PLATTSBURGH — Nate Hammaker finished Sunday’s City of Plattsburgh Half Marathon about five minutes ahead of Connie Whalen.
Then he turned back to the finish line, pulled a small box from the pocket of his shorts, and, as Whalen moved toward him, he got down on one knee.
“Oh, my gosh,” she said Monday. “It wasn’t even on my radar.”
Now she’s wearing an engagement ring, a ruby surrounded by tiny diamonds.
The surprise proposal left the Morrisonville couple floating on air and delighted those who witnessed it.
“All our friends came running up to us,” said Whalen, a high-school counselor at Lake Placid Central School.
It was also a fitting stellar moment during an event that participants were determined to experience with joy in the face of the terrorist attacks at the Boston Marathon last week.
“If you spend your time worrying about what crazy people will do, you let them win,” said Jeremy Drowne, who nabbed the men’s division of the Half Marathon for a second year in a row.
The City of Plattsburgh Half Marathon and Relay began with a moment of silence for those who died and were injured when bombs exploded at the Boston finish line.
The song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston,” by Dropkick Murphy, honored the city that endured a terrifying lockdown as authorities searched for a bombing suspect who had escaped a shootout the night before.
There were symbols of solidarity throughout the Plattsburgh race — one woman wore a Boston Red Sox shirt, a whole crowd sported blue T-shirts with the slogan “Running for Boston,” others had pinned on racing bibs that expressed support.
“One guy was dressed from head to toe in red, white and blue,” said Crystal Rodarte, who had researched athletic walking then trained on foot and bicycle to walk all 13.1 miles.
She finished triumphantly in less than three hours.
A total 823 people competed in Plattsburgh, with 623 in the Half Marathon and 200 running in the relay part of the event.
It was a great turnout, said co-founder and Co-Director Stephanie Desautels.
“I think everyone felt even stronger this year and an even stronger desire to finish the marathon because of what happened,” Rodarte said.
“We were not going to let fear deter us from the plans that we made.”
Hammaker had kept his plans secret.
He and Whalen had begun dating about four years ago, and while it wasn’t running that brought them together, “it is something we do together quite often,” she said, “marathons and half marathons.”
When they can, they train together.
”We run all year ‘round,” Whalen said.
They try to go on longer runs together, usually on weekends, and find the shared experience enriches their relationship.
“It definitely is a good connection,” she said. “It’s a time to debrief and communicate.”
The couple had talked about marriage, someday.
Meanwhile, they ran.
In fact, they competed in the first Plattsburgh Half Marathon four years ago and each since.
“It’s a great race,” Whalen said. “They do a terrific job with it. It’s always been our favorite race.”
“It showcases the local running community and shows that we’re not just a community of high-school and college runners,” Drowne said.
’A GOOD FEELING’
Almost 200 volunteers assisted with the event this year, Desautels said. And the City of Plattsburgh Recreation Department also stepped up to help put things together before the race.
“I want to say a special thank you to the volunteers who braved the cold to help set up,” she said.
The City Police Department had increased security in light of the violence in Boston, but there were no incidents, Desautels said.
“For the most part, running events are safe,” Drowne said.
“It was a good feeling,” he said about his back-to-back wins.
After the race — and the proposal, Hammaker and Whalen visited family to deliver their happy news, stopped in at the after-party at Olive Ridley’s “and just kind of took in the day,” she said.
Next, they will race in Burlington — he is signed up for the marathon, and she’ll run the half marathon.
Running helps build their connection, Whalen said, “because we’re not competitive with each other.”
All the same, though, she just had to pose a certain question to him after accepting his proposal.
“I asked him what he would have done if I had beat him,” she said. “He said he’d wait another year.”
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