It’s a sad reality that even high-profile athletes often fade into isolation and a lonely struggle of rehabilitation, after suffering permanent injuries that steal their talent.
Jenny Crain has broken the unfortunate cycle.
Instead of dwindling, support for the elite-level runner from Franklin has gained momentum, enough to draw 62 athletes to attempt to set a Guinness World Record by running tethered together in the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon on Sunday. Through their running and fund-raising efforts, Team Jennipede is on pace to generate more than $100,000 for Crain’s ongoing therapy.
They are following an example that Crain, 43, set when she was the fastest distance runner in the area, and one of the best in the country.
“When I try to put my thoughts together, the one thing that I come to is that the community is remembering Jenny the way Jenny remembered the community,” said Donna Crain, Jenny’s mother. “She would always ask, ‘how was your day,’ wish them well in their race.
“The bigger picture is that it’s coming back to Jenny.”
Collectively, the group that started training in April has run 30,000 miles, according to Robin Gohsman, the entrepreneur and Team Jennipede leader.
The squad includes the masters champion Roy Pirrung, trainer Briana Boehmer; triathlete Emily Kratz, veterans with dozens of marathons and others who will be attempting their first.
Bart Yasso, the chief running officer of Runner’s World Magazine, serves as the honorary captain and will push Crain across the finish line in Veteran’s Park, in step with the Jennipede.
Yasso’s magazine has declared Sunday to be Jenny Crain across the running world, and both Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele have issued Jenny Crain day proclamations.
That may add to the pressure felt at the start line in Grafton.
To secure the Guinness record, all 62 runners have to start and finish bound with a thin rope passing through carabineers. Bathroom breaks are viewed as the most challenging part of the undertaking.
If all goes as planned, the Jennipede will finish in five hours, 45 minutes, and best the previous mark of 54 runners set earlier this year.
As Gohsman described it, they will be “linked by a rope and a commonality of purpose.”
Members of Team Jennipede train in tether. Journal Sentinel photo by Gary Porter.
The $100,000, a significant amount for a group raising money with their feet, will pay for a little more than a year of Crain’s therapy. Donations can be made via the active.com web site.
Rebuilding a life
It’s been four years since a car crashed into her when she stepped off the sidewalk on N. Farwell Ave. At the time, she was running a familiar route, training for an attempt to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Now, she strives to walk unaided, stay responsive in conversation, and regain her memorable spirit.
Boehmer works with Crain regularly during therapy sessions at the wellness and fitness center, Salus Inc., in Delafield. Their connection goes back further, to a moment when Crain took time from her training to encourage Boehmer through injury and a difficult time in her own post-collegiate running career.
Now in the mentor role, Boehmer recognizes the importance of persistence and the pitfalls that slow others who have suffered severe brain injuries.
“Over time, people forget when something like this happens,” she said. “There’s that initial rush of support. It’s important to realize there are other people like Jenny.”
Deann McIntosh appreciates that on a personal level. Many of the same rehabilitation specialists who helped Crain worked with her brother, Jeff Rosenthal, after he suffered a brain injury six years ago. He died over the summer.
The 35-year-old had a marathon on her bucket list, and found the key element of motivation after learning about Team Jenny. The marathon on Sunday will be her first.
Cole Braun, the founder of Racers Against Childhood Cancer, agreed that Crain inspired people.
He also said the commitment of 62 people to train and run together for nearly six hours is equally inspired by the bonds found among endurance athletes.
“Runners look out for other people in the endurance community,” Braun said. “This is going to be a 26.2-mile celebration of everybody’s work.”
ABOUT THE MARATHON
The 31st Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, hosted by the Badgerland Striders, starts at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at Grafton High School. A record 3,050 runners are registered, representing 38 states and five countries.
The course: The 26.2 mile route flows predominantly south on roads near Lake Michigan, through Milwaukee suburbs to Veteran’s Park.
Course records: Steve Benson set the men’s record, 2:18:09, in 1982. Nancy Mieszczak set the women’s mark, 2:39:15, in 1983.
Championships: This year, the Lakefront Marathon serves as the national championship race for the Road Runners Club of America and the Wisconsin championship race for USA Track & Field.
Weather: The temperature at the start time is forecast to be roughly 40 degrees, with a high for the day of 62. According to the forecast, the wind will be from the west, at five to 10 mph.