INDIANAPOLIS — In years prior, tens of thousands of runners descended upon Indianapolis and took over Circle City while competing in the OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon. This year the event went virtual due to the pandemic, but there were a few honorary participants taking on the traditional route of the Indy Mini.
"The OneAmerica 500 Festival Mini-Marathon is so important to this community, so we just thought: 'Could there be some inspirational pacesetters to run the marathon on the route of the morning of the mini for all of those who can't?'" said Bob Bryant, President and CEO of the 500 Festival.
They decided to honor health care heroes.
"I work in the medical progressive care unit. We became the first unit to be all COVID," said Annie Burford, a respiratory therapist at Franciscan Health. "It was a little — very — overwhelming at first. But we all kind of persevered and worked together."
Even though vaccines are now available, and things are opening up, these frontline workers haven't taken a break from taking care of COVID-19 patients who are extremely ill.
They say knowing they haven't been forgotten means so much to them.
"I feel special being able to represent my fellow health care workers," said Kara Solomon, the disaster manager at Franciscan Health.
"It's such an honor for me to be here representing all those who are not able to run today, probably one of my biggest highlights," said Franciscan Health emergency room nurse Shane Myint.
Woven throughout the festival was an equally touching tribute to a member of the 500 Festival family who lost his battle with COVID-19. The thoughtful and heartfelt touches were delicate and meaningful.
On the back of this year's medals were the words, "In memory of Pat Kennedy." Within the white square that is outlined in green on the shirts are the letters "PWK 34."
"Pat served on the festival board of directors, as well as our foundation board of directors, was a long-time Mini participant, and a volunteer that helped us with the post-race party set up for many years," Bryant said.
Pat was also the fourth-generation president of a longtime gas tank supplier for the Indy 500 called Kennedy Tank and Manufacturing Co. The car that was passed down through his family and was sponsored by Kennedy Tank in the '30s and '40s bears the number 34 on it.
Pat used to drive the car around the track a couple times a year, according to his son Jimmy Kennedy. Jimmy said it's a tradition the family plans to carry on.
During the Indy Mini, the laps around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were carried out by those who knew Pat best — his family by blood and his Kennedy Tank family.
"The track was dad's favorite place in the world. He was a huge proponent of the 500 Festival and ran the Mini-Marathon over 20 times," Jimmy said.
Jimmy participated in the honorary pace relay. Any runner will tell you, that running gives you time to think and reflect.
"We just want to let dad know that we all certainly love him and are thinking about him," said Jimmy.
Bryant has run the Mini-Marathon in the past and said running offers you time to reflect on some of the most important things in life.
"Even if you're running with a group of people, you have that solitary time — two and a half hours — to really be thinking about things," Bryant said. "What motivates them? How are they pushing? Even for those doing it virtually, but certainly everybody here today, is going through those emotions of who are they running for and what does it mean to them personally, but even collectively for our community?"
For health care workers, the honorary pace relay was about honor, gratitude, and hope.
"With the vaccinations in process, I feel like we’re overcoming this and we're almost at the finish line," Myint said.
He said he was proud to represent all the frontline workers who were not able to run in the mini this year.