Marathon, half-marathon runners endure long race in memory of teammate

Photo+courtesy+of+Katie+Sandfort.

Photo courtesy of Katie Sandfort.

By Kristen Shepard
Staff Writer

Running is no new activity for seniors Katie Sandfort, Alyssa Shelton, Ali Ische, Clayton Hemphill and Alex Riggs. Through all four cross country seasons, these runners made strides as athletes, but on New Year’s Eve 2012, they completed a marathon, one of the most arduous and intense races a runner can complete.

The New Year’s Eve Double Marathon was made up of 26.2 miles in four six-mile loops at Celebration Park in Allen.

Shelton and Sandfort have braved long endurance runs with the cross country team since freshman year, when both girls ran on the varsity team. Hemphill and Riggs have been leaders on the boys team as captains and as athletes.

Following long weeks of training and preparation, all four runners completed the marathon in memory of their teammate Jonah Blackwell, who passed away in late October.

“We started planning to run the marathon in about October after Jonah died,” Shelton said. “Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment, and it was something we wanted to do before graduation and for Jonah.”

With the help of Katie Sandfort’s father, JD Sandfort, Shelton and Sandfort were able to rally support and runners to compete in the marathon or half marathon. A total of 16 runners participated in memory of Blackwell.

“Everyone in charge of the marathon was really supportive and flexible with our group,” Sandfort said. “My dad told us to get him a list of participants and he would take care of the rest of the forms and registration. He knew I was busy with school and was very helpful in pulling this all together.”

Training for the marathon included distance endurance runs up to 19 miles, which Sandfort and Shelton completed on both weekdays and weekends. Throughout their training, they kept Blackwell in their minds and in their hearts as inspiration.

The weather was not on the runners’ side on race day, as temperatures were below 40 degrees and light rain dripped on them.

“Alyssa and I joked around while we ran, and when it started raining we decided that Jonah had made it rain on us,” Sandfort said. “Jonah always messed with us, and was probably laughing as we ran through the rain.”

Other than the rain, the race went well for Sandfort and Shelton, despite some severe muscle cramps around mile 17.

“At one point I cried,” Sandfort said. “We just knew we had to finish and how good that moment would feel.”

Several other members of the cross country team completed the half marathon, a distance of 13.1 miles. These members included seniors Keaton Looney and Ynno Madlambayan, juniors George Fairchild and Stephanie Bilka and sophomore Noah Freedman. Flower Mound High School seniors Tyler Park and Evan Epps, who were also close to Blackwell, completed the half marathon. Ali Ishe ran the marathon, but was unable to finish due to recently being sick.

Katie’s mother Kirsten Sandfort, along with several other cross country and Coppell moms, volunteered with the marathon, and other cross country team members came to support the runners.

“I’m so proud of Katie and Alyssa for running the marathon,” sophomore Emily Dunn said. “To be honest, I was miserable because it was raining and cold, and I wasn’t even running. It is a really big deal for them to finish a full marathon.”

When asked if they would run it again, Shelton and Sandfort had different responses. Shelton vowed to never put herself through such pain and agony again, but Sandfort left the option open for the future.

As these runners finished their races, they were rewarded with food, thermal blankets, water and medals, but no reward could compare to the feeling of accomplishing something great in memory of a beloved teammate.