TITLE: Paying Memories Forward
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: January 15, 2011 11:34 AM
When you run a road race, you usually receive some token,
usually a ribbon or a medal. The longer the race, the
more likely you are to receive a medal, but even shorter
distances these days often come with a medal. For
marathons and half-marathons, the race medal is often a
Very Big Deal, both for race sponsors and the runners.
Here is an example, from the
2004 Des Moines Marathon:
Local color plus attitude -- this is a great design!
For many runners, the race medal is an important memento.
I appreciate this feeling and understand the desire to
keep and display the symbol of their achievement. This
feeling is perhaps strongest in first-time and one-time
marathoners, who rightly see their race as the culmination
of a much longer journey.
After a while, though, these mementos begin to pile up. I
have run seven marathons, many half-marathons, and many more
shorter races, and the result was a box full of ribbons,
medals, and medallions. Over the last year or so, I have
been working to reduce clutter in my house and mind, which
has led me to ask myself some tough questions about the role
of keepsakes. In the grand scheme of things, a shoebox of
race medals is no big deal, but it was really just one
manifestation of my habit of stockpiling memories: ticket
stubs; programs from plays, recitals, and school programs;
newspaper and magazine clippings; and, yes, race memorabilia.
The list goes on. I wanted to make a change: to keep fewer
physical keepsakes and to work harder to preserve the memories
Could I really give up my race medals? If so, could I just
throw them away?
Walking around the race expo for the
2010 Des Moines Marathon,
I discovered a better way. There I learned that about
a non-profit founded in my hometown of Indianapolis
that collects marathon finisher's medals and distributes
them to people who have "demonstrated similar mettle" by
dealing with disease, handicaps, and other challenges:
As marathoners run through the streets, large crowds
cheer the runners for their effort. Medals4Mettle lets
these runners, healthy enough to compete in such an event,
return the cheers to those who have supported them.
Why should my medals gather dust in a box in my basement
when they could cheer up a child facing a real challenge?
I finish these races through a combination of great luck
in birth and in life. Put in context, my accomplishments
Iowa chapter of Medals4Mettle
seems to be primarily the work of one man, Jason Lawry,
a Des Moines runner. I was touched by his commitment,
took his card, and ran my race.
Over Christmas break, I pulled the trigger and donated
my medals to Jason's group. First, I snapped digital
photos of every marathon and half-marathon medal in my
box. Not being a great photographer or the owner of an
awesome camera, this took a while, but it allowed me to
spend some time saying good-bye to my medals. In the
end, I showed a small bit of weakness and kept three.
2003 Chicago Marathon
was my first and so holds a special place with me:
I ran the
2009 500 Festival Mini-Marathon
in my hometown after two years of unexplained illness
that brought racing and most running to a halt:
Finally, there is something about running the
2007 Marine Corps Marathon
that will always stick with me. Sharing the course with our
nation's military, both veterans and active duty, inspired
me. Receiving this medal from uniformed Marines makes it
Keeping three mementoes with particular significance seemed
okay, though they might well mean more to someone else.
Perhaps I'll donate these medals later, as memories fade or
as new ones take on greater significance. I was proud to
drop off the rest of them at a local runner's store for
collection by Mr. Lawry.
And, no, I did not keep that cool 2004 Des Moines medal
with the gangsta Grant Wood theme. I hope it brings a
smile to the face of a person who can use the smile.