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MCCULLOUGH: Weather can’t keep Cousin Courageous from running marathon for St. Jude’s

Allison Shackelford poses with her Will to Win sign — in honor of Will Ayers, who is fighting cancer — in Memphis, Tenn., prior to the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. The marathon was canceled because of winter weather, but Shackelford ran a marathon anyway when she got back home to Mississippi. (Special Photo)

Allison Shackelford poses with her Will to Win sign — in honor of Will Ayers, who is fighting cancer — in Memphis, Tenn., prior to the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. The marathon was canceled because of winter weather, but Shackelford ran a marathon anyway when she got back home to Mississippi. (Special Photo)

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Allison Shackelford jumps for joy after finishing her first marathon. (Special Photo)

When Cousin Courageous sets a goal, she really dives into it. And neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night can keep her from it.

Cousin Courageous is better known as my cousin Allison Shackelford, and you’ve previously read about her here after her dive in the Georgia Aquarium. She’s also dived into caves and out of airplanes. But it’s her latest adventure that I find the most inspirational.

When she’s not diving into or out of things, you can often find Allison running. Her favorite race is the St. Jude Memphis Marathon. If you didn’t know, St. Jude’s is the hospital that treats children with cancer. Allison raises funds for the hospital, and specifically runs for a kid named Will Ayers. She’d run shorter races, but this year Allison resolved to run the full 26.2-mile marathon.

The weather had other plans.

Shortly after arriving in Memphis, Tenn., Allison received word that because of the icy, freezing conditions, the race had been canceled.

“I felt sick. I shed a few tears and then I sucked it up. The money that we raised as a team (almost $10,000) would still be donated to St. Jude and there would be other marathons,” she told me in an email.

But not running after all that training tugged at her. And she’d made a promise to Will and his mom. So when she got back home to Columbus, Miss., she mapped out a 13.25-mile route and set out to run it twice. The weather made no effort to cooperate. But off she went anyway, in a cold December rain.

At the end of the first leg she was soaked, cold and tired. Her boyfriend, Corey Herring, gave her a change of clothes and told her to keep going.

She did. And while she ran the second leg, Corey gathered a group of family and friends to welcome her at the finish line. He also called the local newspaper and television station.

Meanwhile, Allison ran. She didn’t know about the group awaiting her. There was no sanctioning body and no official time clock. Just a young woman and her determination, keeping a promise to a kid with cancer.

A little over five hours after she began, “completely soaked and in the dark,” Allison finished her race, her promise kept, the goal of her training fulfilled.

“I thoroughlly enjoyed those 18 weeks. Every mile, every blister, every ache and pain was well worth it! Those kids at St. Jude are my inspiration. They fight like hell every day to survive, and I’m blessed to be healthy and have the ability to train for a marathon.”

Being surprised by her own personal cheering section helped.

“I burst into tears when I realized all the honking was for me. It was a complete and total shock because I only told four people I was running that day: my best friend, my running partners and Corey. He organized the whole thing with help from my sister while I was running and made sure that I would never forget my first marathon finish.”

I doubt anyone else who hears the story will forget it either. And I’m sure St. Jude is proud.

Almost as proud as I am.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.