TITLE: Paying Memories Forward AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 15, 2011 11:34 AM DESC: ----- BODY: 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:
2004 Des Moines Marathon -- This ain't no cornfield.
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 themselves. 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 Medals4Mettle, 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 are small. The 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. The 2003 Chicago Marathon was my first and so holds a special place with me:
2003 Chicago Marathon -- my first
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:
2009 500 Festival Mini-Marathon -- my hometown
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 special:
2007 Marine Corps Marathon -- Semper Fidelis
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. -----