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Chelsea resident Ron Ramsey will participate in the 2017 Mercedes Marathon -- his first -- as a BellRunner. He's raised money for The Bell Center as he's trained over the past four months.
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Photo by Providence Photography, courtesy of Lindsay Bryant.
Ron Ramsey is running in honor of 4-year-old Bentley Bryant, seated in the lap of her father, Justin. Bentley was born blind, deaf and with neuromuscular weakness. She started attending The Bell Center when she was only three months old.
At 10 minutes till 8 on a cool Sunday morning, Ron Ramsey’s silver Nissan Titan pulls into an empty parking lot near the main entrance to Oak Mountain State Park.
He has come here for a reason.
The Mercedes Marathon is less than a month away, and Ramsey wants to ensure he is well prepared come race day. He knows the 26.2-mile trek up, down and around Birmingham will test the limits of his physical and mental endurance.
He readies himself accordingly.
After strapping on a Nike hydration belt equipped with two small water bottles and packs of energy gel, he bends down to stretch his legs. Then, he is off.
Over the next two and a half hours, Ramsey will attempt to cover 18 miles on an out-and-back course along the park’s main bike path. Accompanied only by his cellphone, which gauges and records his pace, he will run in relative solitude.
“I am cautiously optimistic that I’ll be able to complete it,” Ramsey says before setting off. “I feel pretty good at this point in my training. I don’t want to be overconfident because it’s a little bit daunting, but I feel OK. We’ll just see how this morning goes.”
It could’ve gone better.
Caught off guard by the unseasonably warm temperature, Ramsey said it was the toughest long run he had completed to date. He ran out of water at mile 12, then stopped at mile 16.
“Running in 65 degree weather versus 45 degree weather is a huge difference,” he said later in the day. “Lesson learned.”
It’s not the only piece of knowledge the 44-year-old Chelsea resident has gleaned over the past four months as he’s trained for his first marathon. He said friends and co-workers with previous running experience have become trusted sources of advice. One even suggested toting mustard packets on his long runs to help replace salt content lost through sweat.
“I haven’t tried that, but it’s such a great tip that I am planning on having a few packets on hand for my next long run this Saturday,” Ramsey said the day after his 16-mile trek.
Ramsey’s goal is to knock out a pair of 20 milers before he toes the starting line Feb. 12.
Never before has he run that far.
Prior to initiating his marathon training in October, Ramsey had been running 2 to 3 miles twice a week during his son’s soccer practices. The last race he participated in was a community 5K in 2012.
So what made him decide to embark on such a challenging endeavor?
“Back in October, I just thought, ‘You know, I ought to just set a goal. I’m getting older. I was actually approaching my 44th birthday in November, and I just thought I ought to set a goal and try to do a marathon,’” Ramsey said. “Do I still have what it takes?”
With only a couple of weeks left until the race, he’s inching closer to finding out the answer to that question. Ramsey now logs 4 to 6 miles twice a week before work in addition to his weekly weekend long run.
But Ramsey’s first crack at 26.2 miles is about more than himself.
It’s also about children like 4-year-old Bentley Bryant, who was born deaf, blind and with neuromuscular weakness. Bentley attends The Bell Center, and Ramsey is a BellRunner. Bentley’s mom, Lindsay Bryant, is a longtime family friend of Ramsey’s.
“I thought, ‘You know, if I’m going to put in the time and the effort to do this, I ought to make it more than just about me,’” Ramsey said. “I think that’d be a great cause.”
The BellRunner program is an initiative that benefits The Bell Center and the children who come there. The Bell Center, according to marketing and development director Kelly Peoples, provides early intervention services like physical and occupational therapy to infants and toddlers at risk for developmental delay — children like Bentley.
Bryant said Bentley has attended The Bell Center since she was three months old. The impact it’s made in their lives, she said, has been “huge.”
“Until you’ve navigated this stage of life, you just don’t know what direction to go in,” Bryant said. “They helped so much with that in the beginning to establish our new normal and just get us on the right path with the right resources.”
Ramsey was first told of the BellRunner program by Ashley Ross, a family friend who teaches at The Bell Center. On race day, Ramsey will run in a red T-shirt with a picture of Bentley printed on the back of it. Bryant will wear one too. She and her husband will participate as BellRunners on a five-person marathon relay team.
“I ran it last year by myself, and it was rewarding and it was great,” Bryant said of the 2016 half marathon race in which she participated, “but when you have other people who are BellRunners for your child ... it makes you feel like you’re not running this journey alone.”
Ramsey, like all BellRunners, has a goal of raising $100 per mile for The Bell Center in his marathon debut. One hundred percent of the funds, Peoples said, go directly to the center.
Peoples said there are typically between 250 and 300 BellRunners across all Mercedes races. Collectively, she said, they raise between $220,000 and $250,000 annually.
As of mid-January, Ramsey was halfway toward reaching his fundraising goal. He said every donation he receives makes a two-pronged impact.
“Not only is it a donation to a great cause, but it’s also an encouragement to me, because when somebody donates, they’re sending me a message that says, ‘You know, I believe in you, and I know you can do it,’” he said.
Ramsey said his goal is to finish the marathon in under four hours. But even if he doesn’t hit that mark, he said he won’t be disappointed.
That’s because for Ramsey, the Mercedes is more than a race.
To him, it’s an opportunity to prove that he has what it takes, and it’s an opportunity to help raise awareness and money for an organization whose mission centers on helping children overcome their own set of inherent speed bumps.
No matter what transpires on Feb. 12, Ramsey said he feels more or less certain about one thing.
“I hope I don’t burst into tears,” he said. “I think it’s going to be very emotional.”