How to help
Carrie Meersman has until May 10 to finish raising money for her Boston Marathon charity. To donate, click here.
SOUTH FORSYTH — As Carrie Meersman crosses each of the 26 mile markers along the Boston Marathon route Monday, a different face will pop into her head. They will be her motivation. Her ace in the hole.
Mile six will be for her children. She has six of them. Mikey, her youngest son, is the reason she felt such a connection to the charity she is running to support.
Meersman applied to run the marathon through The Ace Bailey Children’s Foundation after being reunited with a friend from high school. After thinking the foundation would have an extra spot available last year, she realized it would not work out and had to decline.
But this year, the spot was open for the Forsyth County mother.
“I just thought I’m getting the chance of a lifetime offered to me a second time. I don’t think I can turn this down,” Meersman said.
To compete in the Boston Marathon, runners have to qualify in races throughout the year or apply to raise money and run for a charity.
She reached her goal of $7,000 for the foundation, which was established in memory of Garnet “Ace” Bailey. The Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup-winning hockey player from the early 1970s was aboard United Flight No. 175 when it crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11.
“He delighted kids by talking like Donald Duck, always coming up with something fun to do and laughing with them for hours on end,” said the foundation’s website.
The foundation works to improve what Meersman described as the soft side of children’s hospitals, funneling money into The Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
“There’s a section called Ace’s Place. It’s where all the kids get to go where there are no doctors allowed. They don’t get poked. They don’t get prodded. They can read. They can craft. It’s where they just get to go and be kids and not worry about why they’re there,” she said.
Meersman has experience being in a neonatal intensive care unit.
Hours after her son, Mikey, was born, his cry seemed off. Exhausted from the still-recent C-section surgery, she fell asleep after the nurse said she would take him to the nursey to check him out.
“When I awoke, no one was in my room, and I was confused. I called for the nurse — mind you this is about 2-3 a.m. — to ask what was going on,” Meersman said. “She told me that Mikey had fluid in his lungs, between the lining.”
Meersman said when she went to visit him in the NICU that he seemed to be responding well to oxygen. At first.
“As I stood there and looked over him, he coded,” she said. “I will never in my life ever forget that feeling of seeing your child stop breathing and the noises of the machines beeping, nor being gently pushed back into my wheelchair to be escorted out of the room, with the words ‘honey, you don’t need to be in here right now’ echoing in my ear.”
After eight days in the NICU in Arizona, Mikey made it. Fast forward nearly 10 years, and Meersman said he has not had any residual effects from the first few days of his life.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I forget that he came into this world fighting.”
Mile six is for Mikey, his four older brothers — who go to Shiloh Point Elementary, Piney Grove Middle and South Forsyth High schools — and his sister, who is in preschool.
Another mile will be for the foundation.
She visited the hospital in Boston recently and said it was like being thrown back in time.
“As a parent having been in the NICU with a child and walking those halls every day and seeing the hospital is really hard,” she said. “He was too young to remember, but there are kids who are there all the time and they’re there for years. Some of them, that’s all they know. And some of them, that’s all they are ever going to know.”
Agreeing to run for a charity in the Boston Marathon means you promise to pay the difference if you cannot raise the $7,000. Meersman said she realized that couldn’t stop her.
She is doing this for many reasons. To raise money for the charity. To honor her connection with the foundation through her son. To push herself and set an example to her children.
She said novice runners usually train for a marathon for four months. Experienced runners take three. She’s somewhere in the middle.
Meersman has been running competitively since 2014, having completed the Naperville Marathon in her hometown outside of Chicago, half marathons and plenty more races.
Six weeks ago, she injured her Achilles tendon.
“It totally made me shift my focus. My training was I want to get under four hours. I can’t do that anymore,” she said.
But getting injured made her realize both that she could not quit and that she was doing this for something bigger than a time.
“I’m doing something [kids in the hospital] are not able to do, and they’re doing something that I don’t know if I could. They’re fighting for their lives,” she said. “I remember when I was training for my first marathon. It was right after the Boston bombings [in 2013]. I wrote on the back of my shoes the letter ‘r’, the number ‘4’, and the letter ‘b.’ Run for Boston. And I kept that in my mind saying, ‘I’m doing something that some people didn’t get to finish.’
“Running for this charity now, I look at these families and I look at these kids and I say, you know what, it’s because of them that I’m going to go forward. Yes, I’m injured, but I can still be outside. I can still run. I can still live my life the way I want to, while they’re in there fighting for theirs.
“And I think over the last six weeks especially that really hit me, and it’s really helped me say, you know what, I’m going to finish this no matter how I finish. My goal is to finish it running, but if I have to finish it walking, that’s OK. I’m going to finish what I started.”
Mile six is for Mikey. But don’t worry. She’ll finish them all.