For Sean Hearn, there was no better way to spend Father's Day than sweating through a hilly 5K road race in Towson, pushing sons Shane and Wyatt in a double-wide stroller.
A little more than four years ago, Shane spent 10 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Greater Baltimore Medical Center before going home to Hunt Valley on Mother's Day.
"As he laid in the NICU, I made lots of promises, and one was to participate in this," Hearn said shortly after finishing GBMC's 25th annual Fathers Day 5K race. "This is one promise I keep every year."
Hearn and his family — Shane, 18-month-old Wyatt and wife Jamie Dembeck — were among some 1,000 people who kicked off their Father's Day celebrations with the 5-kilometer run or 1-mile walk at GBMC's campus off North Charles Street.
Over 25 years, runners at the event have raised more than $1.5 million for the hospital's NICU, according to organizers at GBMC. This year, runners were expected to add at least $90,000 to that total.
Holding Shane on his hip, Hearn recalled the worry and stress of having a newborn in the NICU. "Starting the race every [year], I get a little emotional," he said.
There were plenty of NICU families in attendance at the race.
The Sprow family of Baltimore had an intense NICU experiences: Two-year-old Lukas Sprow spent five months in the unit after being born at 1 pound, 9 ounces when his mother, Yvonne, was just 24 weeks along in her pregnancy.
"He's come such a long way. He's walking, talking, a regular 2-year-old now," Yvonne said. "We like to show how well he's doing."
Yvonne was joined by her husband, Matt, in-laws and other relatives in completing the 1-mile walk.
"We're happy to see the nurses and doctors," Matt Sprow said. "It's a good day to do it, it's nice."
More than a dozen participants representing four generations were decked out in matching baby blue T-shirts for "Team Haddaway" in support of 2-year-old twins Owen and Brooks Haddaway of Westminster.
Owen and Brooks spent 51/2 weeks in GBMC's NICU after being born prematurely.
"Looking back, it's a great feeling," said the twins' dad, J.R. Haddaway. "I'm a very proud father."
Greg Shaffer's son George, 2, was born at GBMC, but didn't need the NICU services. Still, Shaffer said, he works at the hospital in government relations and appreciates the unit's service. He ran the 5K, pushing George in a running stroller.
The family planned to go out for a Father's Day lunch — likely ribs at the Corner Stable in Cockeysville — so the 5K was a good way to burn off some extra calories, Shaffer said.
"I'm going to eat a lot of bad food today. This is going to make me earn it," said Shaffer, who lives in Timonium.
GBMC's NICU cares for more than 400 babies each year, some as small as 17.6 ounces and born as early as 23 weeks, officials said.
Dr. John Chessare, president and CEO of the hospital, said insurance payments don't cover the full cost of running a busy NICU, so fundraising is vital. The race proceeds support the NICU as well as the hospital's human milk bank, which helps babies whose mothers can't provide their own breast milk.
The race is also a chance for NICU families to celebrate their children's progress, Chessare said.
"This race brings out runners, this race brings out fathers, this race brings out families, this race brings out people who love GBMC," he said.
In keeping with the Father's Day theme, awards were given to the top father-daughter and father-son teams, as well as to individual runners and top fundraisers.
Chessare ran the 5K race himself, along with his wife, Dr. Tracey Chessare, and daughter Caroline.
As for his post-race Father's Day plans: "I think I'm going to go home and put my feet up and rest after my run."