Pushing his son, Lucas, in a race wheelchair is a dream come true for ultra-distance runner Brent Ransom. As he imagines the two of them moving along their first marathon together, he envisions Lucas waving and high-fiving for the whole 26.2 miles, and Brent, behind him, will “just be soaking it all up.”
Lucas, 9, riding in a custom Team Hoyt Running Chair, will be Akron Children’s Hospital’s first “traveling” Hero Patient at the FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon, and Team Relay on Sept. 28. The event is one of the most festive days on the calendar in Northeast Ohio and the culmination of the Akron Children’s Hospital Akron Marathon Race Series.
When Lucas, of North Canton, was just weeks old, he was diagnosed with a bacterial infection known as Group B strep, as well as meningitis, sepsis and hydrocephalus.
“Lucas received strong antibiotics to help fight the infection and was placed in a medically-induced coma,” said his mother, Beth. “He also underwent surgery to place a tracheostomy, feeding tube and shunt to sustain him. No one knew how the trauma would affect his brain. There was a chance he wouldn’t be able to speak, hear, see, walk or even breathe on his own. For nearly 3 months, Lucas fought for his life.”
Several years and many doctor visits later, Lucas began integrated preschool. He loved learning and taught his class how to sign. Now, Lucas attends his local elementary school. He’s learned to read, write, talk and walks independently.
“When I went on runs, Lucas would always ask if he can go,” said Brent. “He used to stand at the door with his tennis shoes on, and I could never take him with me because Lucas has low muscle tone, which does not allow him to stand or walk for an extended period of time. Running wasn’t an option for him.”
Seeing Lucas’s excitement about running, the family began looking for ways Lucas could join his dad on runs. Coincidentally, Akron Children’s approached the family about Lucas being honored as a Hero Patient at the 2019 Akron Marathon.
The Hoyt chair cost $5,000 but family, friends, strangers and members of Northeast Ohio’s tight-knit running community rallied to help the family reach its fundraising goal. Project Outrun, and its founder Andy Shepperd, played a significant role in raising funds and getting the word out.
By mid-August, the race chair arrived and Brent’s friends, including Eric Whittington of Brimstone Bicycles, helped assembled it – much to Lucas’s surprise and delight.
The family/son training runs on late summer evenings on the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail in Canal Fulton have been a joy for both Brent and Lucas. And it’s often a family affair with son, Aiden, a high school freshman cross country runner, joining on foot and, Beth on a bicycle with 3-year-old Nora on a carrier.
“Lucas typically moves a lot,” said Brent. “He fidgets, claps his hands, tenses his muscles, but riding in the chair relaxes him. He is not at all anxious. We talk. It’s a connection with Lucas I’ve never had.”
Brent, a competitive ultra-distance runner who has completed several 50-mile trail races, is not striving for a certain time on marathon day. It’s all about Lucas, and they plan to stop so Lucas can high-five the other 13 Akron Children’s Hero Patients stationed along the course.
Brent and Lucas are also excited to have Connie Gardner, an Akron-based ultra-running record holder, on their “team.” Brent says she has been a huge help in training with Lucas, and they are both excited that she will be pacing them on race day.
“Akron Children’s saved Lucas’ life. We wouldn’t be where we’re now if it weren’t for the people who intersected our lives at the time they did,” said Beth. “The doctors, volunteers, nurses, they’re all part of his story. We don’t forget that, and words can’t express how thankful we are, and we’re thrilled to participate in this marathon that raises money for the hospital and celebrates our children.”
This year, the Akron Marathon team will host more than 15,000 runners across its 2019 events all supporting Akron Children’s Hospital. Runners looking for a deeper level of engagement with the hospital can join the race as a Children’s Champion, a race participant committed to raising $250 to $1,000 for Akron Children’s Hospital.
“I run to show my son that you aim for the moon,” says Brent. “In reality, he is the one teaching me that never giving up and flying over mountains that seem impossible to climb are just part of his everyday life.”