By Cassidy Smith, Written Communications Specialist

The cold, crisp air nipped at the tips of the runners’ noses as they huddled up behind the starting line. Wrapped in scarves, gloves, and hats, they shuffled in anticipation of the race ahead of them. The puffs of vapor condensed from breath rose and covered the crowd like a protective cloud. Despite the cold temperatures, the warmth radiating from the group – not just a heat, but a friendly familiarity – kept them energized. The 15th annual Race to Remember was starting, and for many, it was so much more than a race.

“You’re going to be running on a course full of valleys and hills, kind of like we do through life,” said Rhonda Osborne, Shepherd’s Cove CEO, during the opening ceremony. “Today is a day to remember your loved one, to celebrate their life, and to celebrate yourself for helping us make this such a successful event.”

Countless racers were adorned with signs, which boasted the names of their loved ones who had been cared for by Shepherd’s Cove through the end-of-life process. The names of their mothers, fathers, siblings, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends were displayed proudly to outwardly express the love and honor that those racers felt for their loved ones. For them, the race was about reflection of the time they spent with their loved one, celebration of the life they lived, and recognition of the people who helped them through it all.

One racer, Joseph Rowan, expressed the struggle of grief and burden in a very tangible way: he ran the race with a 20-pound backpack strapped to his body. “A hero is needed to help someone overcome that obstacle,” he said. “Heroes are people who go above and beyond the call of duty to help someone in need.” The demonstration was both a way to represent the various struggles that everyone goes through and a way to honor the heroes who help relieve others of their burdens.

As the race began, cheers and excitement rang through the crowd of runners. The echo of laughter followed the racers as they made their way through the streets and curves of Albertville, reminding each passerby on the street of the joy that can still be found in the midst of grief. Each step represented a milestone of growth, acceptance, and eventual happiness after the death of a loved one.

After about twenty minutes, the first racers started pouring through the finish line. On each and every face was a look of pride, accomplishment, exhaustion, and peace. Many of these runners have gone through so many struggles, like losing a loved one, balancing grief and everyday life, and overcoming emotional obstacles. Running the Race to Remember 5K was exactly what it sounded like: running to remember their struggles, their loved ones’ struggles, and how they overcame them. Although some of the runners have never been served by Shepherd’s Cove, the simple act of choosing to run the Race to Remember over multiple other races held on the same day showed that our mission is important not only to those served by us but to those who see the importance of the work we do for their neighbors and community.

When the race was over, the feeling of accomplishment was palpable. Each runner, tired and worn rugged from racing, offered encouragement and celebration of each other’s achievements. Each runner understood what the race meant for the next. The air was rich with relief, pride, and satisfaction. The grief, while ever-present, was temporarily replaced with pure joy. This is what Race to Remember is all about.