Two weeks and 1,075 miles after launching the epic Run Now Relay from the Bradley County Courthouse Plaza, 26 runners and a seven-member support crew will be welcomed back to Cleveland on Saturday as heroes from the same spot where they departed.
Dubbed a “Heroes Welcome Home,” the festive — and perhaps emotional — public event will also introduce the team members while bestowing upon them “ambassadorship” awards from Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis.
To begin at 9 a.m., the outdoor tribute also will feature remarks from state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District; state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, 22nd Legislative District; state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, 9th Senatorial District; and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, 10th Senatorial District.
All four legislators and both local mayors were on hand for the community sendoff ceremony from the Courthouse Plaza on Saturday, April 12.
Since that time, 25 runners, seven
support staff and one team member who served in dual roles have run the road shoulders of eight states and countless cities big and small, delivered checks totaling more than $63,000 to two Boston charities, and thrown their unconditional alliance to a town and its people known collectively as Boston Strong.
And in the mix, four Run Now Relayers — Matt Carlson, Johnny Clemons, Fred Garmon and Matt Ryerson — even ran the 26.2-mile Boston Marathon alongside about 30,000 other enthusiasts who channeled their love of running into a passion for people.
Now, it’s time to offer a community “thank-you” from Cleveland and Bradley County to this group of Clevelanders and Bradley Countians who delivered to Boston a lot more than just money from “The City With Spirit,” according to the local mayors.
In a joint statement announcing the Saturday morning shindig, Rowland and Davis pointed to Run Now Relay’s impact on the huge Massachusetts town and the humanitarian image the team spread from corner to corner of America.
“It’s appropriate we honor this team for taking the Cleveland and Bradley County spirit cross country, and for all the positive national media coverage that brought attention and recognition to our community,” the mayors’ statement offered.
The popular duo added of Run Now Relay participants, “Their faces and stories were featured in newspapers and television shows from Tennessee to Boston, even making appearances on ABC’s nationally televised ‘Good Morning America.’ They have been great ambassadors for our community.”
Although the runners and support staff captured the imagination of a nation, theirs wasn’t as much a mission of publicity as it was awareness. It was a message specifically intended for the faithful of Boston Strong, but its influence spread like wings to every corner and each state of America, the mayors agreed.
Janey Cooke, who is coordinating Saturday’s welcoming activities and whose own daughter, Britney, was one of the runners, said her decision to springboard the event came just as much from the encouragement of others.
“So many people have expressed a desire to see them return home and to hear their stories from along the route,” Cooke explained. “This will be the perfect opportunity to do just that.”
She pointed out anyone who can raise $63,000 for charities, and who does it by running 1,075 miles across eight states in eight days deserves a heroes’ welcome.
Saturday’s ceremony will commence with the runners being escorted into downtown Cleveland to the cheers of a gathered crowd. Each runner will cross the Courthouse Plaza for a brief comment about their run experience and to receive their “ambassadorship” honor, Cooke explained.
The public ceremony will end promptly by 10 a.m.
A private reception for the Run Now Relay participants and their families will be hosted by Cooke’s Food Stores and the Dan Cooke family following the public “Welcome Home.” The reception will give Relay participants and their immediate families a chance to reunite one last time for fellowship, and to reflect on their days on the road and the new friendships that grew from the experience, Cooke said.
“So many friendships were made and so many wonderful stories were experienced along the way,” she stressed.
Cooke described the reception as a reunion of the group whose members became “one big family” over the course of months of preparation and eight days of physical endurance.
Almost in unison, Rowland, Davis, Brooks, Watson, Bell, Gardenhire and Cooke urged Cleveland and Bradley County residents to turn out for Saturday morning’s “Welcome Home” festivities on the Courthouse Plaza.
The team’s inspiring performance tugged daily at the hearts of their community whose residents followed their long journey from town to town and state to state through daily print updates in the Cleveland Daily Banner, broadcasts by area radio and regular postings throughout the growing network of social media.
Steve Hartline, longtime radio man and owner of My Mix 104.1, will emcee the Saturday morning “Welcome Home” public festivities.
Personal perspectives written by Run Now Relay team members and published daily in the Banner throughout the eight-day journey kept area residents apprised of the group’s progress while also adding an emotional touch to their individual stories.
But one perspective in particular — the last one to be published in the newspaper’s April 23 edition — spoke to how the Run Now Relay spirit was contagious ... even among news reporters.
Of her three days in Boston covering the team’s arrival and its involvement with the Boston Marathon itself, Banner reporter Delaney Walker wrote, “Eventually, I climbed into the [marathon’s VIP] bleachers in an effort to get a better shot of [Matt] Ryerson, [Fred] Garmon and [Matt] Carlson. My elation at seeing each familiar face made me realize how much I was buying into the festive day. Before long, I joined in to cheer on the runners as they pushed their bodies to the limit for the Finisher’s medal.”
She closed her perspective, “I walked out with the Run Now Relay cheer loud in my mind: Boston Strong. Tennessee Tough.”
Those wishing to say “thank you” to a team of everyday athletes and common-day people whose passion led to an uncommon vision are reminded of three simple points:
Saturday ... Bradley County Courthouse Plaza ... 9 a.m.
Organizers say it’ll be an open-air tribute with an open-hearted approach.