she was handed a thick, silky green ribbon with a marathon finisher’s medal attached. She smiled as she accepted a white marathon shirt with the word “FINISHER” on it.
But before she reached the refueling area where she could’ve gotten bananas or burgers, she veered into the medical tent and asked for Coniglione, the doctor who’d nursed her back to health in 2009 and who’d become a friend in the years since.
The 37-year-old mother of three in her bright red and orange running dress found the 73-year-old doctor in running shoes, and for a couple minutes, they hugged without letting go. They laughed. They cried.
“We’ve been waiting on her for a long time,” Coniglione said after finally separating from Boatman.
Even though Boatman felt good physically during the marathon, she had some mental hurdles. The weather delay caused doubts to creep into her mind. Will this mess up my nutrition? What about my hydration? What if I have another problem?
Then when the race started, she found conditions very similar to the day she collapsed. But since moving back home last August, she has been training in Oklahoma’s heat and wind. That’s one of the reasons that she felt like this would be a good year to return to the Memorial Marathon.
Still, as she approached the spot where she went down five years ago, a male runner had collapsed and was getting medical attention. There were some tears then and again when she reached the aid station at Mile 23. She has run a couple other marathons since 2009 and overcome the Mile 23 demon, but still, neither of them were quite like this. This was the spot.
“But as soon as I passed it and had my little cry,” Boatman said, “I was just strong.”
She finished in less than four hours — 3:55.07, to be exact — but time wasn’t important to her. Finishing was.
She sat inside the medical tent for a long while after crossing the finish line, but unlike five years ago, this trip was by choice. She wanted to meet some of the workers who helped her back then. She wanted to thank Coniglione and his team.
She wanted to celebrate her triumph with the people who saved her life.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.