One year ago, 13-year old Taj Bland completed the Broad Street Run as part of Students Run Philly Style.
"He didn't really want to do it," said his mother Ivry. "But he pushed through and finished."
As the race concluded, Ivry and her husband Charles met their son at the finish line. In the excitement, they promised that in one year's time, they'd run the race together as a family.
Now the day is upon them—and the only thing that hasn't changed is their commitment and promise to one another.
On September 25, Taj and his dad were about to drive to football practice when a truck barreled down their Overbrook street. The driver, later charged with being under the influence, collided with the Blands' vehicle—and Taj.
Taj was lucky to survive, as both his legs had been broken. He also sustained a serious concussion and countless contusions. In the coming weeks, Taj would undergo multiple operations—plastic surgery to repair the wound on his head, a procedure to pin his left knee back together—and would be in casts for months.
"To be honest, we didn't know what was going to happen," recalled Ivry. "He's still being monitored, because the breaks were along the growth plates. We had no idea what he'd be able to do after the accident."
For months, Taj fought—and continues to fight—through his rehab and recovery, with the goal of getting back to doing everything he did before the accident. That meant Broad Street. But now, he had Mom and Dad's promise motivating him along the way—plus the prospect of his younger brother, Isaiah, joining the family in this year's run. (The Blands also have a 3-year old son.)
"Neither Charles or I ever thought we'd do anything like [running Broad Street]," admitted Ivry. "Maybe a 5K, but nothing like Broad Street."
But when the promise of running as a family pushes your teenage son through rehab every day, it's amazing what you can achieve.
"This whole process, it's really shown me how strong my son is—physically and mentally," added Charles Bland.
"I think I'm pretty tough," concluded Taj.
Of course, running the race alone won't be enough for the competitive Taj, who vows that he will be the first member of the Bland family across today's finish line. In practice runs around the neighborhood, Taj has been back to his confident self, even talking a little trash to his father.
"Taj will go out ahead, slow down… then pull back ahead and tell my husband 'You thought you were going to catch me, didn't you?'" Ivry laughed.
Taj may be returning to his old self, but his mother seems a bit more apprehensive about the run.
"This is going to be a lot for me," she laughed. "I just started getting back in shape. I did about seven miles with my husband the other day—we've been training together."
Seven months after the accident, the Bland family will hold a celebration today—of prayers answered, of recoveries made, of promises kept.
"Taj has a strength in him," said his mother. "A determination, a resilience. Nothing was going to stop him from getting back to this point."
In a field of some 40,000 runners, Ivry Bland may be the only one with the goal of finishing behind another competitor.
The Blands' thoughts on Boston: "It makes you nervous, a little scared. But when I look at Taj, I realize you can't let things hold you back. We have to move forward, we have to keep living."