By Dennis Flynn
Believe it or not, I’ve been privy to more than a few very interesting proposals. From a ring hidden in a giant Christmas present or inside a champagne glass at a fancy restaurant, to a proposal on the stadium big screen or on George Street, I’ve seen them all. One of my all-time favourite proposals to witness in person was the fellow who took his girlfriend skating on Valentine’s Day at Rockefeller Centre’s iconic outdoor rink. While she was distracted gazing up at the New York City skyscrapers and the famous golden statue of Prometheus, another skater zipped out with an enormous bundle of red roses and handed them off. The gentleman was down on one knee with flowers and ring in hand when the lady turned around, beaming with joy and utterly surprised. Well played, sir. Well played, indeed.
So I’m kind of hard to impress on a novel way to get engaged. It has to be a real doozy of a moment with a remarkable back story. That is, however, exactly what Derrick Roul and Shantel Buttress of Conception Bay South, NL, delivered at the Boston Marathon finish line this past spring. When I learned about it, I just had to meet them.
The first thing to know about these two is that they make a ridiculously cute couple who produce enough combined positive energy to power the province. The second thing is that they are both ultramarathoners accustomed to running up to 50 kilometers at a stretch on very challenging terrain. It was no surprise, then, to learn that they first met at a group training session for the Tely 10 a number of years ago.
“She was such an amazing person to talk to, I was suddenly struck so shy that I could hardly even look at her and kept speaking down to her running shoes,” Derrick recalls. “We gradually became good friends and bonded over running with shared stories and experiences that, unless you are a distance runner yourself, it is sometimes very hard for others to relate to. Talking helped the miles to go, and we got to know each other really well as people - one step at a time.”
That’s all it was, though, just great friends and sometimes running and training colleagues. Until several years later, when Shantel and Derrick both found themselves single and renewed their friendship. Eventually it blossomed into a romance and they were off to the races, literally and figuratively.
Fast forward to this year’s running of the Boston Marathon, held April 18. The couple were both running, with Derrick carrying an extra tiny burden and a very big secret.
With a huge smile, Derrick recalls, “I had a pair of running shorts with a secret pocket for a small key or whatnot, and that is where I kept the ring. I was giddy like a kid in a candy store, I was that excited, and it was awesome. The only problem was every kilometre over the 42.2 km race I had to reach down and pat my leg to make sure the ring was still there. That way if, God forbid, I lost the ring I would only have to go one kilometre back to look for it instead of all the way. Thankfully nothing happened to it, but I was really afraid Shantel was going to notice me reaching to my leg and was thinking I might have to tell a white lie about the leg being a little hurt. If she caught on she never did say, so it all worked out perfectly.”
Shantel adds, “I had no idea and he totally surprised me. I mean, we had of course talked about marriage, and I thought that maybe someday he was going to ask, but I never expected it then, so it was a really wonderful moment. We reached the finish line together and he dropped to one knee, produced the ring and asked me to marry him. The people all around us were amazed and so kind, taking photos and videos and just coming over telling us how happy it made them, so it was pretty incredible for a lot of reasons.”
Derrick adds, “The creator of a video [Arlen Parsa] reached out and congratulated us on our finish and let us know that he used our story as part of a promotion for the Abbott World Marathon Majors that focuses on how running partners and couples really make this Majors challenge special.” (They appear in the last nine seconds of the video. You can check it out here: https://fb.watch/dgNU_Icyu7/ )
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All of this alone would have been heart touching, but there’s more. Shantel’s marathon run was almost cancelled due to an injury months earlier. “Over the winter I slipped on ice during a training run and stretched a leg, picking up what is sometimes called a sports hernia. So I had to take a longer time off training and could not go as hard when I came back. My longest preparation run for Boston was only 25 kilometres, and that was just two weeks before the big race.”
Derrick’s road to the 2022 Boston Marathon also had some twists and turns, as well as a significant speed bump - cancer.
“You know in 2012, I was in probably the best running shape of my life,” Derrick begins, “and on a really hot day at the Boston Marathon I ran it in three hours flat… I reached that finish line and cried a little because I did not break my goal of doing it under three hours. I was so focused on the clock that I couldn’t see what was really important. What mattered most was that I finished… I did so well at Boston that I was given a spot in the New York City Marathon and, unfortunately, two weeks before I was scheduled to go, I was diagnosed with leukemia.”
Derrick subsequently endured many rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, with the donation from his fraternal twin brother. As soon as he was able, Derrick started planning for his return to marathon running, though his doctors cautioned him that he would never be the runner that he once was. “So that was a huge blow, but I tried to stay positive and take it in stride,” Derrick says.
He recalls watching the 2013 Boston Marathon from his hospital room. That was the year of the devastating bombing at the race. It lit a new fire under him.
“After my operation, I asked the doctors what would be the fastest I could graft and recover and get out of hospital, and they said I would be lucky to get out in 21-28 days. So I wrote 336 hours on my wall, which was about 18 days. I started walking around the corridors and stairs with my IV pole. I got released in 335 hours, with one hour to spare. They said I was the quickest one they had seen,” Derrick says. “There were some setbacks along the way, but eventually I got back to running and qualifying for Boston, as did Shantel.
“We crossed the line in about 3 hours 29 minutes, holding hands together, and it meant the world to us to do it together.”
For his remarkable perseverance and positive attitude, Derrick was the 2014 recipient of the Dr. John Williams Award, given to an individual who has inspired others through enthusiastic and spirited participation in the Telegram 10 Mile Road Race.
Derrick says, “Ten years ago, I ran Boston and cried at the finish because I didn’t get a time I wanted. This year I ran it and I cried with joy because I let go of that focus on time that so many of us who are competitive runners get trapped in. I decided I am running this race with Shantel and I am going to enjoy every step, every mile and every moment along the way. Finding her has been incredible. She has been a big shining light, and she makes it easy to have something besides a finish line to look forward to.”