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Survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing April 15, 2013, carry the One Run for Boston baton to the finish on Sunday. / Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

BOSTON - Runners in the One Run for Boston charity relay almost ended their mission Sunday to carry a baton across the country by way of their own feet.

A few yards from the finish line, they handed over the baton they'd carried through the desert, along rivers, through downtowns, along highways and finally through the streets of Boston to the people they were doing this for ?? the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing.

To loud applause and cheers, people who were at the finish line when two bombs went off April 15, 2013, walked the white baton across the famous blue and yellow Boston Marathon strip and beyond. Their backs were straight, and they smiled, seeming serene. Among them, Heather Abbott, 39, a human resources specialist from Newport, R.I., who had a foot amputated after it was mangled in the blasts; John Odom, who nearly died and is paralyzed from the knee down in one of his legs; and Carlos Arredondo, who rushed in to help when the blasts took place and befriended Jeff Bauman, a young man who lost both legs in the blast.

"It's good to see everyone," said Abbott, who held the baton high Sunday. "The whole country seems to be here today."

"This is helping give closure to everything," said Odom, 66, of Redondo Beach, Calif., who was the first person to carry the baton when the relay started four weeks ago in Santa Monica, Calif.

"It feels like a community of people supporting us through a really hard week," said Kim Donohue, 32, of Woburn, Mass., whose husband, Transit Police Officer Richard Donohue, was injured in pursuit of the bombers.

The cross over the finish marked the end of a day of quick baton exchanges, hugs between returning runners, lots of group photos and selfies and honks from passing motorists. The endorphin-boosted mood grew stronger as the group of runners neared downtown Boston. At each stage, the number of runners swelled.

The relay, which is in its second year, was the idea of three friends from the United Kingdom who felt compelled to do something after watching coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in horror. Proceeds from fundraising by the runners go toward the One Fund Boston, the charity set up to help survivors of the bombing. This year's relay raised about $430,000 Sunday night toward its $1 million goal.

Many of the runners that took part Sunday had a story about how they were affected by the marathon. Many were returnees from last year's relay.

Gary Sloper, who was preparing to carry the flag from the stage that started at Wellesley, Mass., said he was running the marathon last year and his wife and children were stuck between the two explosions. None was hurt, but it was a sobering experience for him, he said.

"Not everyone's injuries were physical," said Sloper, 38, of Londonderry, N.H.

Lynda Nijensohn was at mile 25 of the 2013 Boston Marathon when the blasts took place, and she did not get to finish. Her father, an orthopedic surgeon, was right there when the blasts happened and helped many of the injured. He's talked about what he saw, she said. She knows people who don't want to go near the finish line, but she said she thinks it's important to go back.

Stacey Parikh normally is at the marathon finish, cheering on runners. Last year, she decided not to go. If she had, she would have been with her daughter, Suriya, who was 2 at the time. She had friends who were running whom she couldn't reach for a couple of hours, and it upset her.

"When everything happened, I just said I need to get a different perspective on this," said Parikh, 34, of Natick, explaining why she took part in the One Run.

Many are returning.

Justin O'Connell, who underwent an 11-hour surgery in 2006 to help straighten his curved spine, began running because his doctors said exercise was the best thing for him. He advocates for the disabled and was not able to finish the marathon last year. He took part in the One Run last year and this year because he is grateful that he is able to run.

"I want to give to the survivors, pay it forward," said O'Connell, 23, of Millville, Mass.

Though the last day of the relay started out cold and rainy, it ended sunny and clear ?? perfect running weather. Bostonians lined the streets, the crowds getting larger as the baton neared the Boylston Street finish. Whereas last year's relay flew a bit under the radar as it was pulled together by a community of people who had never done such a thing, this year's required permissions and permits, arrangements for police escorts and a person who dealt with the media. There were no free-roaming reporters or runners near the finish this time. Streets were blocked off and police-controlled. At the end, hundreds of runners and spectators gathered at Copley Square while the organizers thanked those who'd helped them.

After the first One Run, the organizers said they were exhausted and would never do anything like that again. But the runners pressed them, and they returned. They said Sunday they were overwhelmed with how the second run turned out.

"I guess we have to do it again," organizer Kate Treleaven laughed, standing amid crowds of people in Copley Square Sunday evening.

"It was unbelievable," organizer Danny Bent said. "I'm just so proud."

"It's just been astonishing," organizer James Hay said. He acknowledged there has been talk of organizing a global One Run for Boston that would circle the globe over land.

"We want to see where the chips fall," Hay said with a chuckle.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Marathon survivors finish One Run for Boston relay

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