Sherry Stick is a familiar face on the local running circuit, but the 35-year-old Eldersburg resident — the defending champion of the Preakness 5K — had a special reason to take part in a race in Southeast Baltimore on Saturday morning.
Stick, a fitness instructor at a nursing care facility, says one of her heroines is a woman she works with who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, but never lets the illness get her down.
"Her attitude lifts everyone around her," Stick said of her friend, 82-year-old Gert Simmons, moments after crossing the finish line as women's champion of the first Brigance Brigade Foundation 5.7K family fun race in Canton. "People see Gert and think, 'If she can do it, so can I.'"
Many say the same thing about O.J. Brigance, a former Raven player who also has ALS — and who uses his condition to increase awareness about the neuromuscular disorder and raise funds for its victims.
Proceeds from the race were to go to Brigance's foundation, which provides equipment and assistance for sufferers. The event raised more than $110,000, race organizers announced.
Starting at 8 on a bright, breezy morning, more than a thousand runners and dozens of power walkers started in Canton Waterfront Park and followed a route that snaked through city streets and across hillsides to Patterson Park and back.
Stick finished in 20 minutes, 41 seconds. Men's winner Greg Skipper of Baltimore clocked in five seconds ahead of her. Runners and walkers were straggling in until about 9 a.m.
Organizers set the length of the race at 5.7 kilometers (roughly 31/2 miles) rather than the more common 5K in commemoration of the number 57, which Brigance wore during his 12-year career in pro football.
Brigance — known, among other things, for making the first tackle in the Ravens' first Super Bowl win in 2001 — was diagnosed with ALS in 2007.
Now paralyzed from the neck down, the former linebacker uses a wheelchair and breathes with the aid of a respirator and communicates through a computerized device he operates with his eyes. His courage in dealing with the disorder has become the stuff of legend, a source of inspiration to everyone from fellow sufferers to current Ravens players and fans.
Still a front-office executive with the team, Brigance founded the Brigance Brigade Foundation with his wife, Chanda, in 2008. The nonprofit has raised millions in support of ALS sufferers and their families.
As he sat near the starting gate Saturday morning, and later near a bench in the harborside park, Brigance grinned as he welcomed the dozens of fans who flocked around him throughout the morning.
"To see him fighting for his life every day, always with a smile on his face — he's the definition of a great man," said Ravens All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, who completed the one-mile walk portion of the event with his wife, Shannon, and children Graham and Libby. "I'm here to show my support."
Former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott, now an analyst with CBS Sports, was an unexpected visitor to the event.
"I figured I'd come down and surprise the Juice. He's an amazing man," said Scott, who wore a "#57" race bib as he power-walked through the route's one-mile portion.
The men, women and children who took part ran solo and in teams, as co-workers and as families. Some paid entry fees, others were backed by sponsors. Some huffed and waddled; others had the lean look of serious competitors.
Skipper had a long, businesslike stride as he pulled ahead of the pack and motored down. The 33-year-old online advertising worker crossed the finish line in 20:36 to claim the championship trophy.
"It's a great feeling [to win]. There are a lot of outstanding runners in Baltimore," said Skipper, a longtime Ravens fan.
Derrick Ausby and his wife, Kendra, seemed less serious about how quickly they might finish than about enjoying an invigorating day — and showing support for a man they respect, even if they don't know him personally.
"I'm not a real runner. I just play one on TV," joked Kendra, who said that even though the jaunt through Patterson Park was hillier than she'd imagined, the day was gorgeous and a lot of fun.
For some, the mission was deeply personal. About 35 runners sported purple T-shirts that read "Judy's Joggers." They were friends and loved ones of Judy Herman, an Owings Mills mother who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and has an advanced form of the disease.
Her husband, Layne Herman, said the Brigance Brigade has provided Judy with a DynaVox, the same computerized speech-generation device Brigance uses, and a grant for a generator for the family's home in the event of a power outage.
"People who have ALS need a lot of support," Layne said. "The organization has been fantastic."