"Thank you for all your help when my wife was sick. It meant so much."
It was a familiar encounter: countless individuals and family members quietly approaching Mike Grace, Founder of the Mary Grace Memorial Foundation, with similar statements of gratitude for the assistance they received, many in their darkest hours.
At 6 a.m. September 16, there was just a huge empty parking lot. At 11 a.m., it was that same quiet parking lot. But during the hours in between, almost 1,500 running and walking participants, along with their cheering families and friends, filled that area behind the Cleveland Clinic/Medina Hospital for the 14th annual Race With Grace 5K and 1 Mile Fun Run.
The spectacular, record-breaking crowd gave off an energy that was impossible to ignore: their heartfelt goal was to help support cancer victims and their families by competing in the race that honors the memory of Grace's wife Mary, who lost her young life to this insidious disease in January, 2005.
Before the start of the race, Grace recognized several individuals who worked so diligently on this event: the Foundation's Board members, his wife Kathy, the embodiment of the team Julie Williams, the volunteers, the sponsors who this year donated $40,000, the police, the always present DJ Dave Steirer, the hospital, and, of course, all the participants.
Grace announced the organizers of the Meadows Turkey Bowl always held Thanksgiving Day have already told him they will be donating fifty percent of the money raised from their event this year to the Mary Grace Foundation.
Hospital President Richard Shewbridge told the crowd the hospital is proud to partner with the Mary Grace Foundation and its efforts to help provide local families affected by the disease with basic necessities so they can concentrate on battling the cancer.
Since its inception, the Foundation has donated more than half a million dollars to help more than 500 families. The Bruening Family, who had been receiving support through their ordeal, lost a member to cancer just the day before but came to give hope to others in the same circumstances.
About 100 of the runners were completing a Series Marathon that combined the efforts of Race With Grace, Medina Half Marathon, and Collin Cares. The goal of this collaboration is to help in the efforts in the fight against cancer. These dedicated people, ages 9 to 67, all earned metals after completing the Race With Grace. Beth Bugner is the Director of Medina Half Marathon, and Collin Cares is organized by the late Collin's mother Liz Kiousis and his girlfriend Hayden Cory.
Elizabeth Gilbert sang the National Anthem, Piper Tim Wiley played "Amazing Grace," and the race starters - Grace's mother and several nieces, and, in honor of her husband Dwight, Diane Egbert (Dwight passed away in January) - sounded the horn for the runners to begin.
Leading the runners was Brent Bundy, making his sixth cross country bike journey to help create an awareness of cancer.
Almost 40 teams, another record-breaking number, showed up in support of this cause, many repeaters as well as some newcomers. The teams had clever names, among them: Concrete Sneakerz, Mammary Clan, Blessed Bunch, Chemosabes, Speedgracers, Rocket Stars, Claggett Beelievers, Soul Runners, and Shining Stars.
Three team awards were presented: Fastest Team, Vertical Runners; Largest Team (150+ runners), St. Francis Navigators; and Most Spirited Team, Paws for Lori and Jen.
The top three female finishers respectively were Emma McCarron, Grace McCarron, and Shanna Istnick. The top three male finishers respectively were Nate Orndorf, Jeff Wunning, and David Ryland; Orndorf ran the 5K in an impressive, record-setting 15.16.
Awards were given to the top three finishers in each of the male and female age-related categories.
Generous sponsors included Elegant Essentials, Pearle Vision, Buffalo Wild Wings, Automation Tool and Die, NU DI Corporation, Courthouse Pizzeria, LaMer, MelCap Partners LLC, TLC Transportation, Medina Half Marathon, Cleveland Clinic Medina Hospital Medical Staff, and Medina Veterinarians Clinic.