KENT: What Melissa Cairns hopes will become an annual tradition in Kent is officially on the calendar for April 20.
City Council approved the second edition of the On My Own 2 Feet Marathon at its meeting last month, which launched in 2012 with a low-key first running.
The event is the brainchild of Cairns, a long-time runner and domestic abuse survivor who decided to combine two large parts of her life story into an event that allowed her to do what she loved while also providing support for individuals going through the pain she experienced more than a decade ago.
"Domestic violence is my cause because I'm a survivor of domestic violence as well, so I decided to combine the two into this event," Cairns said. "The abusive part of the marriage lasted a little over a year, not as long as some I have heard of, but when something like that happens, you can end up grieving about it a lot longer than you would like to admit."
With that motivation, Cairns set out to create a race that would be a non-profit endeavor and raise support for local women's shelters and domestic violence organizations. The result was what she termed a "low-key" first race that saw 120 runners take part, starting and ending at Beckwith Orchards.
Partnering a charity effort with running simply made sense for her, especially in light of conversations she found herself regularly having with friends and family members.
"I've been a runner all my life, but I really got serious about it a few years ago and started doing marathons and ultra-marathons," Cairns explained. "People kept asking me, 'Why do you run so much?' and I ran out of any plausible reason why I was spending so much time and money on a hobby or staying in shape. To justify that time and money, I decided to turn it into something that could give back to the community."
For the first year, she functioned as a self-described "one-man band," doing everything from laying out the course to obtaining the proper permits and all organizational duties. Ironically, Cairns says the fact that she was organizing a race for the first time may have been precisely the reason she went through with the idea.
"I was kind of lucky in that I had never done it before, because if I had any idea what kind of energy, blood sweat and tears it took, it might have scared me off," she explained with a laugh.
Cairns, however, also remains at the center of a story that has created national headlines.
She was placed on leave from her job as a math teacher at Buchtel High School after allegations she had posted a photo of her students with duct tape across their mouths on Facebook. A referee has been assigned to hear her case after Cairns’ employment status with Akron Public Schools was changed to unpaid leave, effective Jan. 15 and the district moves toward a decision on her fate with the district.
Council members Garret Ferrera, Scott Flynn and John Kuhar all said they did not know about Cairns' case when voting on the race.
Ferrara called the situation "an unfortunate and slightly embarrassing oversight" but added that he does not feel it is within the council's purview to question Cairns' ability to run the event based on issues at her workplace.
Flynn, who admitted he was not aware of the story until more than a week after the council meeting, pressed for additional assurances that Cairns could pull off the bigger version of the race, but his concerns were not based on her work troubles.
"Nobody brought it up (at the meeting). It's a little disconcerting, her having had this issue at Kent Roosevelt and another similar one in Akron," Flynn said, alluding to a similar issue Cairns had six years ago while employed at Kent Roosevelt High School with a MySpace post deemed inappropriate. "Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe not, but it would have been nice to know. I still think the city needs to do its due diligence."
At present, the council does not have any plans to revisit the issue in light of the news about Cairns' case.
"The only thing that council evaluated was based on information given to us by our police chief,” Kuhar said. “This was in regards to the safety of the runners and our residents. Any past information that does not concern this event is irrelevant to me. I feel that the proceeds of the event are going to a worthy cause and that it is good for our community."
A single mother with two daughters, Alyssia, 11, and Bella, 7, Cairns forged ahead and the race went off as planned. It raised approximately $5,000 for Portage County Safer Futures, the Cleveland Domestic Violence Center, the Summit County Women's Shelter and the Kent Parks and Recreation Department.
The first three entries on that list are meaningful to Cairns because of an abusive marriage that ended just over 10 years ago. The abuse led to "a couple of hospital visits" and left her struggling with the emotional consequences of the abuse as well.
She took stock of the marathon after its first running and looked for ways to build and grow it heading into its second year. For starters, she enlisted the help of her friend and running buddy Melissa Terwilliger to serve as assistant race director.
Cairns has also found new sponsors contacting her to offer support and pointed to the growth and development of the downtown area as a facilitator for more relationships with potential sponsors, making for a win-win connection for the city.
She expects the race to be bigger this year with more time and resources to promote it, but is adamant that it will remain a non-profit event and not become a bigger, money making race.
Beckwith Orchards will once again be the starting point for the race and this year, the business will also be a sponsor and open up its building for runners to get ready for the race.
The entry fee is comparable to many marathons, $80 for the full marathon for runners who register before Feb. 20, and $55 for half-marathoners, with the fees increasing to $90 and $60, respectively, after that date.