An Ohio dad went the distance — quite literally — to give back to a local hospital, who has been treating his 4-year-son for cancer.
Kolt Codner tells PEOPLE (the TV Show!) that he wanted to show his appreciation for Akron Children's Hospital after they had been caring for his son Andrew over the last five months as the 4-year-old battles B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
So when Kolt learned that the Akron marathon, which annually benefits Akron Children's, was changed to a virtual event due to COVID-19 and did not have many runners signed up, the father of one thought it would be a perfect way for him to give back.
"We have had just a phenomenal experience there," explains Kolt, who has been a runner for about a year. "The doctors and the nurses have made this the best possible experience we could possibly hope to have. We thought this was something we could do to try to give back and show appreciation for the experience we've had."
And the Codners certainly did that — and more.
Not only did Kolt complete the 26.2-mile race on Oct. 17 around Akron Children's, in conjunction with the 26 months remaining in Andrew's treatment, but the Ohio family also raised over $16,000 for the hospital treating their son.
"I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate the hospital and celebrate the amazing caregivers inside there," says Kolt. "It's been an amazing experience and the outpouring of support shows how much Akron Children's has meant to many different families here in the region… and how much our stories resonated with folks that have gone through similar experiences."
Prior to the marathon, Kolt and his wife Tristan set a fundraising goal for $1,000 and began to ask friends and family for donations on Facebook.
Quickly, the couple noticed how "incredible and so responsive" their loved ones were, which ultimately helped them exceed their goal 16 times over — something Kolt says they "were ecstatic" about.
When race day finally rolled around, Kolt arrived at the hospital around 6 a.m. and was soon met by a frenzy of local reporters who had caught wind of his story.
"It was a really an overwhelming experience," he recalls. "We had a ton of folks from the Cleveland media show up and two news channels live there for my run all morning… Every time I'd loop around campus, they'd be chasing me with GoPros and with cameras, so it was definitely a little bit of a stress-inducing experience there, but it was a really cool thing."
At one point during the 35-lap race, Kolt was joined by his wife. Together, the pair shared a "really special couple of miles together," according to Tristan.
"It was awesome," Tristan shares. "We ran around the hospital and had that time together, which we haven't had since March. So that was nice."
And while that was certainly a special moment for the couple, Kolt says nothing compares to the moment that he saw Andrew cheering for him, especially during points in the race where he was feeling physically exhausted.
"I came around one corner and I was still almost a full block away, but I could hear him screaming, 'Go, Dad, go! Run faster!'" Kolt recalls. "He had brought his drums and he had a little trumpet out there, and he had made signs, and he was cheering me on."
"It was the best possible thing at any time, let alone when you're tired in a marathon like that, to have your child calling out to you and encouraging you and giving you that strength in that moment," the dad adds.
Even when Andrew wasn't physically around to cheer him on, Kolt made sure to have him nearby by writing his son's name across the top of his shoes.
"Whenever I felt really tired or like I was hurting, and I would look down at that foot… and I would know that whatever I was doing and whatever pain I was feeling, it was nothing," he says. "He continues to push himself every time we'd go through treatment and I needed to push myself, as well, through a few hours there in the morning."
Five hours and 15 minutes after starting his first-ever marathon, Kolt officially crossed the finish line alongside his son, who was able to join him for the last quarter mile.
"It was an incredibly emotional experience," says Kolt. "Andrew broke through the finish line tape ahead of me. He was running super fast. He definitely had a lot more energy at that point than I did… I knelt down and Andrew came over with my Akron Marathon medal and put it over my head and gave me a big hug and a kiss."
As Andrew continues to receive treatment at Akron Children's over the next two years, Kolt says his son hasn't lost his spark of light, noting one particular time after Andrews' first week of chemotherapy where he and Tristan were taken aback at the 4-year-old's perspective.
"He sits up in his bed and he's, 'Daddy, open the blinds for me… Look at that sunset. That's a beautiful sunset. Today was a good day,'" recalls Kolt. "It was just an amazing thing that he, in the midst of all of that scary stuff, could be positive. It's something I think we've all needed and we've all leaned on during that difficult time."
And just like his marathon, Kolt is confident that his son will also cross his own personal finish line soon.
"Tristan and I ran the last lap together and we slowed down and walked past the unit, and walked past the room where Andrew was diagnosed and reflected on that day and how scary that day was," he explains. "But also knowing at some point, Andrew is going to beat this and we're going to beat this."
"Just like a marathon has a finish line, there's going to be a finish line to his treatment," he proudly adds. "And we're going to celebrate that with them a whole heck of a lot more than we celebrated me running across the finish line."
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