Dennis Doherty has some unfinished business. Last April, the longtime Boston musician was running in the Boston Marathon for Doug Flutie Foundation for Autism in honor of his eldest son, Patrick, when his 26.2-mile trek was cut short with about a mile to go. This year, he’s more inspired than ever — not only to finish the marathon in the first year after the bombings, but to raise money for the foundation.
To help with the latter, Doherty has reformed the Celtic-punk Larkin Brigade, and enlisted his friends in the Alrighters and Spectre Hawk for a fund-raiser at T.T. The Bear’s Place in Cambridge on February 7. This week, Vanyaland caught up with “Diesel Dennis” so he could tell his story and spread the word on both the show and his cause.
Michael Marotta: I read that last year you ran the Boston Marathon but didn’t finish due to the bombings on Boylston Street. What made you take up the decision to run? And had you ran anything that grueling before?
Dennis Doherty: So where to begin with last year’s marathon? Long story short, I have been a little more focused on my health over the last couple of years. I ran a couple of half-marathons in my 20s, but haven’t been in shape to do anything that challenging for years. In October 2012 I was taking on the half-marathon as a challenge to myself because I never thought I would be able to pull off something like again. I completed it within seconds of the time I did 10 years earlier.
What’s important to know is that in September 2011 my oldest son, Patrick, was diagnosed with PPD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder — Not Otherwise Specified, which is on the Autism Spectrum. He was just shy of 3-years-old. His diagnosis was something that I didn’t share with many people. Just family and a few close friends knew. It was a difficult time because people would ask “How’s your son?” and I would be like “Oh great!” But I would feel sick to my stomach because I wanted to be able to tell people the whole story.
I don’t know why it is so hard to discuss this, but I avoided it. So anyway, back to running the half marathon, I kept thinking wouldn’t it be awesome to run a full marathon? I think most people who run that distance must at least consider taking on the full. It’s like, ‘I just ran 13.1 miles. How much farther can I go?’ That’s when I got the idea of trying to get on a fundraising team that would help families affected by autism.
I looked into it that week and got a call back the next week and it was all of a sudden — holy shit I am gonna run the Boston Marathon. I didn’t really publicize that I was going to do it. until I made a fundraising page. When I made that page I told the whole story. There was a lot of emotional unpacking going on. When posted the page to my Facebook and Twitter that was the way I told much of my world that Patrick had this diagnosis. At this point it was over a year after he was diagnosed. I can’t explain the support that people showed from the minute I made my intentions known. People donated, texted me, talked me to me. It was pretty amazing to see how many people were behind me. I was probably the last person in the world anyone would expect to run the Boston Marathon. I said on that page that Patrick ran a marathon day in and day out with his school, home therapy, speech, etc. If he could do that, I could run 26.2 miles.
The whole process of reflecting on our situation, putting it into perspective, the training and fundraising was almost cathartic or something. I no longer had the burden of hiding, of lack of a better word, my family’s situation. In fact I felt like the whole world was in our corner. When you’re running for two, three, or four hours at a time you have a lot of time to think and reflect and stuff. It helped me focus on Patrick and life in a more positive light. In the beginning I couldn’t help but feel bad for myself.
Training helped me work past this sort of self-pity and realize that I have an amazing son who is quirky, but also funny and sweet and happy. He makes me better at all parts of life. He motivated me in my training. When it sucked I would think about my son and visualize crossing the finish line with him. The plan was to grab him on Boylston Street from my wife and bring him across the finish line with me.