Cell phones lit up as runners called home to assure family members they were safe. Ambulances sped toward hospitals with patients in need of aid.
Cleveland residents stayed tuned in from the first explosion to the subsequent manhunt as it unfolded 1,000 miles away.
The “City with Spirit” responded with individual donations and a Cleveland Fun Run for Boston on June 19.
People for Care and Learning executive director Fred Garmon chose the event as a platform to announce a much larger project: a relay run from Cleveland to Boston leading up to the 2014 Boston marathon.
Seven months later the fledgling idea has become a full-force mission carried by 30 local runners.
Organizers Cameron Fisher of the Church of God International Offices and Matt Ryerson of the United Way of Bradley County recently sat down to discuss the Boston bombing and upcoming relay run.
Ryerson said the Boston Marathon bombing was personal because of whom was hurt.
“Cameron has run races. His wife and kids go to these races and they stand in the cold, in the rain, in the sun for two hours waiting for him to cross the finish line,” Ryerson said. “Well, that is who these terrorists attacked. They didn’t attack the guys running the race.”
Ryerson Continued , “They attacked these families who were waiting for their loved ones at the finish line.”
Plans for the 5K fun run initially sparked the idea of a relay run to Boston. Some laughed the idea off, while others became intrigued. The question settled in to stay: what if they ran to Boston?
Brain-storming sessions took over as the project moved from an idea to a tangible reality. Ryerson said he initially responded defensively when people asked after the project. He then realized the genuine interest being expressed.
With the interest came 30 runners from all walks of life eager to join the trek on April 12.
“I think it really comes down to the idea itself. Here is the opportunity to do an extraordinarily good thing, and have an incredible adventure at the same time,” Ryerson said.
“The idea of getting in the vans, sleeping very little, running in all types of conditions attracts a certain socially crazy person, but it is one of those things you know you’ll be talking about forever.”
Lee University’s 65 Roses 5K for Cystic Fibrosis coincides with the first day of the relay run. All 30 runners will meet in front of the Paul Conn Student Union on 11th Street. Fisher predicted the launch might take place between the 5K and the walk.
Supporters and those involved in the Boston run will then jog through residential Cleveland on their way to the Greenway. Two miles later, the runners will stop at the old First Tennessee bank on Raider Drive. Goodbyes will be said before runners climb into the five waiting vehicles.
One runner will then start the trek off as the other groups drive ahead.
“All 30 of us are not going to be all in a slow van the whole time. We will be leap frogging over each other,” Fisher said. “This group will go up to a Holiday Express and sleep for eight hours, because that group of [six or seven] do not have to run for another 10 hours or so.”
Added Fisher, “It is a logistical nightmare, if you think about it.”
The goal is to have at least one person running every hour of the eight-day trek. The average hourly distance covered is expected to be anywhere from five to seven miles. At the end of the hour, a fresh runner will step up.
Most of the run will take place on Route 11. The remaining roads will take the runners through Washington D.C., New York City and straight into the heart of Boston.
Organizers have taken pains to ensure every detail has been closely examined.
“A couple of things play in our favor,” Ryerson said. “If everything goes perfect, which it won’t, but if everything goes perfect, we would actually get there 14 hours early. So, we have literally put in a 14-hour buffer.”
According to the current schedule, the runners will arrive in Boston on Sunday, April 20.
Local sponsors entered the fray in an effort to support the cause.
Debbie Melton of Don Ledford Automotive Center donated four vehicles for the 1,000 mile trip. Coca Cola promised 1,000 bottles of water and Powerade. Cooke’s Food Store will supply snacks for the journey. Dan and Janie Cooke committed to feeding the group the entire trip through Panera Bread restaurants. Holiday Inn Express guaranteed shelter for the duration of the run.
And each of the 30 runners pledged to pay $400 to cover personal costs and gas throughout the trip.
Ryerson further explained the importance of the runner’s personal investment.
“So if you donate, every penny goes to the charities,” Ryerson said. “We don’t want you to cover gas, we don’t want you to cover food. That is why these sponsorships helped so much.”
The two charities in question are Dream Big, a nonprofit in Boston dedicated to empowering girls through sports and physical activity; and the One Step Ahead Foundation, which has promised to provide prosthetic legs for the children who lost theirs in the Boston bombing.
The goal is to raise $50,000 to split evenly between the two charities.
Ryerson said this is a one-time event.
“There is no next one,” he said. “This is it. I mean, the planning on this is massive. We want this to be a big, one-time adventure that inspires people to make a difference.”
Information on the runners, the travel plan and the charities can be found at runnowrelay.org.
Fisher said there is another side goal to “put Cleveland, Tenn. on the map.”
Both Fisher and Ryerson expressed an interest in letting others know about the “City with Spirit.”
“The spirit of this community is unique. I mean, the giving, philanthropic spirit of support — it doesn’t exist everywhere,” Ryerson said. “We know that. We read the newspapers and see other cities. It just doesn’t exist like it does here. We live it every day.”
Continued Ryerson, “This is a great way for us to make this trip an outreach on behalf of Cleveland, Tenn.”
More than 1,000 miles separate the runners from their destination. The relay will start Saturday, April 12 with 30 pairs of feet pounding the distance between the two cities. Each step will be filled with hope for a brighter Marathon Monday as the breath which was held nearly a year ago is finally released.