Aurelia teen goes the distance to raise $6,000, inspire the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon crowd
With her grandma Helen's memory as the wind at her back, Christa Ballantyne pushed through the miles January 15, and raised over $6,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a participant in the famed P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon.
The senior from Aurelia High School was a member of the cross country team for three seasons but had never run such a distance. Though she experienced plenty of pain before crossing the half-marathon finish line two hours and 18 minutes after she began the run, it was nothing compared to what her grandma went through during the four-year battle she had with myeloma, she knew.
It helped knowing that on the back of her runner's jersey was taped a picture of Christa and her grandmother together at a happy time and on the bracelet she wore throughout the race was her grandma's name. They were in it together.
Christa received a postcard about the event last summer, shortly before her grandma Helen Braunschweig passed away. She still has no idea how the sponsors of an event so far away got her name and address, but she felt it was meant to be. She set out to do fundraising, remembering that Helen had made a request before her death that some memorial money go for research to help others.
Christa registered for the event and was put in contact with a coach and a team which she corresponded with over the internet. The coach shared many tips with the young athlete, helped her with fundraising, guided her on a running regime and even provided a nutritionist. Her cross country coach, Jolene Hultgren, also helped her in her endeavors.
She had the opportunity to keep in contact with her eight teammates, spread out across the nation. She wishes that she would have had them with her during training to keep her going but despite the distance, she remained focused.
The Aurelia girl was thankful that the cross country season came right during her training period; when it ended she ran on her own inside and outside.
Christa traveled to Phoenix with her parents, Craig and Carol Ballantyne, her brother Cory and one of her classmates and good friend Jana Radke.
It was thrilling to meet with her coach and teammates; they were there to offer encouragement for the first-time marathoner.
There were some 33,700 participants in the race; 8,031 of those finished the full marathon and 18,536 finished the 13.1 mile half-marathon.
Christa admitted she was "real nervous" as she lined up with the crowd. At each mile of the course, there was a band set up. Music from each of them drifted in as she came closer and then drifted out as she continued down the route.
"Miles one through nine went good but after that I was thinking, 'I don't know if I can do this.' My coach came running up to me on mile 11 and said, 'You're going to make it. Congratulations!'"
And she knew at that point that she would complete the race. Bystanders, perfect strangers, became part of her support team, cheering her on, calling her by name (which was written on her t-shirt.)
When she crossed the finish line she couldn't help but feel emotional. With a mass confusion, she telephoned her family to locate them.
"It was so much fun and I am so glad I did it," she commented. "It felt so good when I went across the finish line! I was so happy!"
The world record was set during the half-marathon race which is some pretty awesome information to hold on to. The runner completed the 13.1 mile course in 58:55!
Christa said she wasn't out to beat any records, she just wanted to finish!
She inspired her friend and they have talked about taking part in a marathon together in a couple of years.
"It was a great experience."
She is also thrilled that she was able to contribute dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. More than $6 million was raised in the event.