Cindy Jessop began fighting back the tears at mile 25.
By then, she was also fighting just to stay on her legs. Temperatures at the Boston Marathon this year reached 93 degrees, and more than 2,000 runners needed medical care.
“There were runners dropping out right and left around me,” she said. “I’ll never forget the looks of confusion on people’s faces, and the lineup of people getting IVs. Starting a marathon in 90-degree weather is a killer. It’s suicidal. And when you factor in the sea of people sweating around you and the fact that there was no shade, it was just absolutely grueling.”
Jessop wasn’t crying because of the physical pain, though. She was crying because she was thinking about Sherry Arnold, the schoolteacher from Sidney who was murdered while out on a morning jog on Jan. 7. Two men from Colorado have been charged with grabbing her off the street in a drug-fueled rage, strangling her, and burying her in a field in North Dakota.
Jessop, who grew up in Pinesdale and now lives in Hamilton, ran the Boston Marathon last weekend to honor Arnold, whom she identifies with in many ways.
“I’m a small-town Montana girl just like Sherry, and her story just hit so close to home for me,” Jessop explained “I am always going out by myself on a morning run, just like she was when she was killed. Her death hit the whole running community. Everyone took a step back and thought, ‘Gosh do we feel safe going out on a morning run?’ I just thought ‘I am so grateful to do this.’ I felt I needed to do something. This isn’t about me at all, it’s about Sherry.”
The Bitterroot Valley Chamber of Commerce donated a large Montana state flag for Jessop to use, and she wrote “In memory of Sherry Arnold” in large letters across the top.
“I had my sisters Emmy and Jenny hold on to the flag for me about a mile from the finish line, which was symbolic,” Jessop explained. “Sherry was a mile from her home when she was robbed of her life. The first 25 miles it was grueling because of the heat, but I didn’t think about it. Once I hit 25 I just thought about Sherry, and my heart went out to her. I had a few tears for her. By the time I picked up the flag, it was surreal.”
Jessop said that the local police officers were kind enough to allow her sisters to cross the barrier to hand her the flag so she could cross the finish line with it.
“We actually took the flag and walked it a little ways in front of the grandstands,” she said. “I will never forget how the crowd stood and applauded. Sherry’s death was national news, of course, so people had heard about it. It was just amazing, kind of a euphoric feeling.”
Jessop trained for a year to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which is just her eighth marathon. Although she added a half hour to her time because of the heat, her main goal was to be able to finish the race and remember it, unlike a lot of the competitors.
“I saw a man staggering in front of me like he was drunk,” she said. “And I went past him, and he looked terrible. I helped him a little ways, and then he just said he was going to throw up and he needed to sit down. They had warning signs, but I think a lot of people were just delirious.”
The experience is something she’ll never forget.
“It was neat to be a part of it,” she said. “I didn’t talk with Sherry’s family, it was just a cause I needed to do to represent another small-town Montana girl. Her husband called one of my good friends, he had heard about it, and he said ‘Please relay that we are grateful for this, and Sherry did have goals of going to Boston.’ Hearing that made it even more right to me. I’m going to mail the flag back to the family.”
Jessop said she never intended to become the center of attention for her deed.
“It’s not about me, it’s a shout-out to Sherry,” she said. “She was just robbed doing something she loves, and it should put it into perspective that we are so fortunate to be able to do it. What a great thing to be a part of. The joy of bringing in that flag, nothing can compare to that. It was incredible.”