Remember how Uncle Bill gave you the medal he received for running in the Marine Corps Marathon. It seems that someone else figured out what a good idea that is. I still have that medal in my memory box of you that I have next to the bed.
The unbelievable thing about that medal was I think that was the time Bill ran the race without having trained. Some of his fellow Marines called him up after one of their group couldn't run (I think because he died tragically, but I need to check with Bill) and Bill jumped right in.
He, like you, is one of my heroes.
MADE OF METTLE
A marathoning doctor gives medals to patients struggling through much harder races.By Sarah Lorge Butler
The day after he finished the 2003 Chicago Marathon, Steven Isenberg, M.D., a head and neck surgeon in Indianapolis, paid a visit to a colleague who was hospitalized. The two men were a study in contrasts. Dr. Isenberg, 58, was on a postrace high. Les Taylor, who had prostate cancer, lay flat on his back with tubes running in and out of him.
At a loss for words, Dr. Isenberg pulled his finishers' medal from his pocket and placed it around Taylor's neck. "I want you to have this," he said. "You are running a much more difficult marathon than the one I completed."
Before he died, Taylor told Dr. Isenberg how much he treasured the medal. Those words inspired Dr. Isenberg to start Medals4Mettle, a nonprofit organization that collects medals and donates them to people battling illnesses. As soon as the M4M Web site went live in 2005, runners from across the country responded. Not only recreational athletes, either: Olympic marathoner Brian Sell handed out his own medals at Dell's Children's Medical Center in Austin, Texas, in February.
"It's nice to know that someone is thinking of the kids and knows what they're doing is a very brave thing," says Melissa Sexton, a child life specialist at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis. One teen, she recalls, kept his medal hanging from his IV pole.
The adult recipients are fewer in number, but have a deeper appreciation for the sentiment behind the medals. Joann Hofer-Varela, of Westfield, Indiana, suffered a heart attack in 2004, at age 36, a week after the birth of her second child. Her cardiologist, Mary Norine Walsh, M.D., gave her a New York City Marathon medal that had been donated by M4M. "All I could do was sob," Hofer-Varela says. "It represented what I had gone through, and it represented somebody's sweat and hard work."
Dr. Walsh, medical director of the cardiac transplant program at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, hands out about five medals a year to patients who have traveled a particularly difficult road. "I say, 'I would like to give you this medal. It's my recognition of your struggle,'" she says. "Later, my patients have told me it meant the world to them to have their doctor acknowledge how hard their battle is." The experience inspired Dr. Walsh to take up running.
By Dr. Isenberg's guess, M4M has collected and distributed more than 3,500 medals, thanks to the efforts of a core of nine volunteers. The group is headquartered in Dr. Isenberg's Indianapolis office, where volunteers take the medals, donated from events of different distances worldwide, and attach new M4M-branded ribbons before sending them to hospitals. Dr. Isenberg devotes at least 12 hours each week to M4M, around his medical practice and his training. Since that first marathon in 2003, he has completed about 20, with a personal best of 3:30. He plans to run Chicago again in October.
Some medals arrive with legacy cards, which detail the donor's reasons for giving away their prize. One anonymous donor attached a note to a 2008 Indianapolis Mini-Marathon medal that read: "The children who battle deadly diseases are far more deserving of this medal than I am. My son was a Riley kid who died of bone cancer. I've seen the courage of the kids at Riley, and they deserve to be honored and cured." A runner's medal might not be able to cure a disease, but as Dr. Isenberg has found, it can lift a spirit.
Medals to Spare?
Steven Isenberg, M.D., answers runners' most frequently asked questions about Medals4Mettle.
Q: How do I donate a medal?
A: "Visit medals4mettle.org for information. You can also download a legacy form and use it to explain why you've decided to donate your medal. Monetary donations are always appreciated. Our biggest cost is the new M4M ribbons."
Q: Does my medal need to be from a marathon?
A: "No. Someone's maximum distance they're capable of might be a 5-K or 10-K. It wouldn't be appropriate to say 'marathon only.' But I should note that the kids especially enjoy the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck medals from the Walt Disney World Marathon and Half-Marathon."
Q: Do you accept unused medals from race directors?
A: "We don't take medals that haven't been earned because then the whole concept would be lost. Giving your medal is a way of saying, 'I know you're having a struggle more difficult than the one I just ran, and I'd like to express that.' It's a transference of spirit."