A random glance at a graphic at Port Columbus International Airport reminded Darris Blackford of the Sister Cities program.
Most people wouldn't think twice about it.
But Blackford is race director for the Nationwide Children's Hospital Marathon, and his mind moves in specific directions.
"I thought, 'I wonder if there are any marathons or half-marathons in any of our sister cities?' " the Clintonville resident recalled last week.
It turns out all eight of Columbus' sister cities have them, but the one in Dresden, Germany, this year falls on Sunday, Oct. 21 -- the same date as the Columbus distance event.
What are the odds?
"It's kind of unique," Blackford said.
The race director, who was named to the position in 2010, contacted the Columbus Sister Cities International Office on North Front Street and was put in touch with officials on the Dresden side of the program. It turned out, Blackford said, a group of runners from the city along the Elbe River, once known as the "Florence of the North," used to travel to Columbus to run in the marathon in the 1990s.
It also happened that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the sister-city relationship between Columbus and Dresden.
Although no money was available at the time, and only a limited amount has been set aside since, Blackford sought to create an exchange program between the two events. Runners from Columbus would have to be willing to pay most of their own way to Germany.
"I thought it would be great if we could get five people to go," Blackford said. "We got 40 applications for this thing. I couldn't believe how much interest we got."
The field of applicants was narrowed to 20 runners and walkers who will compete in the Dresden Marathon, half-marathon or a 10-kilometer walk. Their entry fees are being waived, some expenses have been defrayed and local families will host the runners in Dresden, Blackford said.
The group, which was scheduled to depart Wednesday, Oct. 17, for a one-week stay, includes another Clintonville resident: Paul T. Carringer.
He's the guy whose picture appears in dictionaries beside the definition of the term avid runner.
The 54-year-old assistant professor of marketing at Columbus State Community College and adjunct instructor in the masters of marketing communication program at Franklin University has run in more than 130 races of marathon distance or longer.
"I didn't think there was any way they'd pick me," Carringer said last week. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I think that's an overused phrase, but for this situation, it's absolutely true."
Running a marathon may be familiar territory for Carringer, but he expects doing so in another country will be inspiring, as will representing his hometown.
"If I fall into the Elbe River, I know I'm in trouble," he said.
As for the Dresden runners involved in the "athlete exchange," Blackford said he's gotten so involved with preparations of late that he's not sure how many, if any, are coming -- but he knows Columbus is going to be well-represented.
"I'm excited just to send some people over there," Blackford said.
Columbus' other sister cities are: Genoa, Italy, birthplace of Christopher Columbus; Odense, Denmark; Seville, Spain; Herzliya, Israel; Hefei, China; Tainan, Taiwan; Kumasi, Ghana; Amedabad, India; and Zapopan, Mexico.