TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The annual Gasparilla Distance Classic is a few weeks away and as we get closer to the weekend of road races, News Channel 8 will focus on getting runners ready and inspired to cross the finish line. It’s part of our “It’s a Runner’s Life” series.
When you ask a runner why he or she runs, the answer may be for health or for relaxation, but there’s a program called “I Run 4” where a runner is matched with a person with special needs. It makes crossing the finish line so much more important.
“Dedicating your miles and races to someone who couldn’t run. I just thought that was so awesome. Something I knew I wanted to be a part of,” said Jodi Stoner. a Tampa runner.
Stoner saw a social media post about the program, went to the website and clicked the Match Me box. The program creates the random match between a runner and a person with special needs.
“I signed up, and I was matched with River. River is 2 years-old, at the time he was 2 years old in 2014. River has Spina Bifida, so I dedicate my miles and my races to him, said Stoner”
The Gasparilla Distance Classic is a special race for both Stoner and River. “He loves those medals, and we even dressed up like pirates last year for Halloween,” remarked Stoner.
As part of this program, the runner will share all race medals with their buddy. Stoner and River correspond through social media, but they even travel to meet each other. River lives in Mississippi, so Stoner has made the drive there. Their first meeting was exactly where it should have been, at a finish line.
“He was actually at the very end of a half marathon, and he got to have his own bib. He waited for me and we crossed the finish line together,” Stoner recalled.
In the nearly four years since their match, Stoner and River have formed a close bond.
“You think as a runner, you’re going to sign up, and you’re going to inspire somone,” said Stoner. “But the whole thing gets turned around, and your buddy ends up inspiring you to reach to goals and new heights,” she continued.
The Gasparilla Distance Classic is Feb. 24 and 25. Runners will head down Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa for the 5K and 15K races on Saturday, Feb. 24. The Half Marathon and 8K races are on Sunday, Feb. 25.