Real Life Superheroes
WE CAN'T ALL BE FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET, more powerful than a locomotive or leap tall buildings with a single bound. But on a recent Saturday morning, thousands of runners, walkers, spectators, and donors turned out to prove that anyone can be a superhero just by caring enough to show up for a great cause.
They were all there for the Regions Superhero 5K, the kickoff event for the annual Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Ala., and it was crowded with participants dressed to fit the superhero theme. Among them was a runner in a full business suit and a camera conspicuously hung from his neck: He was Clark Kent, aka Superman, aka Will McCalley. Will was there to run in support of his daughter, Frances, and to raise money for The Bell Center, which provides early-intervention services for children like Frances who are at risk for developmental delays.
Although Will and his wife, Anna Ruth, have been running the Mercedes Marathon for years, the event has held special significance for them since the birth of their daughter, Frances, who has Down syndrome. And while the McCalleys say they don’t see raising a child with special needs as particularly extraordinary, the story of how they became Frances’ parents truly is.
They had been trying without success to have a baby but had never discussed adoption until Anna Ruth got an unusual phone call one morning. It was a friend calling to tell her of a 16-year-old girl who was pregnant with a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome, and she had decided to place the baby for adoption.
“I just automatically knew we were going to adopt this baby,” Anna Ruth recalls. She, in turn, called Will. “I said, ‘I’m going to tell you something—I don’t want you to answer right now, just think about it—but there’s this teenage girl who is pregnant…’ and before I could finish, he said, ‘Are you talking about us and this baby? Of course we should adopt her. No question.’”
They made arrangements with the birth mother for a private adoption, and baby Frances McCalley was born on February 8, 2011. Anna Ruth was in the delivery room to be with their new baby from her very first breath, and it has been a family love story ever since.
Run for a Reason
The Bell Center, where Frances has received services from four months of age, has benefited from the Mercedes Marathon from the beginning, in large part because of its BellRunners program. BellRunners sign up to be paired with a Bell Center child and raise at least $100/mile in his or her name for the organization. They can participate in the event of their choosing, including the Regions Superhero 5K. At 3.1 miles, the Superhero 5K is a good fit for runners and walkers who aren’t quite ready for a half or full marathon, or for marathoners who want to loosen their limbs for Sunday’s main event. Participants can use the event to raise money for any cause, The Bell Center being one of the most popular.
More than a Fundraiser
Many runners have no previous connection to The Bell Center but are invited to meet the kids they’re paired with and sometimes end up forming special bonds with them. Others run on behalf of children they already know, or even their own—as Will McCalley did this year for Frances.
In the McCalleys’ case, in fact, their connection to The Bell Center is twofold—not only does Frances receive services there, but Anna Ruth has also been a therapist there for years. She is quick to stress, however, that her experience working with special-needs kids was not part of their decision to adopt Frances. In fact, knowing Frances had Down syndrome “really never crossed our minds” as a factor. “I just knew this child was going to be ours, and whatever came about, we would go with it.”
Frances, who just turned two, has now graduated to the center’s two-day-a-week toddler class, and the McCalleys have delighted in her progress: “She loves school, and she’s just started walking with a walker,” Anna Ruth says, adding that Frances is motivated by watching her classmates reach milestones of their own.
Tuition provides for less than 12 percent of the privately funded center’s total operating budget, and the rest comes through fundraising. The Mercedes Marathon and Regions Superhero 5K play a huge role in that—by building awareness of the cause as well as raising dollars. “The first three years of life are critical to a child’s development,” explains Jeannie Colquett, Bell Center executive director. “We know now that a baby is a developmental machine, and anything that can be done to improve that child’s development is going to benefit them their entire life.”
Still, as Will ran the Superhero 5K this year, with Anna Ruth and Frances cheering him on, the McCalleys weren’t really thinking about fundraising or the importance of early intervention. It was just a day to celebrate their daughter. “I don’t think I ever knew I would love a child as much as I love Frances,” Anna Ruth says. “She really is such a light of happiness and love. It’s amazing to see where we came from, not knowing what the road was going to be as far as parenthood and learning to take things as they come. My husband looks at her all the time and says, ‘Can you believe that’s our child?’”
Regions is a proud sponsor of the Regions Superhero 5K.