“Thanks but no thanks. Running a marathon is not on my bucket list.”
That’s how Sally Reiley replied back in 2012 when Massachusetts Eye and Ear asked if she wanted to join the hospital’s marathon team.
Reiley, a trustee with Mass Eye and Ear, had always been an athlete and enjoyed running since her college days, but running a marathon was just about the last thing she wanted to do.
Reiley grew up in Minnesota where she picked up ski racing. After becoming proficient in the sport, she went to study at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where she intended to compete for the ski team, but her attention turned to other sports.
She played for the women’s ice hockey and rugby teams, both of which were the first all-women’s teams in school history. She also played soccer and was a cheerleader, but for one reason or another, running slowly but surely became the sport that stuck with her.
Reiley said she loved going for runs in college — though she never competed on a team — and that love continued after college when she moved to Marblehead with her husband in 1983.
Flash forward to now, Reiley — a mother of five who said 11 years ago that she would never run a marathon — is set to compete in her 10th Boston Marathon on April 17. The 2023 Boston Marathon will be her 14th marathon overall.
Reiley said she never wanted to run marathons because she was worried about the injuries that many people sustain, but she immediately flipped the switch after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
“After the bombing in Boston, I’m like, ‘Okay, I want to be part of that running community that takes back the Boston Marathon. These terrorists don’t rule Boston,’” she said. “No, I’m not a native Bostonian, but it’s like, ‘OK, this is my adopted city, and this is not right.’”
Once she had decided to step out of her comfort zone and train for her first marathon, Reiley said joining the Mass Eye and Ear marathon team was a “no brainer.”
Her first challenge, however, was not physically training for the marathon, but rather raising $10,000 dollars to run for a charity team. To run in the Boston Marathon, participants either have to run a qualifying time in a select marathon or run for charity through a team.
She was initially expecting to have a tough time raising that amount of money, but through family and friends, as well as connections she made throughout the Marblehead community, Reiley raised $34,000 dollars — more than three times the amount she needed to raise.
Now nearly 10 years in, she has raised a total of $265,000 for Mass Eye and Ear and is hoping to break the $300,000 mark this April. Reiley says that though she has always enjoyed running, doing it for charity gives her that extra motivation to push forward.
“It makes a difference, and it adds purpose to my run,” she said. “Last time I did New York, I ran for Team for Kids, but the first time I did New York in 2019, I just got a bib by applying with my time, and it felt selfish. Running for a charity adds meaning to the daily training. It’s like, ‘OK, I am accountable for somebody else. I can’t let them down.’”
Reiley certainly has not let anybody down since she became a marathoner. She has lifted up not only those she is raising money for, but also those that she passes by on her runs around town.
She said that she has become known around Marblehead as “the small blonde woman always out running in the morning.” She has even inspired strangers to give it a try.
“I get total strangers in town telling me that I’ve inspired them. Women that I see out walking around will be like, ‘I tried running yesterday. If you can do it, I can do it,’’’ she said.
Reiley has inspired many in town to lace up their shoes and hit the pavement —but the people she hopes to inspire the most are her family.
“My family has been my biggest cheerleaders. I also look at it as I’m kind of being a role model to them,” she said. “If you work hard at something, you see results. It takes dedication, a lot of sacrifice and training, but if you do it and apply yourself, you see results. That’s a good message to send to any young people.”
No matter who it is, Reiley said that as long as she can motivate one person, she will continue running for as long as she can.
“If I can inspire anybody, I’ll keep going,” she said.