If Cynthia Lucero had crossed the finish line of the 2002 Boston Marathon, it is possible only friends and family would have remembered her triumph.
But when Lucero, a 28-year-old Waltham woman raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, collapsed just four miles from her destination, her life - and her death - took on a greater meaning for marathoners and spectators alike.
Lucero saw the marathon as "an opportunity to realize you were capable of much more than you imagined," said her coach, Rick Muhr.
And this year more than 160 marathoners will attempt to realize their own potential, running the 107th Boston marathon in her memory.
Lucero's own brother-in-law, Jim Sterling, will travel from New York to run wearing her old number, 15,611.
Lucero collapsed in Cleveland Circle during the 2002 Boston Marathon, lapsed into a comma and was removed from life support.
Lucero died of hyponatremia, or water intoxication, which is a relatively uncommon ailment that occurs among runners, causing swelling in the brain. The condition is usually not lethal.
The last time that Muhr saw Lucero alive was at mile 15 in Wellesley, where the team often trained.
Lucero's parents, who had traveled from Ecuador to see their daughter run, were waiting at the finish line, wondering where their daughter was. They would never see her cross that line in Copley Square.
After a positive early prognosis, Lucero's condition failed to improve as doctors had hoped.
The very night of a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training victory party for Lucero and her teammates, Cynthia's parents made the difficult decision to remove their daughter from life support.
"What normally would have been an extreme cause of celebration turned out to be one of my most difficult days in life," said Muhr of the victory party turned memorial. "I had to stand there and tell them [Lucero's teammates] that Cynthia was going to be take off life support."
But even in death, Lucero continued to give. Her corneas, lungs, heart, liver and kidneys were donated to local patients.
Lucero had completed her doctoral thesis in clinical psychology on the therapeutic effects of marathon training on families of cancer victims less than a week before the race.
"I saw her at the top of the mountain and then I saw her lose her life just a few days later," said Muhr. "It was a very bittersweet observation of the life cycle for me."
Muhr says that Cynthia had chosen the perfect career. She was able to empathize without having experienced pain, to understand what other people were feeling in a way most people can't, says Muhr.
But most of all, says Muhr, Lucero was an example of the way life should be lived every day.
"She has a difficult time keeping her excitement to herself," said Muhr. "She has a little girl's enthusiasm," epitomized by her reaction to completing her first marathon, the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon.
"She jumped into my arms and kind of screamed," said Muhr.
She smiled the whole way across the finish line despite just having run more than 26 miles.
Lucero gained an appreciation for life "much earlier... than most people," said Muhr. "Most people don't ever realize these things, and I probably never would have realized had Cynthia not come into my life."
Muhr said that he and his wife, Lori, have committed their lives to living simply, without worry or hate, and have learned to give more and expect less, all things they say they learned from Lucero.
"She did them daily, just waking up every day believing that she could make a difference in the world. She went about doing it in little ways and big ways and very anonymous ways," said Muhr.
This year Muhr will help keep that spirit alive by coaching his own team of runners across the finish line that Lucero never had the chance to cross. He said he will run along with his runners in many places, taking breaks to drive ahead and catch up with his team.
Muhr said that Lucero was "proud to be a marathoner... It was just another adventure to her."
Phoebe Sweet can be reached at Psweet@cnc.com.