When you get the news you’re going to meet an Olympic athlete, one might be pretty excited. When you find out you get to run with one of the most accomplished distance runners in American history and a 3-time Olympian, one might be a little intimidated. But for four Akron Children’s employees, they not only embraced the opportunity to run with this year’s Akron Marathon ambassador, Deena Kastor, they did it in epic fashion. They placed 3rd in the all-female relay team category, with a time of 3:26:54, while stopping mid-race to provide medical assistance to a young man in need.
When Deena Kastor said she hoped to run the first leg of the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon & Team Relay, Akron Children’s jumped at the chance to help her assemble a 5-person relay team. The group, “Deena and the Bambinos,” consisted of one Olympian, 2 nurses, a physician and a physical therapist, having never run together before, but all sharing a passion for running.
“I lived in Boston for graduate school the year Deena ran in (and qualified for) the Olympic Trials…It was that year, and that weekend, that lit the fire for me,” said Lauren Pearch, pediatric intensive care unit nurse at Akron Children’s. “To be a part of this relay team, running with her, kind of brought things full circle for me.”
For Denise Young, outpatient surgery nurse at Akron Children’s, running with Deena was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“Deena Kastor is one of my role models in life so to run with her and my Akron Children’s co-workers in the Akron Marathon, which has always been special to me, was both an honor and a privilege,” said Denise. “Seeing Deena approach me at the relay exchange was so incredible. She was so encouraging and even texted me photos of her handoff to me!”
When Cortney Myer and Dr. Shefali Mahesh got the invite to run with Deena, it superseded their own personal goals for the Akron Marathon. Cortney had been training to run her first full Akron Marathon and Dr. Mahesh planned to run the half marathon. Although hours had been invested in training, the chance to meet and run with Deena in a hometown race was too much of a good thing to pass up.
“I couldn’t believe how down-to-earth she was…She came across like she was just one of us,” said Cortney, a physical therapist at Akron Children’s. “She made the focus not about her. It was about the people in the community, the runners and the kids that was the big deal.”
Since all the runners were capable distance runners, pacing for a shorter run was different, but nothing they couldn’t handle. But as Cortney waited at the last relay exchange zone for Lauren, she began to think something was wrong. Lauren was several minutes off pace, which wasn’t like her.
Turns out, the ultramarathon runner wasn’t injured, she was busy doing what she loves as much as running, helping others. Mid-race, Lauren saw a situation that she couldn’t run past.
“There was a kid that was near passing out around mile 20…He needed medical assistance so I helped him until the EMTs showed up a few minutes later and then I got back on course to finish my leg,” said Lauren. “We do this race for the hospital, the kids. Of course I stopped to help. If we aren’t in this life together, we really aren’t in it at all.”
And running the race for the kids is a big part of the race. As the title beneficiary of the Akron Marathon Race Series, race registration proceeds support the work that’s done at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Support for the hospital is also visible during the race at the Hero Zones, where patients are stationed along the race route to serve as inspiration for the runners. Several members of the relay team knew this year’s Heroes personally.
“When I ran my first Akron Marathon last year, I thought the patient heroes were so special and helped get me through the race,” said Dr. Mahesh. “This year my patient, Maritza, was the hero at mile marker 17.8 where runners begin to look tired. As soon as they saw Maritza’s super smile, though, they couldn’t help but smile back at her and move over to get a power tap from her ‘press for power’ shield.”
Finding inspiration is what the Akron Marathon seems to embody for many runners, including the all female relay team.
“Akron is where I grew up; where I work; where I’ve met so many amazing people and knowing this race benefits Akron Children’s makes it an extra special race for me,” said Cortney. “Getting to run with Deena was such a cool collaboration…it was an emotional finish for me because I was so proud to stand next to such a strong group of women, moms and professionals.”
“I registered for the inaugural Akron Marathon in 2003, stepping out of my comfort zone to complete all 26.2 blue-line miles. That race changed my life,” said Denise. “My passion for running has brought me opportunities I never dreamt possible. I’ve met professional and everyday runners who have overcome so many obstacles to be the strong people they are today. This race allowed me to meet four more.”
After getting to run with an Olympian, what’s next for the group? More running, of course. Lauren is training for a 100k run in Arizona, Dr. Mahesh and Cortney will be back for the Akron half and full marathon respectively, and Denise is focused on the Cleveland Marathon next and will run in all 3 races of the Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon Race Series again next year.