BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) — Thousands of runners filled the streets Saturday for the 13th annual Baltimore Running Festival.
Linh Bui reports in that massive crowd of athletes, spectators and volunteers, one incredible person stood out.
With the sound of an air horn, the runners take off. And the woman behind it? Towson teacher and true hero Erika Brannock.
“I never thought that something like this would fall into my lap, so when it came about, there was no hesitation,” Brannock said.
Brannock was the honorary starter for the Baltimore marathon.
The last time she was at a road race was the Boston Marathon.
The 29-year-old preschool teacher was waiting near the finish line in Boston for her mother to complete the race when the bomb went off. She had to have her lower left leg amputated.
But her spirit of resilience is truly inspirational.
“You can do this, and you will do this,” Brannock told the thousands of runners gathered for the start.
Her mother, Carol Downing, stayed close as Brannock encouraged the runners from a wheelchair Saturday. She joined Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on a platform.
“I got emotional even before I got up there,” Brannock said. “I was choking on my words. It came from my heart.”
“She’s beloved by her students at her school. It’s just a terrific story. And we’re really happy she could be a part of it. It’s a great way for us to honor what happened in Boston as well,” said Lee Corrigan, Baltimore Running Festival founder.
“She’s an incredible inspiration, and we’re just honored to be a part of the race today,” said Amy Abell, Team Sadie 2013.
Brannock, who spent 50 days in a Boston hospital, has taken big steps in her recovery. Last week, Brannock used a prosthesis for the first time, and she has returned to work part-time.
She has even bigger plans for her next race.
“There’s a race in Charlotte coming up in November. Hopefully I can participate in the 5K with my brother-in-law. Cross our fingers. Hopefully get me to walk across the finish line,” Brannock said.
For Brannock, Saturday was very special, and a chance to give back to the city that’s given her so much.
“I think that’s where a lot of the emotion comes from. Just seeing the amount of love and support that comes from the city and everyone in Maryland,” Brannock said.
Brannock says she’s making a lot of progress. Her wounds should close in two or three months. And she has ear surgery scheduled in January.
WJZ’s media partner, The Baltimore Sun, reports a science teacher and cross-country coach at Garrison Forest School was Saturday’s big winner. David Berdan, 32, of Owings Mills finished with an official time of 2:30:05. He is the first area winner to ever win the race.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Perry, 36, won the women’s marathon in 2:57:58. The Pittsburgh native edged out the second place finisher by just under three minutes.
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(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)