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Local Runners Head North for Monumental Race

Apr 21 2014

by Anna Ferguson Hall

This article profiles two Darien residents who participated in today’s Boston Marathon event.

Running a marathon is no small feat, even for well-trained feet. But running the 26-mile (plus 385 yards) long Boston Marathon is a life check-list accomplishment. Even more so this year, as the race is only one year removed from the shocking bombing that rattled the city and shocked the nation.

The catastrophic event stole three lives, injured more than 260 others and left the colonial city in shatters for months. Now, one year out, more than 3,500 runners have qualified to take part in the 2014 Boston Marathon, many of whom hope to run in memory of the lives lost, lives changed and lives shaken by the unexpected roadside explosion.

In McIntosh County, two skilled athletes will take on the northern terrain, traveling to Boston to be a part of the historic race. County commission chair Kelly Spratt and Stephen Brown, a GIS specialist with the Coastal Resource Commission, will both take their place in the staggered starting line, representing our rural Georgia community with their long strides and unending endurance. Both will tie their running shoes and join the crowd of thousands along the Boston roadways to the finish line of the 26-plus mile race.

Here, we profile these two (mildly crazy) runners who’ll take up the race- cramps, blisters, aches and all.

Stephen Brown

When Stephen Brown started high school, he thought he’d branch out and try something new.

Little did he know less than 10 years later, that decision would land him a spot running in one of the most monumental marathons in history.

“When I started high school, I thought it’d be a good idea to join a club or something, and running on cross country was the first thing to come to mind,” he said. “Seems like it worked out. Running was a hobby that I enjoyed, and was good for me. I guess it just stuck.”

The newfound hobby stuck well enough that it will take him to the Boston Marathon on April 21, Patriot’s Day, one year after the tragic incident that killed three runners and injured 264 others. While Brown, now 23 years old and working with the Coastal Regional Commission, has no close ties to Boston or the bombing, he’s nonetheless touched to be involved in the one-year anniversary run.

“This year, a lot of people are running to recognize a lost life or an injured loved one, and being a part of that occasion is an honor,” he said. “I didn’t know when I qualified that it would be this big of a deal, but I’m glad I can be a part of this race. It certainly means a lot to me. I know I’ll never forget that moment of crossing the finish line.”

Brown was eligible for the Boston race by running in a qualifying Jacksonville marathon, running it in less than three hours, last year. That race was before the Boston bombing tragedy even happened. Now, a year later, the Darien native and University of Georgia graduate will make his first trip to Bean Town, with a large part of his family in tow to see him cross the finish line wearing racer’s bib number 2281.

“Oh gosh, my mom, my dad, my grandmother, my aunt, they’re all coming,” Brown said. “I know they are very proud of me and want to see me at the end of the race. Plus, you know, it’s a great excuse to travel to Boston.”

To prepare for the race, Brown didn’t change his life too much. Already, running was a central part of his life, with him spending most of his free time strapping on sneakers and hitting the pavement. Daily, he runs between six to eight miles after work, so his momentum is now at an all-time high after years of practice. Admittedly, though, he did make one change: Brown bought a new pair of Brooks running shoes. Brooks are his go-to brand, because they don’t leave his feet with blisters, he said.

“I can’t wait to go and race,” he said. “Some people have trained for years for this, and, I guess, I am kind of one of those people. I’m not sure I’ll even have this opportunity again. And being given this opportunity, this year, it’s just remarkable. I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of my fellow runners. This year, especially, this race means more than ever. This is going to be one of those life moments, one of those times I will never forget.”

Kelly Spratt

“Kelly, you finished that foot race yet?”

The question seems to come from thin air, as Spratt looks around the dock behind her office to see who is speaking to her. It’s Marty, an assistant on the Bulldog, a research vessel for the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension Service. Marty has been keeping up with office chatter and heard that Spratt was participating in some big race, though he wasn’t sure which one, or when it was scheduled.

“Do you mean the Boston Marathon?” asks Spratt.“No, I haven’t run it just yet. It’s in a few weeks, but I’ve been training.” The two continue cordially talking about the race, and after a few minutes, part ways. Word has spread fast and loud through Spratt’s Brunswick office that she’ll be taking on the prestigious annual race.

So much so that her co-workers have created a board of sorts on her office wall, with dates counting down to the race departure date. On each square countdown date, is an individual post, with each photo encompassing something that makes the person feel stronger. There are pictures of families, children, and pets, pictures of people lifting weights, and even on picture of a co-worker pretend-diving from an office desk. The supportive antics didn’t stop with the patchwork picture display.

The office crew, too, has gathered inspirational quotes, and hung the words from a simple string attached to one of her bookshelves.

“I never know what new picture or quote they’ll put up every day,” Spratt laughed. “It’s so nice to know that kind of love and support is behind me as I take on this challenge.”

Clearly, her fellow MAREX team members are equally encouraging and excited about Spratt’s second Boston Marathon run.

“I can’t begin to describe how excited and proud I am to take on this run again,” she said. “I’ve run in places all over the world, but this race is special. I was injured a few months ago, and had to stop running for six weeks, so my training has taken a hit and there was a time I was worried I might not be able to go. But being back in it now, I’m just so excited. I’m thrilled to have this outpouring of love behind me, too.”

Though her family, her co-workers and her community overall are very supportive of Spratt’s exhilarating second trek through the historically-grueling Boston Marathon, no one could be more eager than Spratt herself. Once she starts talking about the subject, the words literally race from her mouth as she enthusiastically describes the rough course, with it’s the Scream Tunnel (a mile-long tunnel at the end of which a community of young adults from Wesleyan College holler out in cheerleader fashion), the hills (one at a key running point known as Heart Break Hill, for obvious reasons), and the crowds lining the sidewalks in hopes of keeping spirits high and runners on the go.

“Whole communities come out to cheer us on. During the run, we go through these smaller towns, and the townspeople all come out to cheer us on. It’s funny, because the mayors of all these towns come out, and I want to stop and talk to them, to say ‘I’ve been there, too!’” said Spratt, who herself was once the mayor of Darien, and now is the chairwoman of the McIntosh County Commission.

Somehow, between her job as the Local Government Outreach Coordinator with MAREX, her roles as a community leader, as a mother of two and as a wife, she manages to find the time to run some 50 miles a week for her training. Running, she said, is a central, centering figure in her life. As she hits the pavement, she finds moments of zen, a headspace where she can let go of the daily life stresses and simple, easily, run. And run. And, yes, run some more.

Spratt fell in love with running as a child, and by 9 years old, had finished her first race. She ran cross-country in high school, and continued her habit through college, though more for personal reasons than for racing. It wasn’t until 1996 that she ran in her first marathon in Atlanta.

“I thought, after that first one, I was done, no more,” Spratt said. She was wrong. “But then in 1997, I ran in another marathon, in New York that time. After that one, though, I really said I was done and I took a break from racing for about 11 years.”

Yet, the running-bug caught up with her again in 2009, when started back to the full-blown 26 miles runs. In the years that followed, she has continued on her steady running path, now with 16 full marathons under her belt, as well as countless 5Ks, mini-marathons, and even a few ultra-marathons (which is a marathon to the max, with several extra miles and perhaps a few extra obstacles, tacked on).

Running, too, is a family tradition, as her father is also an avid runner. Every Thanksgiving, since 1987, she and her father take on a half-marathon race. Spratt admits that she expected her run through Boston in 2011 to be the pinnacle of her racing career, but after qualifying for the famed marathon again thanks to a quick finishing time in the Jacksonville Bank Marathon in 2012, she again became eager to take on the terrain of The City on a Hill. After the bombings in 2013, her gusto grew even stronger, knowing this race, this year, would be a time for the running community of the world to come together in support. This year, of all the years, will be more than a race. This year’s run will be a time for individuals to truly put a foot down, and say no to terrorism, Spratt said.

“Whenever they play the national anthem at the beginning of any race, I get teary-eyed, so I can only imagine how I’ll be in Boston, especially at the finish line,” Spratt said, with her bright yellow “Run for Boston” bracelet on clear display. “I feel like, for me, what happened (last year) in Boston was plain and clear terrorism. And how often do we get a chance to stand up to terrorism? By running, that’s what I, what we all, will be doing. This is one small thing I know I can do to say, ‘You can not stop us.’ This race, what it will signify this year, it makes me very proud to be an American.”

-Originally published in The Darien News, dated April 17, 2014

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