Why I Run: Baltimore Running Festival participants share their inspirational stories

For these runners, it's more than just a race

  • Nicole Goetze, Ryan Joyce, Sarah Bennett, Lauren Kensky and Kristen Berset.
Nicole Goetze, Ryan Joyce, Sarah Bennett, Lauren Kensky and… (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun )
October 08, 2013|As told to Jordan Bartel

Runners set goals — and don't look back.

They strive to cut those extra few minutes from their times. They have to go a quarter-mile farther each time, then a half-mile, then a mile. And beyond.

They push their bodies. They want to push themselves.

And for many runners in the Baltimore Running Festival, the goals are even loftier.

Among the 27,000 runners in Saturday's festival, pounding the pavement in the marathon, half-marathon, relay and 5K, are many running for reasons other than the thrill of crossing a line that perhaps once was thought to be unattainable.

We talked to five of this year's runners who have much more than a 26.2 sticker on their minds. There's a breast cancer survivor, running with a relay team whose members were strangers before they shared the same diagnosis. There's a runner who's out there to recognize family members who lost legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. There's a 28-year-old who's running for his mother, who died from complications from melanoma. He was 10 at the time. Here, they share their stories.

They already have met adversity head-on. On Saturday, they'll meet their goals — and perhaps inspire others to set a few of their own.

Lauren Kensky, 26, Fells Point, Paraeducator

I hate running. With a passion. Nonetheless, I have decided to run to honor my cousin, Jessica Kensky and her husband, Patrick Downes, who were both severely injured at the Boston Marathon bombing that killed four people and injured more than 260.

When I learned what happened to my Jesssica and Patrick on April 15, I immediately wanted to find a way to help them and show my support. Because Jessica and Patrick are avid runners, both having participated in full marathons, I decided to run a 5K in honor of their passion for running.

I remember April 15 like it was just last week. I had never gone for a run in my life until that beautiful Baltimore spring afternoon when a friend encouraged me to get out and enjoy the weather on a jog, and assured me we'd take it slow. It turns out running wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Never did I think that my very first day running would become the last day some people would ever run, especially two people I love so much.

My cousins are loving, supportive and selfless newlyweds who just celebrated their first wedding anniversary this past August. As a result of the explosions, Jessica lost her left leg below the knee and her right heel. Patrick also lost his left leg below the knee.

During these emotional months, I am so thankful that Jessica and Patrick are not only survivors, but also fighters. It's important to me to show them that I love them in a unique way that is personal and meaningful to us. I want to honor their bravery and positivity and will to fight the uphill battle that they will face together.

I want Jessica and Patrick to know that while they may not be able to run at this very moment, it is my pleasure and a true honor to take the responsibility to run while they are in recovery.

I have also chosen to support the Maryland CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Association, whose mission is to ensure that every victim of child abuse and neglect grows up in a safe, permanent home. I have decided to run for Team CASA because of my recent experiences in working with disadvantaged youth. My job as a paraeducator in a Baltimore City school has introduced me to some very harsh realities regarding our youth and how high the demand is for safe, supportive, permanent homes. I am hopeful that with the money I raise, our youth will receive more of the support they need.

Running this race is going to be emotional, as my purpose for running is very meaningful. When the going gets tough and the hills get steep, I will be thinking of Jessica and Patrick and how their lives were changed in the blink of an eye. I will remember that they will never again run freely as they once did. I will think of what they would give to have that day back.

What I'm most looking forward to about race day is seeing my brother, Jason, who is traveling from Boston to run with me in my very first formal race. He's an avid runner and my biggest fan.

To me, this race means that I am capable of running. It means that there is absolutely no reason to complain about running and to exercise because, when you least expect it, your life can change forever and you may not be able to run again with your own two legs.

Team CASA: For more information on the Maryland CASA, go to marylandcasa.org. To support Lauren, go to goteamcasa.org or call 410-828-6761. For Lauren's fundraising campaign, go to goteamcasa.kintera.org/Lkensky1221.

Sarah Bennett, 25, Bel Air, monitoring and project coordinator

Saturday will be my third marathon. When I previously ran, I ran to stay healthy. I ran to escape the daily stresses we all have in our lives.

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