Mile markers in the Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon are marked not only with a number, but with a name as well.
Since partnering with Nationwide Children's Hospital, the Columbus Marathon celebrates young hospital patients with its Patient Champions.
For a third year, the hospital will name 24 of the 26.2 miles after children who are currently patients at the hospital. At each mile marker, a patient and his or her family cheer on the thousands of athletes participating in the race.
"There's no better way to showcase our relationship with Nationwide's Children Hospital than to involve the kids," said race director Darris Blackford. "It generates excitement for all of our athletes. It has made it one of the most exciting parts of the events."
More than 18,000 runners are expected to participate in this year's full or half marathon in Columbus Oct. 19.
This year is the eighth straight year selling out for the half marathon and nearly selling out for the full marathon, and many people register to help raise money for the hospital, Blackford said.
"This has become one of those signature moments for this race," he said. "Many people now register because of the kids."
In the past two years, participants' fundraising efforts, community sponsorships and donations raised more than $2 million for Nationwide Children's.
Steve Dickman, a teacher at Dublin Jerome High School and Dublin resident, will be one of the thousands who will run the full marathon for a second year in a row. He said the pediatric patients make the marathon an inspiring experience.
"When you run that race, you are just so happy the whole entire time," Dickman said. "You get to see the kids and high five them and watch them smile. It's just so much fun."
He said he runs to support the hospital and in honor of his 8-year-old daughter and Patient Champion, Emma Dickman, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy just before her first birthday. Cerebral palsy causes movement difficulties, and for Emma, creates difficulty walking. Since her diagnosis, Emma has been a frequent patient at Nationwide Children's.
Dickman said he learned about the Patient Champion program when one of his students was a champion last year. He and his wife, Amanda Dickman, wanted Emma to be involved to inspire runners and to give Emma a chance to show off her achievements.
"Whenever she accomplishes a goal, she'll say 'I did it!' She wants her family and everyone to know she did something," he said. "(We want) to give her a chance to be recognized for all her hard work."
The marathon allows runners to meet patients and support their recovery efforts. But for some patients and families, being a Patient Champion is a way to give back to the hospital for everything it has done for them.
Colette Frommeyer, an 18-year-old from Dublin and senior at Bishop Watterson High School, has been a patient at Nationwide Children's for two years. She became a patient after suffering a severe concussion during a varsity soccer game.
The concussion ended her soccer career and her recovery hasn't been easy, she said. Frommeyer wanted to be a champion to support the hospital and the staff members who have helped her along the way.
"I'm very excited to kind of represent Children's Hospital and to see all the runners who have trained so long for this," she said. "(The runners) are a source of inspiration for us who are in different stages in our recoveries."
Her mother, Maria Frommeyer, said she wanted her daughter's story publicized to boost awareness of concussive injuries.
"There's just so much that is misunderstood about concussions. This is just a great way to learn about it and (its) symptoms," she said.
The last two miles of the race are not named after any individual patient, but instead are dubbed the Encore Mile and the Angel Mile.
The Encore Mile celebrates this year's and previous years' Patient Champions. The Angel Mile honors hospital patients who have died battling their ailments.
The Encore Mile invites Patient Champions to run or walk in the marathon. Last year, Emma walked the Encore Mile with her father using her walker. This year, Dickman will help Emma walk the mile with her crutches.
"Last year, the smile on her face when she was walking and everyone was cheering for her, it really helped motivate her after her surgery. It was very, very cool," he said.
"She has come such a long way. Maybe one day she won't need either (the walker or crutches) and we'll walk hand-in-hand across the finish line."
The Nationwide Children's Hospital Columbus Marathon and Half Marathon begins at 7:30 a.m. at Long Street and Neil Avenue on Sunday, Oct. 19.