Tatyana Simmons positioned herself at the fifth mile of the Cooper River Bridge Run on Saturday and held up a sign that she'd hoped would encourage people walking the 6.2-mile course at a steady pace.
Race participants, looking exhausted by the time they saw 16-year-old Simmons on Meeting Street, perked up at the sight of her colorful sign that read “Free Hugs."
Smiling, men and women walked toward Simmons with open arms.
“You can do it! You can do it! This hug is gonna get you through it,” the Summerville teen said to one woman who walked off sounding determined.
The 40th annual race included 32,541 participants, according to preliminary data, and played host to countless sentimental moments among relatives and friends.
Just past the finish line, Frank Zaccaro of Winnabow, North Carolina, dropped to one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Elizabeth Doyle, also from Winnabow.
“She told me a few weeks ago that she had a dream that I did this (proposed during the Bridge Run) and I thought to myself, ‘Let’s make that happen,’” said the 43-year-old Zaccaro, who admitted to being nervous about holding the ring while running.
Overcoming both fatigue from the race and emotion over the moment, Doyle accepted.
Before the course opened to runners and walkers, 6-year-old Kelsee Porterfield met her father, Matthew Porterfield, at the finish line after he completed the wheelchair race. She walked alongside him, eagerly outstretching her arm to receive his medal from a volunteer.
"She gets all my medals," said Porterfield, of Knoxville, Tennessee, who came in fifth.
Porterfield was injured in a dirt bike wreck in 1998. The multi-sport athlete stays active. His wife, 3-year-old son and Kelsee sometimes accompany him to races.
"I enjoy getting across the finish line and they’re sitting there smiling at me. It’s a good feeling. It’s one of the main reasons I try to hurry up and cross the line," he said.
Crossing the finish line was also a special moment for 95-year-old Al Rampey, of Greenville, who became the oldest person to complete the Bridge Run. He walked the course in two hours, 40 minutes and 48 seconds. It was his third Bridge Run finish in four years.
“It was a little warm today,” Rampey said as he recovered at the finish line.
A slight smile across 7-year-old Blake Barker's face indicated he was enjoying himself as Victor Fallon pushed him across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in a running chair.
Blake, of Mount Pleasant, can't talk or walk due to a neurological condition that caused his brain to be malformed at birth. His parents got him involved with Racers for Pacers, an organization that raises money for running chairs for Lowcountry children with disabilities and pairs them with runners. Fallon, a volunteer, has been running with Blake for about a year, but this was their first Bridge Run together.
"To give him something that he gets to participate in is really special," said Michael Barker, Blake's father.
At Marion Square, two men dressed as the Morris Island lighthouse and the Sullivan's Island lighthouse towered over other racers who gathered for the post-race party. "That's awesome!" said a man who snapped a picture of the 20-foot-tall costumes that were complete with working lights.
For years, Greg Jones and his son, Justin, have donned costumes during the Bridge Run. The Mount Pleasant man decided they'd be lighthouses to go "over the top" this year. He later found out about Save the Light, a nonprofit that advocates for the preservation and restoration of the iconic Morris Island lighthouse, and incorporated the group's information on the giant costumes.
Running in 20 pounds of foam insulation board and duct tape was no easy feat, so Jones was satisfied with their finish time of one hour and 23 minutes.
"We figured it's a personal record for a lighthouse," he said.
David Quick contributed to this story.