It’s a time-honored tradition at marathons for spectators to hold up signs to motivate runners pounding out 26.2 miles on foot.
The signs range from clever to irreverent, and usually get a smile from otherwise exhausted participants. All that was true last Sunday at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon in Ohio’s capital city, with one major difference.
At mile 12, one sign stood out from the rest: “You’re Running with the Angels.”
Mile 12 was the “Angel Mile,” in honor of young patients at the children’s hospital who have “finished their race” and are no longer with us.
The 35th annual marathon, which raised $1.25 million-plus for the hospital, featured Children’s Champions every mile. Patients and former patients, from toddlers to young adults, were at every mile marker if they were well enough to be out there for up to several hours.
The “Miracle Mile” honorees included children with common and rare diseases, as well as children recovering from traumatic brain injuries and other significant health challenges.
The Angel Mile along High Street in downtown Columbus was packed with families and friends of children who have died. I’m guessing the woman I saw holding the “You’re Running with the Angels” sign had lost her child.
It’s beyond humbling to consider the courage required of all those parents, cheering on every runner for hours, supporting the marathon’s effort to help other kids — even when their own child couldn’t be saved.
Marathon organizers produced “What Moved Us,” a 4-minute video recap of the event that shows some of the Children’s Champions and their parents — including, at the 2:23 mark, comments from an “Angel Mile” mom and dad whose daughter, Harmony, died two weeks before the race.
The noble idea of honoring a sick child at each of 26 miles in a marathon comes at some risk. Indeed, the mile 21 champion, Bryer, died in September. He would have turned 1 year old just three days before the marathon.
I wish my recollection of running past Bryer’s family at that unofficial Angel Mile were clearer. But at the 21-mile mark of a marathon, clear thinking and awareness of one’s surroundings are hard to come by.
At that point, it’s often a matter of just making it to the finish line without the mind giving in and the body breaking down. I have no doubt that in Columbus, those young champions — and angels — were motivation enough for many of the 5,552 marathon finishers to keep putting one foot in front of the other.