Next spring in Boston, a Homer High School graduate will join the team of legendary Red Sox hitter David Ortiz — that’s right, Big Papi himself.
OK, Lauren Kuhns won’t be playing baseball with Ortiz — he’s retired anyway — but when she runs the Boston Marathon on April 20, 2020, she will be part of Team Papi, raising money for the David Ortiz Children’s Fund.
A 14-year veteran of the Red Sox when he retired in 2016, Ortiz helped the Red Sox break their 86-year World Series drought in 2004. He holds the single-season Red Sox record of hitting 54 home runs, with a career total of 541 home runs.
Ortiz had put out the call for qualified Boston Marathon runners to join his cause. Kuhns said she applied, not really thinking she would be accepted.
“I thought, if I did get accepted, it would be cool,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday from Worcester, Massachusetts, where she’s a junior at Assumption College. “It’s something to add to the experience.”
Kuhns, 21, has run two Boston Marathons as well as two marathons in Anchorage. In her first marathon, the 2017 Humpy’s Marathon, she took first place with a time of 3 hours, 17 minutes and 37 seconds. That qualified her for the Boston Marathon. She’s also run the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon. Her personal record is 3 hours 15 minutes. Kuhns said her goal is to break the 3-hour barrier — and to run a marathon in each of the 50 United States.
Having run two Boston Marathons solo, Kuhns said she’s excited to run as part of a team.
“Every year you do it, it’s the best experience in the world,” Kuhns said. “A lot of people running are doing it with another organization as well. It’s a big event and draws a lot of attention. You can support a lot of causes.”
According to its website, davidortizchildrensfund.org, the David Ortiz Children’s Fund provides “support for children in the Dominican Republic and in New England who cannot afford the critical cardiac services they need.”
As part of Team Papi, Kuhns will be raising money for the fund, with a goal of $3,500. She’s set up an online fundraising site at https://www.crowdrise.com/o/en/campaign/david-ortiz-childrens-fund2/laurenkuhns1?utm_campaign=oc&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=crowdrise.
Helping people with heart disease also is a cause dear to Kuhns and her family. The daughter of Bridget and Lary Kuhns, her older sister, Kate, died suddenly of a brain tumor at age 18. An organ donor, Kate’s heart went to a man the family later met.
“We are really close with my sister’s heart recipient,” Lauren Kuhns said. “Hearts are a big deal.”
On her application for Team Papi, Kuhns also mentioned her goal of working in pediatric neurology. She’s a psychology and neuroscience major at Assumption.
“I’ve worked with kids with disorders,” she said. “I’ve had experience with kids and how they’ve been in hospitals. … It made it special to be part of a team supporting children going through a hard time.”
A 2017 Homer High School graduate, Kuhns received a swimming scholarship to Assumption. In her senior year at Homer High, she ran track and then picked up longer races like the Homer Cosmic Hamlet. At Assumption she also runs for the track team, where the coach put her in the 10-kilometer event.
“As addictive as running is, I started doing cross-country,” she said.
In 2019, Kuhns ran the Boston Marathon for its five-year anniversary after the terrorist attack and bombing. That milestone could be felt by spectators and athletes alike, she said. Kuhns said on the bus out to the starting line she rode with a man who was running his 43rd consecutive Boston Marathon.
“He was talking about how everything had changed,” she said. “It wasn’t just a race anymore. … It was people coming together to show we aren’t going to be brought down by everybody’s negativity.”
In that race she also met a double-amputee who lost both her legs in the bombing and was running the marathon.
“She said, ‘This isn’t going to be the end of my life. It’s a chance to start something new,’” Kuhns said. “All of us are struggling to make these 26.2 miles on our own two legs. It’s inspiring.”
Those kind of stories are part of what makes the Boston Marathon special, Kuhns said.
“You see women who say, ‘I thought I could never do this and look at where I am,’” she said.
That’s part of what Kuhns said she hopes she can bring to Team Papi.
“It’s going to show these kids you may have this tremendous struggle right now, but there’s more to life than an illness,” she said. “You can still conquer something. You can still reach your goal even though you have your setbacks.”