This is how the Mercedes Marathon started...it is an amazing story!
A Marathon of Love
It’s really a love story. The Mercedes Marathon, a test of endurance and determination, a goal that drives ordinary people to train for months, is really just a love story.A Marathon For Love
It’s a love story between a boy named Matt and his daddy named Paul.
Matt was born with Down syndrome thirteen years ago. But not only did he have Down syndrome, he also had the heart defect that often accompanies the diagnosis. A sick little boy, Matt required open heart surgery, and the whole idea frightened his parents, Paul and Cinna Sotherland.
Cinna vividly remembers being at UAB with Matt and Paul just before Matt was to have his open heart surgery. The family was standing at one of the big windows at the end of the hallway that looked out over the streets of downtown. Runners, competing in the Vulcan Marathon, were racing by, and Paul – who ran a little, just for exercise – looked down at his tiny son and made one promise. “You pull through this, Matt, and next year, Daddy will run a marathon for you,” Paul pledged.
Tough little Matt kept his end of the bargain, and Daddy began training. Together they tackled the challenges ahead: Matt’s challenges that come as a part of the Down syndrome diagnosis, and Paul’s determination to run 26.2 miles in honor of the son he so loves. During his training, Paul looked for guidance and motivation, and even good running shoes, from Valerie McLean, the owner of a Homewood running equipment shop. Paul did run the Vulcan Marathon the next year, and then kept on running, completing nineteen marathons and half marathons too numerous to count. But it was really Valerie who took the inspiration from Paul and Matt.
She helped organize a half-marathon to benefit The Early Intervention Program (now The Bell Center), the place where Cinna and Paul brought Matt to receive critical therapies, and over the next five years, the Freeze Your Half Off Half Marathon grew into a first-class event. Valerie knew it was time to take the event to a greater level, and in 2002 transformed the Freeze Your Half Off into the Mercedes Marathon and Half Marathon. Proceeds from the event are given annually to just two charities that provide services to children, one of which is The Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs.
In 2003, The Bell Center organized its first Partners in Training (PIT) group which provided experienced coaching for runners and walkers who agreed to raise funds for The Bell Center. In its first year, PIT included 45 runners and walkers who raised more than $80,000 for The Bell Center. In 2004 and then again in 2005, more than 120 participants raised more than $200,000 for the Center, important funding which has allowed the program to add more staff to serve more children who come to the Center in need of critical early intervention therapies.
All of that is important, but it really is just a love story. Just watch. Each year, Paul runs – for Matt – and each year, they’re together at the finish line.