When it comes to racing, 49-year-old Jodi Stoner uses a simple but effective tactic—she pushes through pain by thinking of those who can’t run.
On November 6, Jodi will dedicate her first TCS New York City Marathon to River, a 5-year-old with whom she shares a unique bond. River has Spina Bifida, a condition that causes the spine to develop improperly at birth. While River uses braces to walk, routinely sees a physical therapist, and has had multiple surgeries, he’s a bright young boy bursting with energy.
“In River’s life, he’s running a marathon every day,” says Jodi, who lives in Hudson, Florida.
Having completed 11 marathons and 109 half-marathons to date, Jodi (aka “Run Jodi”) is no novice to the sport. However, three years ago, she was searching for more meaning in her miles. She discovered an organization called I Run 4, which pairs runners with “buddies” who have physical or mental disabilities. Runners dedicate training miles to their buddies and keep in touch through social media posts, phone calls, and in-person visits.
When Jodi matched with River, she knew he was special. “I don’t have any children, so I remember seeing his photo and instantly thinking, I love him! My husband must have thought I was crazy!” Jodi recalls.
After using Facetime and Facebook to communicate, Jodi met River in-person at the First Light Half Marathon in Mobile, Alabama. River waited at the 13-mile mark. When Jodi passed, she scooped him up into her arms. They finished the final .1 miles and crossed the line together.
Jodi is also the Southeast Ambassador for Ainsley’s Angels, an organization that makes endurance running accessible to everyone, no matter their disability. At the inaugural Ainsley’s Angels Half Marathon in Florida, Jodi and River crossed the line together again. This time, Jodi pushed River in a special racing wheelchair, allowing him to experience the entire 13.1 miles.
Earlier this year, Facebook Stories profiled Jodi and River in a short video about I Run 4. With over 1 million views, the video’s success has inspired Jodi to reach an even larger audience. “I tell River we’re on a mission to teach the world about Spina Bifida,” she says. “Right now, I’m his voice, but soon he will start being his own voice.”
When visualizing her race on November 6, Jodi’s thoughts jump to her buddy. “When mile 18 hits, I’ll think about River," she says. "I’ll think about his struggles, and think about making him proud.” She can’t wait to send River her finisher’s medal, a tradition she’s maintained after every race. “It’s really his medal, not mine," says Jodi.
By Elizabeth Laseter
GET YOUR STORIES ON. Read more inspiring stories from runners chronicling their journeys to the TCS New York City Marathon starting line.
TUNE IN. The 2016 TCS New York City Marathon will be televised live on Sunday, November 6, on WABC-TV, Channel 7 in the New York tri-state area from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. ET, and for the rest of the nation on ESPN2 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. ET.