Juli Windsor will never forget crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon, but the beginning of the race also provided her with the thrill of a lifetime.
At 3 feet 9 inches tall, Windsor may have made history as one of two runners with dwarfism to complete the marathon on Monday. The Boston resident also achieved a rare feeling for any runner — she can say she led the race at one point.
Windsor was part of the mobility impaired group that included about 20 athletes with disabilities. At 8:50 a.m., they were the first ones out on the course of the nearly 36,000 runners who participated.
"For the first 10 miles, I was leading the Boston Marathon,'' Windsor told TODAY.com on Tuesday. "We played it up. Everybody would go, 'Juli Windsor is in the lead.' By about Mile 10, the wheelchair athletes caught up, and by Mile 13, the elite women caught up. It was so fun to watch them pass by. They just blew me away.
"The crowds yesterday, you couldn't even imagine. I think there was such a sense of pride and community that was felt. I could take my fist, raise it up and go, 'Boston!' It was so fun to play to the crowd and get a response out of everybody. It was just an incredible race."
New York runner Danh Trang, 27, who was born with a form of dwarfism known as achondroplasia, also completed the marathon, raising more than $14,000 in the process for Little People of America, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those with dwarfism.
"I was at the marathon last year cheering on some friends, and being there when the tragic events occurred, I wanted to be back and involved,'' Trang told TODAY.com. "It was just a nice way for things to come a bit more full circle. I also wanted to use this opportunity to raise funds and awareness for LPA, which really helped me at a lot of critical junctures in my life."
Race director Dave McGillivray told TODAY.com earlier this month that to his knowledge, no one with dwarfism had ever completed the Boston Marathon, which would make Trang and Windsor the first. (A communications representative for the race said they did not have the data to confirm that information.)
Both Windsor and Trang hope their finishing the race can show others what's possible despite any limitations.
"It's all about the outlook you have on life,'' Trang said. "You can't control what people will say to you and the challenges you will face. The general broad message is that it's just a good reminder to show that people can live an active and healthy life through a variety of activities. Specifically with the Boston Marathon, I think each individual is capable of much more than we initially think."
Trang and Windsor were two of three runners with dwarfism participating, as Boston-area man John Young also competed but had to withdraw during the race due to illness. Young believes he may have caught a 24-hour bug that had affected his 11-year-old son three days earlier.
"It was one of the hardest decisions I've ever had to make,'' Young told TODAY.com. "It wasn't a case of sucking it up and wanting to continue. I felt if I continued, I would've made myself sick enough to have to go to the hospital."
Young's wife and son were waiting for him at the finish line, where they saw Windsor complete the marathon. Windsor and Young have developed a friendship in recent years, after Windsor heard there was an athlete with dwarfism competing in triathlons and looked him up on Facebook.
Both Windsor and Young ran in the Boston Marathon last year, and were less than a mile from the finish when bombs exploded. They returned to the course this year, determined to have a different ending.
"They were disappointed for me, but I think it really meant a lot to watch Juli Windsor finish,'' Young said. "My wife and son were delighted for her. I don't think of this as a 'Why not me?' thing at all. It's personally sad, but I'm happy for so many other people. It's a lesson. You learn that you can't control everything."
Windsor says she "wished" Young also could have finished the race, and described what it felt like to complete the course.
"Crossing the finish line yesterday was definitely emotional,'' she said. "I thought that I would have cried, but I was so dehydrated at that point that I didn't have tears. It was just such an incredible day. It was neat to have spectators recognize me and feeling excitement for me crossing the finish line. It was very humbling to get that type of support and people saying, 'Welcome back to Boston, you're finishing this time.'''
Moving forward, Windsor said she may look to scale back from marathons to half-marathons and 5K races. Young is now focused on becoming the first man with dwarfism to complete the prestigious Ironman Triathlon.