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Chicago man runs for good in 35th Boston Marathon

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Updated: May 21, 2014 6:17AM



When Mark Buciak looks back on the Boston Marathon bombings, he pictures empty lunch tables at an outdoor cafe, with silverware and plates of food, but no people. Quiet.

He witnessed the scene from behind a crime scene fence the day after he was stopped, along with thousands of other runners, three blocks from the finish line, unaware of what happened.

“People had left in haste because they didn’t know what was coming next, if another bomb was about to go off, so they just ran out,” Buciak said. “The amazing thing was that within a week, over 90 percent of the people came back and paid their bills. I don’t even call that honesty. I call it patriotism.”

On Monday, Buciak, 53, who lives in Lincoln Park, will again run in Boston — for the 35th consecutive time.

“I think I may have some tears Monday, but during the race it’s time to be Boston Strong,” said Buciak, who has boiled the race down to this: good vs. evil.

“The eyes of the world will be upon us. And we are going to show them that good wins,” said Buciak, who plans to wear a DePaul University jersey (he’s an alum) while running.

“Those last few blocks, I anticipate the cheers from the spectators to be louder than any other race I’ve ever been in. It’s very easy to get emotional. The best thing I think I can do is to just run as hard and as fast as I can to honor the victims,” said Buciak, who for years sold industrial goods before founding The Road to Boston Training Program 10 years ago to train runners for Boston.

If he does break down, it will be his second finish-line cry.

The first was in April 2006, when he finished the Boston race 11 weeks after undergoing open-heart surgery to replace a leaky heart valve with a healthy one that had been harvested from a cow. Buciak told himself he was only going to walk the race. He then told himself he might as well run a little bit on the downhills. “Gravity was doing all the work,” explained Buciak, who finished in 5:42.

“He is unstoppable,” said Dr. Patrick McCarthy, who performed the surgery and heads the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “There’s really no way to reason with him anyway.”

After learning he needed a new heart valve, Buciak asked for one from a cheetah in order to “beat the Kenyans.”

Now, upon hearing the cowbells of cheering spectators, “It makes me smile and turns my gratitude to God,” Buciak said, admitting that he occasionally wakes up and goes “moooo” before telling his wife he loves her.

“I’m running, I’m alive. And the first thing I tell the runners I coach is not go buy a pair of shoes, but to pick up the phone and make a phone call to your doctor for an annual physical. Because that saved my life,” said Buciak, who credits his regular physician, Dr. Nadim Khoury, with performing the EKG that helped identify his heart problem.

Buciak doesn’t plan to give his heart a break anytime soon.

There are only 16 people who have more Boston Marathons in a row under their belt. And Buciak, whose best Boston finish was 2:30:25 at age 22, has his sites on topping the list.

The cow may offer an assist.

“When I put the cow valve in, I put in a big valve,” Dr. McCarthy said. “So he’d be able to run those marathons . . . the larger the opening, the more blood would flow through it.”

Email: mdudek@suntimes.com

Twitter: @mitchdudek



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