Editor’s note: This story was updated with more details about Adam Gorlitsky’s finish.
Bill Boulter drove to the starting area of the 39th Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk not knowing whether he was going to get out of the car.
Like many participants, the 86-year-old didn’t really want to deal with rain and lightning. And after volunteering at the Bridge Run Expo for two days, he was tired.
“I was on the fence,” said Boulter, who has won multiple Dewey Wise Awards, given to the oldest Bridge Run finisher who finishes with a time — in minutes — less than his or her age. “Then I looked out the window and decided to give it a shot.”
He was among 30,000 people who were glad they did. Boulter likely won another Dewey Wise Award with a time of 1:12:51.
In the most threatening weather in days and hours leading up to the Bridge Run — weather that spawned tornadoes, lightning and floods across the Southeast and even looked sketchy early Saturday morning — it couldn’t have turned out better. Mother Nature showed mercy on Charleston’s largest rite of early spring.
Similar to 2005, which remains the rainiest Bridge Run in the last four decades, participants sought shelter indoors and under rooftops, porches and awnings in businesses along Coleman Boulevard at the start of the race. Corrals were slow to fill. Runners and walkers were still streaming toward the starting line 20 minutes before the 8 a.m. gun sounded.
The better-than-expected weather also provided one less major obstacle for two local participants — Marka Danielle Rodgers of James Island and Adam Gorlitsky of Mount Pleasant — who were vying to become the first paraplegics to walk the 6.2-mile course.
Heavy rains weren’t exactly what either of them, nor their support teams, wanted to deal with when it came to Marka’s $20,000 active stance brace and Adam’s $80,000 exoskeleton.
“The weather was a major worry,” Marka said.
Marka finished the course in 2:41:47, practically duplicating her time on a test run of the course in early March. Due to City of Charleston ordinances, the original finish line on Meeting Street had to be taken down before Adam could reach it. The course was re-routed and Adam reached the finish at the Charleston Maritime Center, where Bridge Run director Julian Smith presented him with the 39th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run finish line ribbon. It took him nearly 6½ hours to complete the Bridge Run.
“You have to be stronger than the average person to do this — mind, body and soul,” Smith said.
In the hours after Marka completed the course, her thoughts turned to Adam, who had challenged her to do the Bridge Run last summer.
Both were greeted with cheers from runners, walkers and spectators. Many wore shirts bearing the slogans of each of their campaigns — Marka’s “Purple Legs UP!” and Adam’s “I Got Legs.”
“Everyone was so nice and supportive,” said Marka in a post-race phone interview. “I’m overwhelmed and have been fighting back tears all morning. After the (Bridge Run) party, I plan to crawl into bed and binge-watch TV.”
In many ways, the 39th Bridge Run belonged to Marka and Adam. No story, not even the weather, rose above it. No obvious records were broken. The race started on time. There were no medical emergencies and, thanks to the diligence of multiple law enforcement agencies and a little luck, the event was safe and secure.
Even the fact that preliminary finisher numbers of 26,775 will be lower than last year’s relative low number of 27,839 wasn’t that big of a deal. That’s because registrations were up, from 32,959 last year to a preliminary 35,902 this year.
In recent years, Bridge Run staff, volunteers and participants have learned to appreciate no surprises at an event that ushers in the greatness of spring in the Lowcountry — festivals and farmers markets, beaches and boating.
And it sets a solid foundation for a whole year of preparing for and celebrating a new milestone race: the 40th Bridge Run in 2017.