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Monday April 21, 2014 Gators gymnastics trainer Kelly Bridges ready to be Boston Strong

Updated: 10:28am, April 21

Kelly Bridges

Gators athletic trainer Kelly Bridges works on gymnast Rachel Spicer at the NCAA Finals.

Kelly Bridges spent the first part of her Easter Sunday assisting the UF gymnasts competing in the individual event finals in Birmingham, Ala.

The night before Bridges was at her usual post as the team’s athletic trainer, scraping feet, wrapping ankles and doing whatever else the Gators needed as they repeated as national champions.

By early Sunday afternoon, Bridges was on a plane from Birmingham to Philadelphia.

Final destination: Boston.

The 27-year-old Bridges is running in today’s Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon where tragedy struck a year ago when two bombs near the finish line spoiled a beautiful Patriots’ Day and sent a city scrambling. The bombs killed three spectators and injured more than 200, many losing limbs and suffering life-altering injuries.

Bridges remembers watching news coverage of the bombings in the UF gymnastics team’s training facility during practice. The bombings happened the weekend prior to the Gators' departure for Los Angeles where they won the first national title in school history in 2013.

“I was in awe. I never thought that could happen,’’ Bridges said Sunday night, shortly after picking up her bib number and checking into her Boston hotel. “Boston to me is one of the most influential, more worldly of all the marathons you have seen. I could never have seen anyone doing that to those in Boston. It’s Patriots’ Day. Everyone is so supportive of those running.”

A gymnast until she was 13, Bridges is in her third year as the Gators’ athletic trainer. She ran track in high school and later in college at Gardner-Webb University. She took up marathon training while working on her master’s degree at Alabama.

The Boston Marathon seemed an unrealistic expectation.

“It’s been one of my dreams to do Boston, but I thought it would definitely be when I’m much older,’’ she said. “With everything that happened last year with the bombing, I thought this was the best year to do it. It’s so great that it worked out.”

Bridges qualified for Boston in June at the Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota, an annual event that draws more than 17,000 participants.

To qualify Bridges needed a time under 3 hours, 35 minutes. She finished in 3:31.44.

That wasn’t the only special moment for Bridges that day. She talked her fiancée, Andrew Fleming, into running the race with her. He got the last word.

“I didn’t know he was going to propose at the end of the race,’’ she said. “I ran way ahead of him and by the time he was done I knew he was cramping. When he went down on one knee, I thought he was falling and cramping. Me being an athletic trainer, I went down to save him somehow and it ended up he pulled out a ring. It was definitely a great topping to making the Boston cut.”

With Boston in her sights, Bridges has maintained a hectic schedule training for today’s race. She often trains with 4:30 a.m. runs in Gainesville, and then gets to work around 8 a.m. for a long day. She said there were some difficult training weeks during the gymnastics season but all of it has been worth it, especially when she pushes off from the start line around 10:25 this morning.

Her goal is to run in under 3:30.

But that is only a small part of this experience for Bridges. Her mom, brother, and other relatives from Georgia are in Boston to support her. They plan to take in a Red Sox game and tour Harvard’s campus during their stay.

Beyond pounding the pavement of the 26.2 mile-course through one of America’s iconic cities, Bridges wants to collect memories and share in the Boston Strong experience that defined the city in the wake of the bombings.

“All the stories of how Boston Strong they are just amazing,’’ she said. “I’m so excited. It’s just incredible being here.”

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