When Palatine High School teaching assistant Kimberly Grauer made a promise to her father to "finish Boston," she didn't know that it would lead to much more than that.
In the months leading up to the Boston Marathon, Grauer had been determined to share the story of her father Chuck's battle with liver disease. She applied and was accepted to run as part of the 200-member American Liver Foundation Team Run for Research. She spent countless hours fundraising, preparing for the Boston Marathon and spending time with her father as he fought through his final days.
Two weeks after her father died, Grauer was in Boston, and the start of the 117th marathon seemed to be perfect. She had run a strong, bittersweet race filled with support from family and teammates and had just one mile left in order to fulfill her promise to "finish Boston."
That's when a police officer stopped in front of the runners and told them the marathon was over. Two bombs had been detonated at the finish line -- a terrorist attack.
"We all thought he was joking with us, and we told him we still had one mile left to go," Grauer said. "The officer informed us that the finish line had been blown up, several people were hurt or dead, and the marathon was done. People fell to their knees, they were crying, and no one knew what to do. We had no information."
It took hours to locate her family and get word that everyone who had come to watch her was safe on that fateful April 15 day. Grauer said she felt numb and in shock as she waited for news.
"I got a voice message from my brother saying my family was safe, and the second voice mail was from Palatine High School," she said. "I started crying because I work in the greatest, supportive department ever. I don't think my department will ever really know what they did for me that day."
Because the Boston Athletic Association decided to count all runners as finished, Grauer returned to Chicago having met her promise to "finish Boston."
But her journey was just beginning, as organizations began contacting Grauer to share her story.
The attacks would lead to a series of life-changing events, including representing Illinois in a run before the start of the Indianapolis 500 and other opportunities to create awareness of liver disease.
She received an offer from Dick's Sporting Goods to represent Illinois at the Pittsburgh Marathon. They invited one technical non-finisher from each state to participate in memory of the attacks. After Pittsburgh, she received the call to run before the start of the Indianapolis 500. She had brought a flag to run with, and was invited to lead the group around the track with the flag.
"The Indianapolis 500 was a huge honor," Grauer said. "They sang the national anthem and then we were running on the track, everyone was chanting U.S.A., and toward the end we ran through a tunnel of the rescue people, marines and the military. They were all saluting us."
Since the Boston Marathon, Kimberly has continued to work toward raising awareness of liver disease and helping individuals that have it. She is in the process of creating a charity called the Liver Project, as well as a support group called the Family Liver Project, which will help families of those suffering from the disease. She is writing a book with proceeds to go to the Liver Project.
And she is one of 14 members on the Run for Research Runners' Council and is looking forward to going to Boston each year for the marathon.
"It is so surreal how has this started with the loss of my father and that promise I made to him when I said, 'We will finish Boston and your story will be known,'" Grauer said. "I didn't know how I was going to do that. I never in my wildest dreams thought that everyone would know dad's story. I just wanted people to know his fight was worth something, and we are going to continue to fight this disease."