EDMOND — Carol Bowers would have been on the front row watching her two granddaughters run in their first marathon if she hadn't died in the Oklahoma City bombing 18 years ago.
“She was a little short lady, so she would have been right up front,” Joe Bowers, of Mustang, said of his mother. Carol Bowers was a supervisor at the federal Social Security office the day a truck bomb left 168 people dead and hundreds injured in downtown Oklahoma City.
Her granddaughters, C.J., 9, who is named after two of her grandmothers, and Emery, 7, will join 2,498 other children to run the last 1.2 miles of the Oklahoma City Memorial Kids Marathon on April 28. The young runners are already checking off their first 25 marathon miles on a race log, many of them one mile at a time, in the days and weeks before the race.
The family isn't letting this week's bombings at the Boston Marathon change their plans to run in the Kids Marathon.
“We talked and if you stopped things you want to do, they win,” the girls' mother, Rachell Bowers said. “It will still be on your mind.
“After the Oklahoma City bombing, I think you are more cautious and observant to the things around you. Case in point was the U-haul truck downtown this week.”
Kelly Burleson, director of the Kids Marathon, said she has had questions, but the children's race will go on as scheduled.
“We always make sure the kids are safe,” Burleson said. “Security will be visible.”
The children run the last 1.2 miles with adults and teenagers monitoring the routes. Children end up in a fenced area and must stay there until an adult can show a tear tag matching their child's running bib before they can leave. Police officers also will be assigned to the area.
Burleson said no one officially has dropped out of the race.
Joanna Imes, who will be bringing one of the 49 school groups signed up to run in the Kids Marathon, isn't changing her plans either.
“There have been a lot of questions from teachers and parents,” said Imes, a teacher at Edmond's Russell Dougherty. “We will be there. The Oklahoma City Marathon has always had safety precautions in place.”
Joe and Rachell Bowers will be running with their daughters in the Kids Marathon, an event that important to the family because they truly know why more than 23,000 runners and walkers and over 24,000 volunteers will gather this year for the 13th annual Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon.
“It is kind of an emotional race, even without a connection,” said Rachell Bower, who has run in the half marathon three times before and in the relay race once. “It is a little emotional running down Lincoln and seeing the banners with all the victims' names.”
A history lesson
C.J. and Emery know the history of the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing and why they are running in the marathon. They go each year to the memorial on April 19 to remember the bombing anniversary.
That isn't the case with a number of the young runners.
“We are educating them why we run,” Burleson said. “This generation wasn't born.
“We talk to them about making good choices. We tell them that (bomber Timothy) McVeigh did not make a good choice. We try to keep it age appropriate.”
This year for the first time a poster contest has been added to the Kids Marathon activities. Contestants were asked to decorate a poster explaining “Why do you run?”
The winning poster will be used as the Kids Marathon poster and be given to each of the 2,500 runners.
Schools across the state encourage their students to run on a daily basis. The Kids Marathon is a bonus.
Students at Edmond's Russell Dougherty run during recess in what they call the mileage club. Teacher Joanna Imes clips a colored piece of paper each time the students make a lap around the play ground.
Some of Imes' students will run in the Kids Marathon and others have advanced on to the 5k race.
“It is all voluntary,” Imes said. “It is an option to put them in a healthy place.”
Jeffery Garrison, a fifth grader, wants to run the 5k race and the Kids Marathon.
“I'm involved because I will get in shape and have fun,” said Garrison, who has diabetes. “I want to run fast and get into shape.”
His twin sister, Emily, will be running to have fun, but she also has had surgeries on her foot.
“It will give me strength,” Emily Garrison said. “It is also fun.”
Two schools have an opportunity to each win a $500 prize for the school with the most participants and the school with the highest percentage based on enrollment in The Oklahoman Kids Marathon Fitness Challenge. A traveling trophy will be presented to each of the winning schools at pep rallies in May.
Each Kids Marathon runner will receive a medal at the finish line.
“This year there are some good changes — changes for the better,” said Burleson, who admits she gets emotional when she stops on race day and remembers where she was on April 19, 1995.
“It is still about honoring all the lives.”
This year there are some good changes — changes for the better. It is still about honoring all the lives.”
Director of the Kids Marathon