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Archive for the ‘K-9’ Category

Every now and then you meet someone who makes an impression on your life. Someone who, through their integrity, hard work, selfless achievements, and personal sacrifices, is, simply put, a hero. I was fortunate enough to meet such a person recently, although I didn’t fully realize the scope and quality of her heroism until the other night.

I met Molly Thorpe for the first time several weeks ago when Alan and I volunteered at the Run for Ike 5k. When I met Molly, I was mostly impressed that she had managed to put the event together in three weeks, involving the community, the police, and the city government as sponsors, supporters, and volunteers. It was impressive, but not heroic. I also knew that she coached young students to run in many events, including training for, participating in, and hopefully finishing the Los Angeles Marathon. Again, impressive, worthwhile, but not necessarily heroic.

All that was before I attended the annual award banquet for the Palm Springs Marathon Runners and finally recognized just what a hero Molly is.

First, a little history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. The program has just finished it’s fifth year. Molly was inspired to start the Marathon Runners after reading an article in Runner’s World Magazine about ‘Students Run LA,’ a similar program, which focused on taking ‘at risk’ students and training with them to run the Los Angeles Marathon. Molly embraced the idea, partly because she was a runner and a teacher and loved the idea of changing students lives through running.

Over the years, 75 students have participated in the Palm Springs Marathon Runners program. Of those, 30 completed enough smaller events to qualify to run the marathon, and 27 of those completed the 26.2 mile race. Along the way, the children learn about commitment, dedication, friendship, goal setting, hard work, and accomplishment, just to name a few of the benefits. To date, each participant is either still in school, or has graduated from high school. Some have gone on to college. And these were troubled kids, some of whom had been expelled from school, who, had they not found this program could have ended up being written off by the standard school system.

While I was preparing to write this post, I sent Molly an email asking about the history of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners. She quickly replied and asked me to spread the word about the program. To do so, I added a new page to this blog and copied Molly’s entire email, which gives a lot more information about the program. To read it, click here.

When we arrived at the banquet, we mingled for a while, then following the seating charts were seated at table #2, along with some friends of ours. Greg Klein, co-owner of KleinClark Sports, who produces many of the running events in the Coachella Valley, and helped the PS Marathon Runners’ program by offering discounted race entries. Cherie Gruenfeld, who has completed numerous ironman distance triathlons and has written a book on how to train for the event. Cherie introduced Molly and her kids to multisport, and they added a triathlon to their training program. Jim Franklin, who at 81  still competes in many running events and enjoys sharing his experiences (and the road) with the young people in the marathon program.

Our friends, Jim Franklin, Greg Klein, and Cherie Gruenfeld were seated at our table.

After we had all taken our seats, Molly introduced herself, talked a little about the program, then introduced the people sitting at table #1, who included her husband, Jay, some family and close friends. Then her teacher side came out, and she had her runners introduce the rest of the guests.

We were shown a video of the runners participating in this year’s events, then Molly, again channeling her inner teacher, called upon her students to stand before the crowd to tell about their experiences.

This was when I realized that I was in the presence of a hero. As child after child stood before us, they all, some haltingly, some confidently, spoke about their experience becoming marathon runners. They talked about the challenges they faced, the accomplishment they felt, the confidence they gained, all through participating in the Marathon Runners program.  Most of all, though, what came through during their speeches was the love and respect for the woman who, in reality, had saved them. It was Molly’s guidance, dedication, hard work, and love that enabled them to learn that they could succeed.

Ironman Cherie Gruenfeld gave all the kids a signed copy of her book, "Become an Ironman."

The rest of the evening went quickly. We were fed (I was able to make a nice vegan tostada salad!), many awards were handed out (Molly really knows how to put together an awards banquet!),  The last part of the evening was dedicated to the Run for Ike. Ike was the Palm Springs K-9 who was killed in the line of duty last month. The proceeds from the race will be used to purchase and train a new K-9 officer for the police force.  Amazingly, $15,130.25 was raised! Palm Springs police officers Lt. Fallon and K-9 Sgt. Cabrera were there to receive the check. Sgt. Cabrera brought tears to my eyes as he choked up himself describing the loss that the entire force felt with the death of Ike.

I love being called "Ikes Angels!"

What really touched me about the whole experience was this: This dedicated woman put together this program from scratch. She worked with the community to raise money to fund the Marathon Runners. She has dedicated her life to these children. She is, of course, out there running right along side them, both in training and in the marathon. She stands behind these kids, fights for them, and when all is said, she loves them. Molly Thorpe, not only are you a hero to your kids, you are my new hero too.

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Alan and I volunteered at the Run for Ike 5k race on Saturday morning. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ike was a police dog who was killed in the line of duty last month as he and his partner were chasing a suspect. As Ike was released to tackle the man, the suspect pulled a gun, shooting both Ike and his handler. Ike’s partner was treated and released from a local hospital. Ike died at the scene.

When Palm Springs’ teacher and runner, Molly Thorpe,  heard this story, she decided to do something to raise money for the Police Department to purchase and train another K-9. Molly will be the first one to say that she did not do this alone. She was assisted by many people, including Tracy Redmon, who lived near the scene of the shooting.

Alan interviewing Molly Thorpe, the teacher and runner who worked so hard to put "Run for Ike" together.

Molly Thorpe, Palm Springs' Mayor Steve Pougnet (3rd from left) and the Palm Springs Marathon Runners before the start of their 10 mile run.

Molly is also the coach of the Palm Springs Marathon Runners, a group of students, many of them without previous running experience, who train to run the Los Angeles Marathon each year. Molly combined her love of running and coaching to create an event that would raise money for the purchase of a police dog: a 5k race, plus a 10 mile training run for her team, who would take pledges for each mile they would run.

With three weeks to plan this event, Molly and Tracy went into action (Molly stated on race morning that she hadn’t slept for three weeks!). In that tiny time frame, they pulled together both sponsors and volunteers from throughout the community. The City of Palm Springs and the Palm Springs Police Department jumped on board right away. Hurrying a process that usually takes months, they waived the fees associated with such an event, providing the road closures, course set-up, and police presence that usually costs thousands of dollars. The Mayor of Palm Springs, Steve Pougnet, a runner himself, even ran the 10 mile route with the students and was there to see the runners off for the 5k.

The officer told me that this wasn't a 'real' CHP vehicle (his car is parked to his left). Good thing, cause I don't think he'd fit in this Smart Car.

Other K9 handlers were there to support the cause.

Molly also got the Lion’s Club involved. In addition to volunteering at registration and finish line, they also offered a free pancake breakfast for the runners. Other organizations donated money, water, finish line dog tags (a great idea for finisher’s medals!), raffle prizes, and many other items. She recruited other volunteers, including Alan and myself, to help out. Alan, in addition to announcing the race, also helped with set-up and logistics. I was in charge of the finish line timing, which was hand-timed with a chronometer and pull-off tags (the old fashioned way!).

The Lions Club showed up in force. This is Shirley.

His vest said 'president,' but he said he was the former president. I guess they get to keep their titles, like the real President.

Not vegan, unfortunately, but nice, and free to all the runners.

Mostly through word of mouth and a little local news coverage, more than 140 runners pre-registered for the race. There were also probably 100 or so day-of-race sign ups. At 6:00, as the 10-milers took off, the weather was cool. That wouldn’t last long, with temperatures of around 100 degrees forecast for the day. Sure enough, by the 8:00 start time it was getting pretty warm (that’s what we desert rats call 85 degrees or so).

Guide Dogs of the Desert had a booth. These two 11 month olds are in training.

The Mayor again, before the race.

The Color Guard

The runners are ready to go.

Amazingly, for an event pulled together so quickly, everything went off without a hitch. The kids completed their 10 miler with time to spare before the race started, the 5k runners had a good time, and the community participation was excellent.

Connor Blalock, the men's winner, has a special place in our hearts. He ran on our Palm Desert High School Cross Country team for four years!

The women's winner, Marina Jones, is also a friend. A few years ago, she was the oldest woman, at 49, to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon!

The fundraising goal was $6,000 in order to purchase a K-9 police dog for the Palm Springs Police Department. The final numbers aren’t available yet, but I was told that by race time over $8,000 had already been raised! That is without the race day registrations, t-shirt sales, raffle ticket sales and other donation made today. I would say that the Run for Ike was definitely a success!

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