The phone call originated from the mountains of northern Afghanistan, where Army Sgt. Joshua Kirk simply had to congratulate his wife for completing the Air Force Half Marathon, her first attempt at 13.1 miles, in Dayton, Ohio.

“He was so proud,” Megan Gavin-Kirk said. “He was super, super supportive of my running, always.”

Two weeks after that long-distance call in early autumn of 2009, Kirk was one of eight U.S. service members and two Afghan security force members killed in a fierce battle with insurgents.

Within days of burying her husband, Gavin-Kirk was back on the roads. She had started running after their daughter, Kensington, was born during her husband’s three-year deployment to Germany with the 173rd Airborne.

Running became an outlet for a new mom in a foreign land, a chance to break a sweat, to clear away distractions and to let her mind mull whatever needed mulling without fear of interruption.

“It was therapy,” said Gavin-Kirk, who’s 29. “I figure everything out when I’m running. That was all I knew how to do after he passed.”

On Patriots Day, she’ll pull on a pair of bright green running socks — her husband’s favorite color — and join 27,000 other runners near the town green in Hopkinton, Mass., for the 116th running of the Boston Marathon. She will run in honor of her husband, a native of Thomaston, and to raise awareness and funds for Maine’s chapter of Run for the Fallen.

Gavin-Kirk is one of three widows among the eight runners planning to conquer the storied 26.2-mile course in conjunction with Run for the Fallen Maine, organizer of four annual Ogunquit-to-Portland runs to commemorate Maine-connected members of the military who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.

Lynel Zimmerman, a Madawaska native now living in North Carolina, is running in Boston in honor of her husband, Marine Corps 1st Lt. James Zimmerman of Houlton. He died on Nov. 2, 2010, in Afghanistan.

Kyla Krueger, a New Hampshire native now living on Cape Cod, is running in honor of her husband, Coast Guard Lt. Sean D. Krueger of Waterboro. He died in a helicopter crash July 7, 2010, off the coast of Washington state.

The three women have not met, but will do so before the race.

Zimmerman is the only one with a marathon under her belt. She completed the Marine Corps Marathon last October in Washington, D.C., as part of a team raising money for TAPS, which stands for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

“It was a pretty emotional yet very inspiring run,” said Zimmerman, 27, noting the monuments in the District of Columbia, the veterans racing with hand cycles and all the military volunteers at aid stations and handing out medals at the finish. “The overall intensity of (Boston) will be a little different because it’s not so focused on the military. It will be good as far as trying to get our name out there, which is the main thing, to make people aware of our organization.”

John Mixon, a Vietnam veteran from Ogunquit who organized Maine’s chapter of Run for the Fallen, recruited five other runners to run in Boston in honor of five other deceased military members with ties to the state. The Boston Athletic Association, which puts on the marathon, donated the bib numbers.

“We were looking for certain types of people,” Mixon said. “It’s not just about fundraising, it’s about raising awareness as well.”

Mixon said the funds will go toward the annual Run for the Fallen Maine event, which culminates in a lobster bake after the finish, scholarships for surviving family members and what he called a “no red tape” fund to fill oil tanks or assist with other financial hardships.

This year’s Run for the Fallen Maine is scheduled for Aug. 19.

Like Gavin-Kirk, Krueger, who has three children, took up running only after becoming a mother and bidding adieu to leisurely walks. Her husband would run in the morning and, upon his return from work, she would hand over the kids and run the same route in the evening. Then they’d compare times.

“We’d compete,” she said. “It became something Sean and I could do separately, but together.”

Krueger, 32, has run several 5-kilometer road races but nothing longer than a 10K. Still, she foresees no problem with covering 26 miles. Like the others, she found the benefits of running went beyond physical fitness.

“It definitely proved for me to be a time that I could push through some of that stress, and just clear it out of my way,” she said, “and enjoy what I was doing at the moment.”

So they are running for themselves, running for their husbands and running for the families of other fallen soldiers.

“I guess my biggest fear over time, as people move on, is that they’ll forget,” said Zimmerman, who would often run with her husband and Harley, their husky-shepherd mix. “I guess that’s kind of my role now, as his wife, because he’s not here, is to try to keep him alive. Even though he’s not physically present with us, to keep him alive in other aspects of life.”

Zimmerman expressed hope that she can run alongside Gavin-Kirk and Krueger, all three of them wearing their husbands’ names across their shirts along with the Run for the Fallen logo of boots, helmet and rifle. After all, Zimmerman said, there is strength in numbers.

“And honestly, I’ll need the support of having someone run with me,” she said. “We all know what we’re running for. It’s unfortunate. We don’t want to be running for it, if we could change it, but we can’t. So I think running together would be good emotional support for all of us.”

All three widows will embark from Hopkinton in the third wave of runners, scheduled to start at 10:40 a.m. You get the feeling that — no matter when they pass the checkpoints, no matter how they handle the hills, no matter how far the pack gets strung out — they will not run alone.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]