Marathon a celebration of life for father of hospital patient –

Marathon a celebration of life for father of hospital patient

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jason Browning’s 10th marathon will be extra special this year.

As he lines up to run in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon on Sunday, Browning’s running bib will have his race number, but instead of his name, it will simply say “Nora’s Dad.”

And at the 7-mile marker, there will be signs bearing his 3-year-old daughter’s name as a Patient Champion. She’s one of 24 spanning the 26.2 mile course, which will be filled with runners again this year after the 2020 marathon and 1/2 marathon were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

‘We’re very fortunate to have things come out the way they did for her’

Three years ago, the little girl who today loves reading, bike rides through her Northwest Side neighborhood, and dogs — including Carmen, her family’s boxer — was born 10 weeks premature at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.

She immediately was transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where she spent 47 days in an incubator.

She weighed 2 pounds 11 ounces. On her seventh day of life, a nurse noticed she wasn’t eating properly. Doctors said she’d need an emergency surgery to correct a malrotation of the bowel.

The procedure was successful, but a string of setbacks delayed her release.

Since then, Nora has made steady progress, and this May she officially “graduated” from the hospital’s neonatal care unit, a formality requiring patients to maintain regular visits until they turn 3.

“We’re very fortunate to have things come out the way they did for her. She’s a beautiful child, she’s developing great and we know that’s not the case for a lot of the Patient Champions,” Browning said.

Columbus runners draw strength from bravery of patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

Britta Browning, Nora’s mom, described flashbacks to the “scary days” at the hospital, bringing a car seat for the trip home only to be told that it wouldn’t be happening yet.

“It’s a little overwhelming to remember those days,” she said. The hospital is a source of hope but also a place you’d rather avoid.

The deprivations of long-distance running — including nausea, cramping, dehydration and pain — are minimal when compared to the challenges of others, especially kids, Jason Browning said.

Thinking of the others and offering high-fives to the kids along the route will offer a huge boost during the run, he said.

“It’s undoubtedly impactful to help you get through … especially when you need it most, toward the end,” Browning said. “That’s when you need the emotional fire and adrenaline. If you don’t have that then, you’re relying on your physical capability and that’s usually gone by then.”

Browning is hoping for a personal record and eventually qualifying for the Boston Marathon. His fastest time yet is 3 hours 32 minutes; Boston would require him to shave off another 27 minutes.

What to know about the Columbus Marathon

This marathon — now being run for the 41st time — is a test of physical endurance for many, but it’s also a celebration of life, accomplishment and survival for those connected with the hospital.

More than 8,000 runners are expected to take to the streets, through a course that goes in and out of suburban neighborhoods and Downtown. Athletes will range from 12 to 91 years old.

Columbus Marathon to put emphasis on COVID-19 safety

Both the hospital and the race have had enduring missions — to better the lives of Ohioans and promote their health and well-being, organizers say.

With that in mind, Sunday’s event will emphasize safety, considering that COVID-19’s delta variant is still circulating. Either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result will be needed for athletes, event staff and vendors in the “active athlete area.”

Participants also will be pursuing fundraising goals, money that will directly help children with chronic illness, mental health needs and rare illnesses. More than $12 million has been raised for the hospital since 2012, when the partnership began.

Even after last year’s cancellation, about $500,000 was still raised for the hospital, said Darris Blackford, race director for the past 12 years.

The hospital partnership has “made it into something more community-oriented. It helped preserve the legitimacy for the event,” he said.

For all the challenges of closing streets and providing roadside and athlete assistance, “when you’re helping sick kids, it’s hard to get too upset,” Blackford said.

Since many spring races were postponed to October — including the Cincinnati and Cleveland marathons — they will take runners away from Columbus, which will have roughly half to two-thirds of the 2019 event’s runners, Blackford said.

Nora Browning’s recovery an inspiration to her parents

For the Brownings, both 36, each hurdle in Nora’s recovery has been a blessing.

Jason is a building coordinator for Ohio Stadium, where he often brings Nora, who climbs the stairs and plops down in any of 100,000-plus seats.

On a recent day, Nora fixated on a large flock of pigeons swooping inside the empty stadium. From the 50-year-line, she broke away from her parents and dashed to the north end zone, then turned and darted back to midfield, laughing all the way.

Asked if he expects Nora to be a runner, Jason replied, “I think the spirit is there. We’ll have to see how it manifests itself. She’s going to have a lot of different talents to offer.”

Jason Browning at Ohio Stadium, where he is a building coordinator, with his wife, Britta, and their 3-year-old daughter, Nora, who was born 10 weeks premature. Jason is running the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon, where his daughter will be a Patient Champion.