The 27th annual Lakefront Marathon, which will snake its way on a course from Grafton to Veterans Park on Sunday morning, promises to be just as fast and fun as the past 26.
But, there will be a tinge of sadness, too.
The marathon will feature a few special changes to pay tribute to Jenny Crain, a Wisconsin native and elite runner who was struck by a car during a training run in August.
Crain, 39, suffered several injuries, including a broken jaw and fractured vertebrae, which have left her with limited mobility and responsiveness.
Crain's running accomplishments include representing the U.S. in numerous international competitions, including a sixth-place finish in the 10,000 meter competition at the 2003 Pan Am Games, qualifying for the Olympic marathon trials four times (with a personal-best time of 2 hours 37 minutes 36 seconds) and becoming the first American woman to finish the 2004 ING New York City Marathon. Crain was training to qualify for the 2008 Olympic marathon when the accident occurred Aug. 21 just a few blocks from her East Side home.
The marathon's coordinators and Crain's friends and running partners each have found a way to raise money to ease her medical expenses and recognize Crain not only as an accomplished runner, but also a kind and generous person.
Kris Hinrichs, Crain's friend and race director for the Lakefront Marathon, boasted more about Crain's magnetic character than her label as an elite runner.
"She's not some hot-shot," says Hinrichs. "The thing about Jenny is that when you are talking to her, you are the most important person there. As talented as she is, she is always more interested in finding out about you than telling about herself. She is interested in helping people succeed."
In addition to race packet pick up and motivational speakers, the Lakefront Marathon's health and fitness expo at the Milwaukee School of Engineering's Kern Center will offer several ways to support Crain. A banner will be housed at the expo for runners to sign and wish Crain well on her road to recovery.
According to Hinrichs, Crain has been attending daily therapy sessions and can now stand with support. Her communication is limited to blinking when answering yes or no questions. She has received more than 600 supportive messages from across the country on her care page, an extension of Froedert Hospital's Web site that allows people to create support pages for patients.
T-shirts and wristbands will be sold at the expo to bolster the "Jenny Crain -- Make it Happen" fund, which assists Crain's family with medial expenses. The T-shirts and wristbands, similar to Lance Armstrong's "LiveStrong" campaign, will have Crain's favorite motto: "Make it happen," printed on them. Thanks to financial backing from the Lakefront Marathon and Koenig's ProSource, all proceeds will go to Crain's fund. Hinrichs says the funds will make sure that Crain receives the care she needs so that she can reach her ultimate capacity, whatever that may be.
On race day, Bib No. 1, usually given to the anticipated top runner in a race, will be reserved for Crain in recognition of what many have referred to as the marathon to recovery she is enduring right now.
Raising awareness for Crain's condition and her fund will be two relay teams racing in the marathon. Dan Held, a local elite runner and friend of Crain, organized a team of four running friends to race in her honor. The team consists of Held, Tim Keller, Kevin Setnes and Lynn Fitzsimmons, all nationally recognized middle-distance runners.
The second team consists of four Olympians, three with Wisconsin ties: Bill Rogers, this year's guest speaker at the expo and two-time winner of both the Boston and New York City Marathons and a 1976 Olympian; Bonnie Blair, a five-time gold medal winning speed skater; Jim Heiring, a three-time Olympian race walker at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside; and, Lucia Rosa, also a former UW-Parkside walker and a 1976 Olympian.
"The hope is that the relay teams will provide visibility for the fund," says Hinrichs. "The big message for us in addition to Jenny is that there are 2,500 people registered for this race, ready to have a life experience -- to qualify for the Boston Marathon or run a marathon for the first time - we hope people in these communities we run through will come out and cheer the runners on."
The Lakefront Marathon begins at 8 a.m. at Grafton High School and continues for 26.2 miles along Milwaukee's north shore to the finish at Veteran's Park. Support for Crain continues outside of the Marathon festivities. Those interested in supporting her fund can go to any M&I Bank and make a donation. Those interested in posting an inspirational message or reading updates on her recovery can visit her Web site at jennycrain.net.