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The true heroes of the Bridge Run

Many of us at the 35th Cooper River Bridge Run and Walk took for granted our ability to put on our shoes, line up at the starting line, and enjoy the 6.2-mile rite of spring on Saturday.

It’s relatively easy for us.
But among the crowd of 36,652 on Saturday, there were dozens who go the extra mile to participate. They don’t take anything for granted. Increasingly, runners and walkers with an array of disabilities are joining in the fun and the fitness – and I’m not just talking about wheelchair athletes.

Running blind
On Saturday, two ambassadors of visually-impaired running in South Carolina – Amy McDonaugh of Irmo and Keith Johnson of Orangeburg – ran the course.

Johnson, who lost his vision due to Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy a year ago, was inspired to run the Kiawah Island Marathon in December after reading about 35-year-old McDonaugh winning the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati last year.

Since then, the 52-year-old Johnson has befriended McDonaugh, run the Charleston Marathon and the Myrtle Beach and Columbia half marathons, and inspired his whole family to run – including his “cousin-in-law” Dr. Alan Jolles who served as his “seeing eye runner” on Saturday.

Meanwhile, McDonaugh, a mother of three who has been blind since 11, is a veteran of three Bridge Runs, 2008, 2009 and 2010, and could be considered semi-elite. She won the very hilly Columbia Marathon on March 10 with a time of 3:04:17.

Mobility impaired
This year, the Bridge Run continued to draw amputees, a division of runners that will grow especially as veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan start leading new lives as civilians. Acknowledging this, the Bridge Run started its first-ever Terry Hamlin Mobility Impaired Award, though signing up for it was unwieldy and likely be tweaked for 2013.

The award’s namesake is a Bridge Run legend, who as the first president of the Charleston Running Club helped start the race, but his legacy will include being advocate for those who have lost a limb and want to run or walk, especially veterans.

Hamlin, who is 60, has his left leg amputated in May 2010, eight months after an accident on his farm shattered it beyond repair. Hamlin, who ran last year’s Bridge Run on a prosthetic leg, was looking forward to this year’s race but developed a staph infection and was advised not to run.

Despite that, Hamlin was still at the finish line cheering on his old running buddies and his new ones, such as local athlete Jeff Nolan, and veterans who participate as part of the Wounded Warrior Project.

Hamlin’s struggles with his leg has heightened his awareness of the veterans, returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with artificial limbs.

“People might think that when you lose a leg or limb, they replace it with a new one and that’s it,” said Hamlin. “It’s not that way. When that happens, you are faced with a whole new set of challenges.”

Hamlin, who has raised nearly $30,000 so far for Wounded Warrior this year, wants to continue his work connecting the Bridge Run with the charity in years to come.

Team Semper Fi
And on a competitive level, among the wheelchair athletes were two young men from Team Semper Fi, the rehabilitative athletic program of the Semper Fi Fund: Marine Cpl. Manny Jimenez, injured by improvised explosive device and gunshot wounds in Afghanistan in August 2010, and Marine Cpl Peter Park who suffered a spinal injury while off-duty.

Pattison’s Pacers
Meanwhile, one runner wanted to spread the joy of the Bridge Run to a child who could not otherwise do so.

Sean Glassberg, the director of faculty development at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, created Pattison’s Pacers to work with children who have severe disabilities and attend Pattison’s Academy after reading the story of Dick and Rick Hoyt.

Dick Hoyt started running with his son, Rick, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, to give him the experience of racing. They have become legends in the international running and triathlon community. Glassberg approached Pattison’s, which recommended that he work with 9-year-old Katherine Holladay, whose has a seizure disorder. He raised $3,000 for a custom-designed race chair that he pushed her in on Saturday and plans to raise more for at least two more chairs.

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