Hometown Hero: Hopkinton PE teacher Jordan Whitaker ran the Boston Marathon as support runner for para-athlete

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School.

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker throws the ball in a game at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker throws the ball in a game at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker at her gym class with fifth grader CeCe Hebert at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker at her gym class with fifth grader CeCe Hebert at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker pitches the ball in a game at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker pitches the ball in a game at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker at her gym class with fifth grader CeCe Hebert at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker at her gym class with fifth grader CeCe Hebert at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker runs at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker runs at her gym class with fifth graders at the Maple Street School on Thursday, May 16, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Jordan Whitaker with Jared Ewing after the 2024 Boston Marathon.

Jordan Whitaker with Jared Ewing after the 2024 Boston Marathon. —Courtesy

By CHLOE RATTEE

Monitor staff

Published: 05-17-2024 2:27 PM

Modified: 05-19-2024 1:01 PM


Hopkinton physical education teacher Jordan Whitaker ran her third Boston Marathon last month – but her first as a support runner to a para-athlete.

“It’s awesome to be able to be a part of that,” said Whitaker. “It’s nice to feel like you’re proud because you’re doing something for somebody else. It’s not for me … I can run a marathon on my own. But the idea of helping somebody else or raising awareness for somebody else is really awesome.”

Whitaker, a lifelong athlete born in Deering, picked up distance running again in 2020 for the first time since her children were born. A friend was running a half marathon and convinced Whitaker to put her name on the waitlist. She got pulled in about two weeks before the race.

Since then, she regularly runs one to two marathons a year. This year she’s running three, because she agreed to be a support runner at the last minute, and had already signed up for two others. This month’s Revel White Mountains Marathon was only three weeks after Boston in April.

Support runner

Whitaker met Jared Ewing, whom she partnered with for the Boston Marathon, last year through a mutual friend who knew about her involvement in the race along with her charity work. Their friend told Ewing that if there’s one person who can get you in as a charity runner, it’s Whitaker. And he was right.

Ewing was already running marathons on his own despite losing muscles and function of tendons in one of his legs in a tragic accident in 2018. Doctors told Ewing he would never be able to run a marathon again if he kept his leg, but 10 months later he proved them wrong. He continues to race nationally and internationally. Ewing was born in Ohio and lived in New Hampshire after the 2018 accident until his recent move back to his home state.

Whitaker and Ewing ran the Boston Marathon together in 2023 for separate charities. In 2023 they ran the marathon in under six hours, which was the qualifying time for para-athletes to run in 2024. He was accepted and, after registering, asked if Whitaker would run with him as a support runner. She agreed, and they ran at Ewing’s pace and completed the marathon in a little under four hours.

Charity runners don’t need to run a qualifying time. The Boston Marathon’s non-para-athlete qualifying time is, at the slowest, about a 12-minute mile for women 80 years old and above, and at the fastest, about a seven-minute mile for men aged 18-34.

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Whitaker explained that for para-athletes, support runners offer whatever support is needed, be it physical, as some athletes run tethered, or for mental support, like she was.

“It’s really the idea of someone there to help them complete their goal,” Whitaker said. “I ran side by side with Jared for the marathon. And it was just kind of talking us through it and being there together. Boston was a really hot day, so it was that idea of [it being] really mental.”

Whitaker and Ewing ran out of the para-athletics tent, where they got to meet runners with a wide range of disabilities, some with support runners.

“Not all marathons have accommodations for them or allow them to have [that support]. So Boston is one of the best when it comes to that,” said Whitaker. “Boston has special qualifications if you’re a para-athletic to qualify, and New York and Chicago do not, so you still have to just meet the normal qualifying standards, whether you have a disability or not.”

Teaching phys-ed

Whitaker is currently teaching at Maple Street Elementary School, but has experience as a coach and athletic director, too. She has been involved with the Special Olympics since she was in high school, and originally thought she wanted to be a special education teacher before she landed on phys ed.

Teaching physical education, she is able to combine her interests outside of teaching in the classroom: part of her job is to make movement as accessible as possible. The school has an adaptive PE class where kids with special physical, social, or emotional needs go and work on skills that help them achieve success with their peers.

And creating an accessible physical education curriculum doesn’t just mean adapting activities for children with disabilities. Whitaker said a lot of kids’ mindsets about their abilities hold them back.

“Some of the challenges [of teaching] are those kids that don’t think that they’re athletic or don’t have high self-confidence and they have a really hard time wanting to participate and finding those activities that they like… But I think a lot of it is about the connections that you have with them and getting them to be willing to try something,” said Whitaker. “I love seeing even the kids that don’t necessarily feel athletic succeed.”

Whitaker said a big part of PE is reminding students that they can always find an activity that they love, but especially that winning isn’t the only reason to try new things and get better.

“They [the students] ask [about] Boston, ‘Did you win?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, there are 30,000 people that are running the Boston Marathon, and I absolutely didn’t win,’” said Whitaker. “And so we talk about just trying to do better for yourself, and just better than you did the last time, and trying something new.”

Kids will talk to Whitaker about their own athletic endeavors outside of school, and their own experiences running in local events like Concord’s Rock N’ Race. Whitaker encourages them to think about what their goals are, whether that’s just finishing and supporting the cause, or running fast.

Whitaker said that having a role model who is not only telling them to be active, push themselves, and try new things but also demonstrating these qualities is really important in students’ understanding of movement and activity.

Running with Ewing helped Whitaker talk about disabilities with her students.

“They tracked Jared’s bib on the board. Because I didn’t have a timing chip, they could watch us progress through Jared’s,” said Whitaker. “We talked about how he’s the one with the disability and I just ran with him. It wasn’t about me, it was [about] how well Jared ran that day.”

Charity and doing things for the community is clearly a big part of Whitaker’s life and running career, resulting in her running marathons for various charities. She ran Boston in 2022 to raise funds for Gronk Nation Youth Athletics to help build an accessible playground along the Charles River. In 2023, she ran Boston or Mass Ear and Eye, a specialty hospital that treated her daughter for cysts in her ear canal when she was younger.

Outside of marathons, she runs two legs of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for the Special Olympics, one of which runs from Hillsborough to Concord, and then Concord to Durham, kicking off the N.H. Special Olympics Summer Games at UNH each May or June. Whitaker started doing both after a Hillsborough police officer, who used to do the leg from there to Concord, died in the line of duty in 2021.

When she’s not at school or running a marathon she’s either training in Hillsborough or spending time outside with her kids. Her next marathon is in October, so she has some time to recover from the recent races.