A Father's Day race benefiting the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's neonatal intensive-care unit drew more than 1,000 participants to Hunt Valley Sunday — grateful parents, preemies young and grown, supporters and some folks who just wanted to run on a beautiful morning.
"This is our way to give back," said Havre de Grace resident Danielle Dabbs, 27. Her infant son Wyatt spent the first two weeks of his life in GBMC's unit, known as the NICU, after being born about a month early.
Sunday, the 6-week-old participated in his first race — at the walking end of the crowd, pushed in a stroller by his mother and surrounded by relatives.
"It's a great way to spend the first Father's Day," said his father, Chris Dabbs, 26.
GBMC said it raised $85,000 going into the race — in entrance fees and donations — and expected the total to rise to about $100,000. There was a 5-kilometer event for serious runners and a 1-mile fun run for everyone else.
John Chessare, GBMC's president and chief executive, said the annual race is one of the hospital's biggest fundraisers. It's brought in more than $1 million since the first run 22 years ago.
The money helps the hospital update equipment and improve care at the NICU, which serves nearly 500 premature and critically ill infants every year. About 10 percent of babies delivered by the hospital spend time in the unit, some days and others months.
"It's a fantastic opportunity for the community to show support for the most vulnerable patients," said Chessare, a pediatrician and — for a short period Sunday morning — runner No. 91. One of his first acts after joining the hospital just over a year ago was to run in the race.
Matthew Davis weighed just 1 pound, 6 ounces when he was born. Now 12, the Jarrettsville boy volunteered at the event to help the NICU that helped him.
"He was so fragile in the beginning," said his mother, Barrie Davis. "Now he's taller than me."
Meredith Einhorn, who turns 2 next month, came into the world early and suffering from respiratory distress, a "scary beginning" that turned out well, said her mother, Sherri Einhorn of Pikesville.
"These ladies saved my daughter's life," she said, gesturing at the nurses jogging near her.
Some of the once-preemies participating in the event are adults. William Hardy, 42, was born more than eight weeks early in Massachusetts. Now a teacher living in Pikesville, Hardy said he'd never run in any race before but decided he just had to do this one.
For Bob Kemp, 54, the event was memorable not because his children needed intensive care as babies but because his 15-year-old son competed alongside him for the first time.
Kemp has run hundreds of races, including the Boston Marathon, but he called Sunday's 5K a thrilling Father's Day gift.
"All the things he's done for me, I owe him back," said Grayson, a rising sophomore at Parkville High School.