The Place For Aloha In Boston
For the last 18 years, Hawaii runners who are entered in the Boston Marathon have a tradition of gathering at what’s known as the “Hawaii House” on the morning of the historic race. There, they spend a couple of hours before the start of their 26.2-mile run in warm comfort, along with coffee, four clean restrooms and good company.
The house is actually the office of PLM Engineering Company, owned by Pete Thalmann, who first visited Hawaii in 1983 and immediately fell in love with the Islands. In 1996, which was the 100th Boston Marathon, he found out that a large number of runners from Hawaii had entered. He looked up one of the names (Nancy Goglia) on the Internet, reached out to her and sent an open invitation for the group to hang out at his place, conveniently located near the start line.
Through word of mouth, about 40 runners showed up that year. This year, there were about 45.
“I usually open the doors at 7 a.m. and the first Hawaii runners show up before 8,” says Thalmann, who lives in Halverston, about seven miles away from the start in Hopkinton. “The purpose of the Hawaii House is to give a really good bunch of people a warm, dry place to stay. There are some marathons where you really need that. One year it was raining. This year it was 34 degrees when I was driving to town.
“For me, it’s just a good feeling to hang out with some fun people, and they’re very appreciative. I have this place that is 200 yards from the start line, right on the course, and most of them walk right out the door straight to their chute.”
It also has become a tradition for the runners to gather in front of the house for a group photo just before the first wave of runners head out. “We call it the ‘picture of innocence’ before the race,” says Thalmann. “After the last group leaves, I clean up for about half an hour, and then I go home and watch the race on TV (which is aired live).
“One year (in 2006), I went to watch the finish with (the late) Vi Jones-Medusky whose daughter (Malia Jones) was running in her honor. We saw her finish, and they stayed at our house that weekend.”
That was a memorable year for Thalmann, as is this year, but for obviously very different reasons.
“I was just in disbelief,” recalls Thalmann as he watched the bombs explode near the marathon finish line on TV. “This doesn’t happen in Boston. It was just disbelief.
“I then got on the Internet to see who finished and who didn’t. Kit Smith (who at age 78 was about a half-mile from the finish line) was the one I was most worried about. I remember the last thing he said to me was, ‘You must promise me you’ll get in touch with me when you come to Hawaii.'”
Thalmann’s last visit to Hawaii was about eight years ago, but he’s planning to return in March 2014 with wife Karen and their two younger children.
“The Hawaii House just makes everything more comfortable,” says 45-year-old Angela Sy, who completed her eighth Boston Marathon this year. “Usually people go to the Boston Commons in Downtown Boston to catch buses to the start of the race 26 miles out, and then you have to wait at the athletes village, which is just an open area in the cold with nothing much to do.”
Sy was picking up her transition bag about a quarter-mile past the finish line when she heard the first bomb go off. “I think a lot of people around me thought it was gun shots,” she recalls. “Then I started to hear sirens in the distance, and I thought, if there are blasts and you’re in a big group, the best thing is to get away, so I immediately headed back to my hotel.”
Thalmann, 67, is originally from Connecticut but has lived in Boston for the last 50 years. “I was a runner until I got a little too creaky,” he says, noting that he plans to continue the Hawaii House tradition at the Boston Marathon, possibly even passing on the duties to his children one day.