From Strangers to Friends: Pittsburgh Marathon Brings Two People Together

Laura Mazur (left) holds hands with Jessica Robertson (right) as they make their way to the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 5. This picture has since gone viral giving both women a lot of attention for their kindness toward each other.
Staff Writer

A photo seen around the world has a special connection to a small town in Ohio. New Bremen resident, Laura Mazur, is one half of a picture of two women holding hands as they making their way to the finish line at the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 5.
Meeting at the just passed the halfway point of the race, the two strangers made eye contact that led them to finishing the remaining 12.2 miles together.
“If you stay with me I’ll stay with you,” Mazur said of their agreement.
From that moment until Mile 26.2, the runners didn’t let each other quit. They were two complete strangers when they met, but by the end of the race they were great friends that shared a difficult journey.
For Mazur, this was her 12th marathon, but for the woman with her, Jessica Robertson, it was her first. Coming in last was nothing new for Mazur. She said she always runs in the last group and has even had experiences of being told to get in the van or get on the sidewalk. In every marathon, however, she said she’s never given up.
With every marathon she’s run, she runs with three rules in mind: finish, don’t walk and don’t get swept. To date she has never been swept and even told Robertson that if the police tell them get in the sweeper vehicles she will ask them to write the directions on her arm and they will finish on their own.
During the race, the 37-year-old noted that they knew they were bringing up the rear as they could see, and more prominently, hear the sound of the engines droning on behind them. Despite the noise and tired feeling from running more than a dozen miles, the two tried to see the positives as they kept on the course.
“I know when it gets to be a little tougher for me I like to see the positives like, ‘look, it stopped raining finally,’ it had been raining all day,” she said. “It rained before the starting gun went off, raining all day … [and] ‘look the mile markers are still up, and not only are the mile markers still up, the clock is still running on them. It means the final clock is still running and we’re doing good. They haven’t torn anything down yet.’”
The fact the Pittsburgh Marathon kept everything up, including the water and medic stations, meant something to the women as they continued to push themselves to not give up. But that didn’t always keep the doubt and worry from coming into view, especially for Robertson. Mazur noted that sometimes she would give her tough love when she started to doubt herself.
“I really do say this with the utmost love you do know that?” Mazur recalled of their conversations. “She said, ‘I know.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m just saying this because I know you’re fine. You signed up for this knowing or thinking you could do this and that’s why we sign up for this because we know somewhere in our heart, somewhere in our sweaty little minds, that we can do this.’”
Over the course of their time together, Mazur explained that they would talk here and there about different things going through their heads about the marathon and a little about life. They learned about each other along the way.
Mazur noticed that Robertson had eyes like a hawk and was able to pick out mile markers before she could. That’s how she learned Robertson was a mother. She even met her family, before they crossed the finish line.
She explained that Robertson’s family would Facetime her every so often and ask how the race was going. When they found out she had a racing partner they continually asked if she was still there with her, before finally asking to talk to Mazur.
Mazur said she talked to Robertson’s mother, aunt and daughter while they were running the race.
“They were like, ‘thank you so much,’” she explained. “We just feel like God sent you there to be with her and be there and guide her and be there to fully support her,’ and I’m like, ‘definitely. That is so super sweet of you to say that.
“‘I’m just trying to finish the race just like she is and she is a great person to talk to and she definitely made a friend today.’”
The notoriety of them finishing together didn’t occur until mile 25, when they passed the stretch that was sponsored by the Steel City Road Runners Club. That was where the picture of them holding hands was taken.
The individuals working the booth cheered them on, letting them know there was only one mile left, Mazur said. That’s when she said they both started to pick up speed, especially Robertson as they neared the finish line.
“‘You have to finish with me, you promised,’” Mazur recalled of Robertson reaching back for her one last time. “And I’m like, ‘I’m not breaking a promise I’m just slow I’m sorry.’”
When they crossed the finish line, Mazur said she turned to Robertson to tell her she was officially a marathoner.
Looking back on the day, she remembered seeing people take their picture, but never expected it to blow up like it had.
“The most I thought would be out there was you know maybe the road runner newsletter that, ‘look, here’s the last of the pack coming in strong,’” she said. “Or someone takes a picture and finds who I am just by looking at my bib number and send it to me and say like, ‘hey, I took this picture, thought you might like to have it.’ That’s what I was thinking would come of this.”
“It was just so cool running with her,” she added. “Everybody’s like, ‘oh look, runners unite.’ We were just two people who became great friends and everything like that.”
Meeting people during races isn’t new for Mazur. She said she has met several people through groups online, as well as during the races.
The Pittsburgh Marathon has an added meaning for the runner, who happens to be a native of the Steel City. She grew up about 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Marathon was the first marathon she ever ran in back in 2014 when she started the running journey.
The journey to completing 26.2 miles began when she hit 30 years old and noticed a need to be a little more active. She said she started with walking — with around 10 mile walks daily.
When she locked her keys in her car at the YMCA in New Bremen was when she noticed that she could probably handle doing some sort of race such as a 5K.
She signed up for the Dayton River Quarter Classic and when she got to the race, she saw a 13.1 sticker for a half marathon on the back of a car. That made her change her mind to take on the half marathon, because she wanted to earn the sticker.
Wanting a 26.2 sticker also, she began training for a full marathon using guidance from Hal Higdon, an American writer and runner who offers training guides to those interesting in running a marathon.