Going the extra mile
Saint Cyr Dimanche '19 is gearing up for his first Boston Marathon. Getting up to speed quickly is something he is used to.
Most days, his phone alarm chimes at 5:30 a.m.
Saint Cyr Dimanche '19 reads a bit, plays music and starts to get loose in his room at Ziv Quad on the Brandeis campus. Next, he runs three times around the one-mile Loop Road. After classes and studying, he usually heads to the Gosman Athletic Center in the afternoon to work out and log more miles on the indoor track.
He started distance running only three years ago, and he's already graduated from 5k and 10k races to clocking speedy times at longer distances. He's run two marathons so far, and now he's training for the marathon: On April 17, he'll be among the more than 20,000 runners to take off in Hopkinton and head east in the Boston Marathon.
Getting up to speed quickly is something Dimanche is used to.
'Education, in my mind, was in first place. It still is.'
Dimanche grew up in the war-torn Central African Republic. When he was 14 years old, he was separated from his family and fled to Cameroon. Two years later, he came to the United States as a refugee, alone. Settling in Worcester with Bob and Anne Bureau — a couple he considers his family — Dimanche headed to public high school, where he learned to read and write English. It was the first time he had learned to read or write in any language.
"Life [in the Central African Republic] wasn't anything like here. There was constant war," he said. "When I came here, education, in my mind, was in first place. It still is."
His hard work in high school paid off, and two years after arriving in the U.S., he came to Brandeis through the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program, which provides small classes and strong support systems for students who have had limited precollege academic opportunities.
"It is amazing, everyone is so welcoming," he said. "The support I have gotten here has really made Brandeis feel like home to me."
When he isn't racing around campus or the track, Dimanche is usually studying or working on a paper. He's majoring in international and global studies, and wants like to pursue a career in global politics, maybe with the U.S. Department of State, so he can help people who are in situations similar to the one he faced in the Central African Republic.
"My passion is to help people from underdeveloped countries," he said.
Lisa Young Rourke has witnessed Dimanche's commitment first-hand. Acting associate director of university writing and lecturer in the university writing program, Rourke has tutored Dimanche since 2015. Every week, Rourke sees him taking on his wide-ranging studies with determination.
"His growth is just in leaps and bounds. His thinking becomes more sophisticated and his understanding of English grows every week," she said. "Where he came from and where he is now is so stunning. I expect him to go on to do really great things and make a really positive impact in the world."
Along the river to Boston
When he isn't speeding around the campus or the indoor track at Gosman, his favorite running route takes him along the banks of the Charles River. Through the trees, the city of Boston emerges, and he follows the cityscape to South Station in Boston.
"When you get to Boston and Cambridge you can see all these people — running, biking, kayaking. You feel the vibrations of the people," he said.
Once he gets to South Station, he doesn't stop. He turns around and heads right back to Waltham.
"It's exactly 14 miles each way, so 28 miles round trip," Diamanche said. "That's why I like it."
But it wasn't long ago that such a distance seemed impossible.
"I never thought I'd be able to finish three miles. The first time I finished 10 miles my family could not believe me," he said. "When I registered for my first races, I thought it would be impossible until I did it."
A letdown and a surprise break
Boston is his third marathon. He had hoped to qualify for the race by running under the required time of 3:05 in a Pennsylvania marathon, but a bizarre setback made that impossible. Dimanche was among a group of runners who were prevented by a disabled train at a railroad crossing from completing the race.
"It was really tough," he said. "You don't want to see a photo of me from that day."
When the story circulated on campus, Dimanche got an unexpected boost. While runners can qualify for the Boston Marathon by beating the qualifying time, invitational entries are also given to dozens of teams who run to raise money for designated charities. In October, an anonymous friend from Brandeis donated $5,000 to the American Red Cross to secure Dimanche a place on the Red Cross team.
"It is great to be running for a charity," he said. "It's a little boost of inspiration."
His goal on April 17? To beat the 3:05 qualifying time for the 2018 Boston Marathon.
"This won't be my last Boston," he said. "I hope."