Alone, 50-year-old Debbie Cropper traveled all the way from home in Anchorage, Alaska, to run in the Charleston Marathon on Saturday.
More than 4,000 runners registered for the second annual marathon and were greeted with cold but sunny weather. What greeted Cropper at the end of the run was a surprise.
The marathon was Cropper's 50th in 50 states, all finished in less than four hours -- a prestigious accomplishment most runners only dream of achieving.
If crossing the finish line at the Navy Yard at Noisette wasn't enough to seal the moment in Cropper's memory, what she saw there took the rest of her breath away.
Waiting were her parents, siblings, relatives and friends, 13 in all, from all over the nation.
"We just thought that we would help bring her journey to a very cool ending with an exclamation point," Cropper's sister, Mary Bachar of Maryland, said of the family's decision to keep their attendance a secret.
"I don't even know what to say," Cropper said while catching her breath. "It's not even about the running anymore. It's the people I've met, and my friends and my family."
Cropper was near tears as she talked excitedly about her surprise, the marathon and her job teaching gifted and talented students. Cropper said she gathers bits of history and takes them back to her students from each state she visits. While in Charleston, she said, she hopes to study up on the Civil War.
Cropper's family presented her with a wooden plaque depicting the country -- with her finish times etched in the center of each state -- to commemorate her triumph.
She can now fill in the plaque's only blank state, South Carolina, with her time: 3:33:52.
The Charleston Marathon consisted of several events over two days, including the third annual 5K, third annual 13.1-mile half-marathon and 26.2-mile marathon on Saturday; and 30- and 60-mile bike rides today.
Charleston and North Charleston police reported no major traffic
accidents or medical issues during Saturday's events.
Twelve runners were current and former members of the city of Charleston SWAT team.
The group ran the half-marathon while carrying a 135-pound dummy on a stretcher in honor of fallen Oneida County, N.Y., deputy and Iraq War veteran Kurt Wyman.
Wyman was killed in June while on duty as a deputy. His pregnant wife went into labor that night after hearing the news.
Charleston police Sgt. Eric Light said he had read an article about Wyman's death and then "my first thought was for the family. It was just an all-around tragic incident. It just kind of hit home for all of us."
Light, who ran in last year's marathon, decided the event would be a good way to show support while also raising money to donate to Wyman's widow.
Light said he wasn't sure how much the group raised so far, but to him that doesn't matter.
"It really wasn't about the money. Even though it happened in New York, we wanted her (Wyman's widow) to know she's not alone, and that she has support even down here in Charleston," Light said.
For information on donating to the Wyman Benefit Fund, email Light at email@example.com.