Below is a wonderful story about donated marathon medals being passed out to children with life-threatening disorders (Medals 4 Mettle). There are some amazing angels this side of Heaven.
Donated medals inspire sick kids to reach finish line
Medals 4 Mettle recognizes effort in race with no prizes
By Pamela LeBlanc
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Two runners slip into a room at Dell Children's Medical Center, where a little girl dressed in purple rests on a bed draped with a Minnie Mouse blanket.
"Have you ever heard of a marathon?" Christine Yarosh asks 5-year-old Isabella Duran.
Isabella nods, eyes wide. "It's a really long race," Yarosh says.
She explains that runners spend long hours preparing for a marathon. They run in cold. They run at night. They run, sometimes, when they don't want to. Then, after months of training, they run 26.2 miles, all at once. At the finish line, someone hands them a finisher's medal as a way to remember how hard they worked.
"It's like what you do," Yarosh says, smiling at Isabella, who was diagnosed with a form of leukemia last October. "And we want to recognize how much work you're doing to try to get well."
Yarosh's partner, Rick Slawsky, reaches into a canvas satchel, fishing around until he finds what he is looking for — a saucer-sized medal from the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida. It's shaped like Mickey Mouse, with oversized ears to match Isabella's blanket. Yarosh carefully places the medal around the little girl's neck. Isabella grins, then flashes the medal at her mom.
Every few months, Yarosh, 44, and Slawsky, 55, head to this hospital, where they bestow donated finisher's medals on chronically sick kids. So far, they've given away more than 100 through the Austin branch of the nonprofit organization Medals 4 Mettle.
Ten or 20 medals a week find their way to the couple. Some are mailed, some are dropped by their home, and others are collected from a drop box at the RunTex store on Riverside Drive. They come from races far and wide, including the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, the Philadelphia Marathon, the Chicago Marathon and the Air Force Marathon.
"This running community in Austin is so amazing," Yarosh says. "It's really meaningful that people give up medals. It's the culmination of week after week after week of training, and they give it to someone who doesn't get a prize."
Some medals are donated by first-time marathoners. One came from a cancer survivor who is also a marathon runner and triathlete. A division winner in the 2008 San Francisco Marathon even donated her medal to the Austin group.
In all, more than 30 chapters of Medals 4 Mettle exist around the United States, Mexico and Canada. Dr. Steven Isenberg, a marathon runner and ear, nose and throat physician, founded the organization in Indianapolis in 2005.
Isenberg estimates the group has give away more than 7,000 medals so far. Last week, Olympian Bill Rodgers, four-time winner of both the Boston and New York City marathons, sent more than 30 autographed medals, unsolicited, to Isenberg to give away through the program.
"Kids really look to others for reinforcement and encouragement," Isenberg says. "When somebody gives them something they've spent lot of time effort and energy to earn, it transmits that good will and support in a unique way \u2026 It gives them courage to have an IV started and get treatments and live with all the bad things disease brings."
The Austin chapter, started by Slawsky and Yarosh, was one of the first outside Indianapolis. Isenberg says Slawsky and Yarosh have been key in setting up new chapters around the country. "That's our mission — to spread the collective support of human courage throughout the country, throughout the world," Isenberg says.
In Austin, volunteers attach special ribbons to the medals before handing them out. Yarosh and Slawsky don't spend long with each child, dropping in long enough to explain why dealing with a chronic illness is like running a marathon. "Later, when we're gone, they have it as a reminder to get up and do something that's difficult and painful," Yarosh says.
Sometimes, it's not easy to make the delivery. Some of the young patients are getting chemotherapy for cancer; others have respiratory problems. "When we leave, I just have to take a few minutes and cry," Yarosh says.
Among this day's 20 or so recipients at the Dell hospital are Lee McClenon, a 17-year-old junior at LBJ Liberal Arts and Sciences magnet school who misses playing lacrosse with her team. She was diagnosed in March 2006 with cancer in the muscle around her jaw. Eighteen months after doctors thought she had recovered, the cancer came back. But today is her last round of chemotherapy, and she's excited.
"I'd be happy if I could run half a mile," McClenon says, as Yarosh explains the significance of the medal she hangs around the teenager's neck.
"On days when it's really hard, hold on to that and keep on pushing," Yarosh tells her.
Down the hall, Yarosh and Slawsky visit a Round Rock High School football player being treated for bone cancer. A few doors later, they meet a young power lifter from Del Valle High School who has asthma.
"People who run these races realize people like you are running their own race," Slawsky tells them.
Kisten Inness , 7, promptly hangs the medal she receives around the neck of her stuffed animal.
"It's just a little something to show how hard you're working," Yarosh says.
When they stop by the room where 6-year-old Kai Davidson is staying, it's obvious he wishes he wasn't at the hospital.
"How are you doing today?," Slawsky asks.
"Kind of good," Kai says quietly.
When Slawsky hands him a medal, he looks at it carefully. "That's to show you're doing a good job," he says.
As they leave the room, Kai is still staring at the heavy medal in his hand.