5,000 run for veterans in marathon

More than 5,000 runners from around the world competed in Saturday's Santa Barbara International Veterans Marathon, which recognized veterans and active members of the military in honor of Veterans Day.

The event, including a marathon and half marathon that both ended by the sea in Santa Barbara City College's La Playa Stadium, was sponsored in part by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Museum and raised funds for local organizations, including the Santa Barbara Athletic Association, Community Environmental Council and Sansum Diabetes Research Institute.

Peter Kemboi, 33, from Hebron, Ky., won first place in the marathon with a time of 2:32:11. Elisa Karhu, 21, of Berkeley, took first in the marathon's women's division with a time of 2:42:45.

Among the competitors were 38 National Guard runners and close to 300 military members, distinguishable by the U.S. flags on their bibs and T-shirts that read "The first 12.1 or 25.2 are for me, the last mile is for our Veterans."

National Guard member Troy Harrison, 38, of Fulton, Pa., ran the half marathon for the second year in a row.

"It's a great way to pay respect to the veterans that are here and have been in conflict," he told the News-Press just after crossing the finish line.

This was the first of four marathons the National Guard runners will compete in this year.

Close to 18 members of the U.S. Sea Cadets, 12 to 18 years old, attended the event in Navy combat uniforms.

"We are supporting and motivating the runners by passing out flags and manning the booths," said 15-year-old Anthony Castrejon.

Jack Harris, 87, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel who served in the Korean War, Vietnam War and World War II, was among the veterans who attended the event. He manned a World War II-era cargo truck parked beside the track.

Other veterans cheered runners as they descended the last mile, which was lined with 178 10-foot-tall U.S. flags. The marathon started at Dos Pueblos High School and the half marathon began at Page Youth Center.

Many of the runners used the race to raise money for a variety of causes.

Bill Strong of Santa Barbara ran the half marathon with his 6-year- old daughter Gwendolyn, who suffers from a genetic condition called spinal muscular atrophy. Gwendolyn is completely paralyzed and relies on 24-hour assistance and machines to live.

Mr. Strong pushed her in a 100-pound custom-built running chair, which includes breathing, feeding and suction machines. She lay in the chair facing up toward her father, so they looked at each other through the entire run.

This was his third year running the half marathon and second year running it with Gwendolyn.

"It's such a bonding experience," Mr. Strong told the News-Press after completing the race. "There are times when I'm struggling, but it's hard to struggle with a little pain in my legs when I'm looking down at her. It's really incredible how she lights up when she's part of the race."

Mr. Strong said Gwendolyn loves running and the two of them run together on a weekly basis.

He and his wife established the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation four years ago to raise awareness and funds for individuals suffering from spinal muscular atrophy.

"We've turned this into a major annual fundraiser," Mr. Strong said about Saturday's marathon.

The Gwendolyn Strong Foundation set up a large green tent in the event parking lot where they sold T-shirts and shared Gwendolyn's story.

Close to 80 runners from around the world ran for Gwendolyn and wore neon green jerseys reading "Never Give Up."

"It's great to see so many supporters who go above and beyond for others who can't move," Mr. Strong said. "We're humbled."

Cristi Berg, 60, of Menlo Park, was among the runners donning a green jersey for Gwendolyn. She heard about the girl through a co-worker and joined a group of four who raised funds for the foundation.

"We ran by Bill stopped on the track," she said. "He was putting a fun green hat on Gwendolyn and we yelled 'Never give up!'"

To date, the foundation has raised $90,000 of its $100,000 goal. Many donations come through the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation website at www.thegsf.org.

Early registration for next year's marathon will be through Nov. 17. Those who register early receive a $25 discount.

For more information about the marathon or to register for next year's event, visit www.sbimarathon.com.


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