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'Stronger than ever': More than 6,000 turn out for Rock 'N Race in Concord

  • Racers run down Main Street during Rock 'N Race in downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Racers run down Main Street during Rock 'N Race in downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Shannon Whitehead, of Concord, (right) hangs out with her future father-in-law Richard Girard, of Berlin, (center) and Corey Girard (back right) after completing the Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Shannon Whitehead, of Concord, (right) hangs out with her future father-in-law Richard Girard, of Berlin, (center) and Corey Girard (back right) after completing the Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Kaelyn Schmidt, 5, and her mom Sarah Schmidt touch noses while cheering on runners on Liberty Street during Rock 'N Race in Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.  Sarah, her husband Matt, Kaelyn and Kaelyn's brother Brennan, 3, all watched the race together with their dog Rudy.    <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Kaelyn Schmidt, 5, and her mom Sarah Schmidt touch noses while cheering on runners on Liberty Street during Rock 'N Race in Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014. Sarah, her husband Matt, Kaelyn and Kaelyn's brother Brennan, 3, all watched the race together with their dog Rudy.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Divine Mugunga (left) and her sister Melissa Mugunga cheer on runners at Rock 'N Race while stuck at the intersection of Pleasant and South street on Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Divine Mugunga (left) and her sister Melissa Mugunga cheer on runners at Rock 'N Race while stuck at the intersection of Pleasant and South street on Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Cindy McCoo hugs Colton Ham after he was the first to cross the finish line at the 2014 Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. McCoo's son and Ham ran together at Merrimack Valley High School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Cindy McCoo hugs Colton Ham after he was the first to cross the finish line at the 2014 Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. McCoo's son and Ham ran together at Merrimack Valley High School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Runners run on Liberty Street during Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Runners run on Liberty Street during Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Jackson Ugarte, 12, and Bowden Egner, 11, wait at the starting line before the beginning of the Rock 'N Race on Thursday evening, May 15, 2014. <br/> <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Jackson Ugarte, 12, and Bowden Egner, 11, wait at the starting line before the beginning of the Rock 'N Race on Thursday evening, May 15, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Tyler Reeve, 6, peeks over one of the barricades near the finish line at the 2014 Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Tyler Reeve, 6, peeks over one of the barricades near the finish line at the 2014 Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Jeannine Bonifant (left) and Diane Laverdiere (right) snack on hamburgers after completing the Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. The friends were part of the David's Angels team, in honor of one of Bonifant's co-worker's brothers, who died of brain cancer last year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Jeannine Bonifant (left) and Diane Laverdiere (right) snack on hamburgers after completing the Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. The friends were part of the David's Angels team, in honor of one of Bonifant's co-worker's brothers, who died of brain cancer last year.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Joslynn Hurley of Concord waves to a friend as she climbed a tree on the State House Lawn before running the Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Joslynn Hurley of Concord waves to a friend as she climbed a tree on the State House Lawn before running the Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Wilder Riley, 7, surveys the plaza from the steps of the State House before the Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Wilder Riley, 7, surveys the plaza from the steps of the State House before the Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Adrienne Seidensticker (left) and Caitlin Borey play in water being sprayed on the race course on School Street during Rock 'N Race in Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Adrienne Seidensticker (left) and Caitlin Borey play in water being sprayed on the race course on School Street during Rock 'N Race in Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Karen Griswold, of Concord, signs the wall in memory of her friend Beth Johns who died as a child of cancer. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Karen Griswold, of Concord, signs the wall in memory of her friend Beth Johns who died as a child of cancer.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Megan Doyle, towns reporter. September 17, 2013 <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Megan Doyle, towns reporter. September 17, 2013

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

  • Racers run down Main Street during Rock 'N Race in downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Shannon Whitehead, of Concord, (right) hangs out with her future father-in-law Richard Girard, of Berlin, (center) and Corey Girard (back right) after completing the Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Kaelyn Schmidt, 5, and her mom Sarah Schmidt touch noses while cheering on runners on Liberty Street during Rock 'N Race in Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.  Sarah, her husband Matt, Kaelyn and Kaelyn's brother Brennan, 3, all watched the race together with their dog Rudy.    <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Divine Mugunga (left) and her sister Melissa Mugunga cheer on runners at Rock 'N Race while stuck at the intersection of Pleasant and South street on Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Cindy McCoo hugs Colton Ham after he was the first to cross the finish line at the 2014 Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. McCoo's son and Ham ran together at Merrimack Valley High School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Runners run on Liberty Street during Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Jackson Ugarte, 12, and Bowden Egner, 11, wait at the starting line before the beginning of the Rock 'N Race on Thursday evening, May 15, 2014. <br/> <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Tyler Reeve, 6, peeks over one of the barricades near the finish line at the 2014 Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Jeannine Bonifant (left) and Diane Laverdiere (right) snack on hamburgers after completing the Rock 'N Race on Thursday, May 15, 2014. The friends were part of the David's Angels team, in honor of one of Bonifant's co-worker's brothers, who died of brain cancer last year. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Joslynn Hurley of Concord waves to a friend as she climbed a tree on the State House Lawn before running the Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Wilder Riley, 7, surveys the plaza from the steps of the State House before the Rock 'N Race throughout downtown Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Adrienne Seidensticker (left) and Caitlin Borey play in water being sprayed on the race course on School Street during Rock 'N Race in Concord on Thursday, May 15, 2014.   <br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Karen Griswold, of Concord, signs the wall in memory of her friend Beth Johns who died as a child of cancer. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Megan Doyle, towns reporter. September 17, 2013 <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

On Wednesday, I ran the Rock ’N Race course by myself. When I stopped on the State House lawn to catch my breath, I was alone in the 7 a.m. calm.

Yesterday, I ran the Rock ’N Race with more than 6,000 other people who came to the annual event in support of Concord Hospital’s Payson Center for Cancer Care. When I walked through the State House lawn at the end of the race, near me was Richard Girard, a 57-year-old man from Berlin who has lung cancer.

He told me he has been coming to the Rock ’N Race for years, first back in 2008 as part of the team For Mom, when his wife, Jolene, was fighting breast cancer. This year, Jolene Girard and the other team members of For Dad took turns pushing Richard Girard’s wheelchair along the 5K course.

On his head was a black baseball cap with white letters – “No Regrets” – and in his lap was Virgil, the colorful stuffed animal that accompanies him through chemotherapy. He was quiet, watching the crowd with his son’s fiancee, 33-year-old Shannon Whitehead.

“I think everyone comes to this event where they share this experience,” Whitehead said. “They have a friend, a family member, that goes through this terrible disease. I think something like this that happens once a year makes them stronger than ever.”

Some came to yesterday’s race with that terrible disease beating through their bodies, like Richard Girard. Others came with the memory of what that disease took in the corners of their eyes, like Kevin Nyhan, or pinned to their hats, like Joanne DeBold.

Since Nyhan’s mother died in August 2012, her friends and family have come to the Rock ’N Race as the team Miles for Mimi. Don’t make me cry, he said with a laugh, but not really joking.

“She would like the fact that we’re all together,” said Nyhan, 38.

Joanne DeBold, 66, wrote a note on the message board for her late husband, whose picture was pinned on her hat. “Bob DeBold, 1945-1987.”

He died when their daughter Elizabeth was only 8 months old, and DeBold was scared.

“I remember he said, ‘No, you need someone to love,’ ” she said.

Some came with cancer behind them, like Rhonda Condon, 52. For a moment, she couldn’t remember the exact day she found out her disease was gone, but her 24-year-old daughter Kate Carter knew it like her own name. “April 2,” Carter said.

Some, like Kristen Noble, 38, came because a friend of a friend started a team. The run is easy for the energy in the air, she said. “It makes a big difference to have all the people around,” she said.

Some stories are unknown or unspoken or just written in a name – “Judy” – on a neon-pink poster board on South Spring Street.

But this terrible disease brought them all together, at an event that has raised more than $3.2 million for the Payson cancer center since 2003. (And that’s without a final count from this year.) So the next time I run down those downtown streets alone, I will hear the sound of their stories, the sound of more than 6,000 pairs of sneakers hitting the pavement.

Will we all be back next year?

On the State House lawn, Richard Girard spoke up from his wheelchair.

“Yes,” he said.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

Legacy Comments2

I walked from the car to the hamburger line. I'll be back, too.

I walked it, a most enjoyable experience. I'll be back.

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