When Sarah Hess runs her first marathon this weekend, her mother will be by her side and she's confident her father, the late Rick Brown, will be too.
"I know he'll be there watching us," said Hess, 36, of Oak Grove.
Hess and her mother have entered the Columbus Marathon, which is being run on Sunday. That's the same day as the Detroit Marathon and Half Marathon, in which Brown, an avid runner and member of the local River City Runners group, was competing when he died in 2009.
EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Sarah Hess runs near her Oak Grove home this week in preparation for her first marathon Sunday in Columbus. She will be running with her mother, Vivian Brown, two years after her father’s death during the Detroit Half Marathon.
Hess and her mother, Vivian Brown, said they didn't choose the Columbus marathon because of the corresponding date but because of another connection - it was the first marathon Rick and Vivian Brown ran, back in 1980.
"That was the sentimental component, of being able to do my first marathon where they did their first marathon," Hess said.
Vivian Brown, 61, is looking forward to running her 16th marathon, this one alongside her daughter.
"This is just a journey that I'm excited to take with her," Vivian Brown said.
Rick Brown was known as "Coach Rick" to many area runners, for encouraging them and helping them train for races. He was a running partner and mentor to his daughter too after she started running again four months before his death at age 65.
"I will never forget those times that I did get to run with my dad," Hess said. "He always kept saying, 'Just keep on moving. If you need to take a walk break, you take a walk break. You do what your body tells you you need to do.
"'But no matter what, you just keep on moving,'" she said.
Coming from a family of runners, Hess started running at a young age but stopped at 13 when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her foot and knee. It was recommended she take up a sport that didn't create an impact on her joints, so she turned to swimming.
But in June 2009, as she walked along the River Trail in Marietta, Hess said something spoke to her and she just started running.
It was short distances at first, "mainly on the bike path," she said. "I would run from one light to the next, run and then walk, run and then walk."
Two weeks later, Hess entered her first race, a one-mile run. Her father was right there with her.
"He ran every step with me," she said. At a September race, "he completed the 5K and then came back for me."
At an October 2009 5K, Rick Brown waited at the turnaround for his daughter, then finished the race with her.
A week later, he collapsed near the end of the Detroit Half Marathon and died.
He was one of three men who died during the Detroit races that year, drawing national attention. Autopsies attributed their deaths to heart conditions. Last week, a North Carolina firefighter died while competing in the Chicago Marathon.
Despite such incidents and her own personal experience with them, Hess said she feels no trepidation about running a marathon of her own.
"Things will happen when they happen and we have no control," she said. "And we have to live for what we want to accomplish."
While Hess said her father's death was devastating, it did not stop her from running.
"After all, this was his passion and it was beginning to grow within me," she wrote in an email telling the story of how she came to be running at Columbus this weekend.
She joined up with the River City Runners' beginner clinic in the spring of 2010, training for the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon by running increasing distances at Parkersburg's City Park.
All the while, Hess said, her arthritis has not been a problem. In fact, she said she's feeling better since she started running.
She completed the Parkersburg half marathon in 2010 and the Cleveland Half Marathon in May of this year. In February, after consulting with her mother, she signed up for the full 26.2-mile marathon in Columbus.
"I knew it would be a challenge," Vivian Brown said. "But she is such a determined person and I gladly accepted that challenge with her."
They've been training since July, with Hess running a total of 325 miles in preparation for Sunday's race.
"I couldn't make it without her," Hess said of her mother. "She's my support. She's my spirit. She gives me advice. ... She's run every long run with me, every step with me, always together. And we'll do it together on Sunday."
Hess' brother, Steve, will also be in Columbus Sunday, competing in the half marathon there. And a sizable contingent from the River City Runners are among the 17,000 people participating in the marathon and half marathon.
"There's quite a crowd going," Vivian Brown said. "We're all basically a support group for one another. (They) have just been a tremendous support for us."
The weekend will be an emotional one even before Sunday's race. The family plans to join in the River City Runners' second annual Rick Brown Memorial Race on Saturday at Masonic Park in Devola. Proceeds from the event will benefit a Marietta High School cross country scholarship Rick Brown helped establish.