One of my favorite quotes is from Kathrine Switzer: “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

If you watch a road race, you will see people of all ages and abilities giving their best effort, digging deep, pushing themselves through the final miles to achieve their goals. When athletes cross the finish line, they are presented with a medal, recognizing their accomplishments. Volunteers place the race medal around the finishers’ necks, congratulating them for their efforts.

Now imagine patients in a hospital, digging just as deep, fighting their way through radiation treatments, chemotherapy, or surgeries. Imagine a child hooked up to IVs and electrodes, wanting life to return to normal. Imagine children at a kids’ burn camp, gathering at the one place they feel they can be themselves without being stared at for their scarred limbs. Imagine cancer survivors who have finished their treatment, and are at a special exercise program, working to regain their strength. The volunteers of Medals4Mettle visit these patients, bringing the message of hope and encouragement from athletes from around the world.

The mission of Medals4Mettle is to collect earned finishers medals from half marathoners, marathoners and triathletes, and present them to children and adults fighting cancer and other illnesses in recognition of their bravery and courage in their personal battles. We present these earned medals in hospitals, cancer treatment centers, support groups, burn camps, and other care facilities.

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We do this as a celebration of the human spirit, knowing that while our medal recipients are not out on the race course with us, they are fighting in the race for their lives. We recognize and honor the courage of those facing serious illnesses. We show these patients that others understand what they are going through, and encourage them in their recovery.

Dr. Steven Isenberg of Indianapolis, our founder, is a marathon runner. He knows the dedication and perseverance involved in finishing a difficult race. The day after he finished the 2003 Chicago Marathon, Dr. Isenberg visited a colleague who was hospitalized, fighting prostate cancer. At a loss for words after seeing his friend connected to tubes and machines in his hospital bed, Dr. Isenberg pulled his finishers’ medal from his pocket and placed it around his friend’s neck. “I want you to have this,” he said. “You are running a much more difficult marathon than the one I completed.”

This simple gesture led Dr. Isenberg to create Medals4Mettle in 2005. Our organization grew from his office to over 75 chapters worldwide, all run by volunteers who donate their time to collect and present medals. In 2015, our 10th anniversary, we expect to present our 50,000th donated medal.

We donate our medals as our way to pass on the encouragement and support so many of us receive on our race journey to others that are facing greater challenges.

Athletes donate their medals to us because they believe the patients we visit deserve them more. They can relate the months of training and preparation for a marathon to the time a cancer patient spends receiving chemotherapy. They know the pain and soreness they get from a long run or training ride, and think of the pain experienced by someone learning how to walk again after an accident.

I have presented hundreds of medals to adults and children throughout New England. The greatest honor for me is doing rounds at children’s hospitals, visiting patients from room to room. Imagine the joy on a young child’s face when she is choosing her medal. Mickey Mouse? Goofy? The sparkling Glass Slipper Challenge medal? She picks the Disney Princess Half Marathon medal I have hanging on my arm and smiles as I put it around her neck.

I explain that someone ran 13.1 miles. I know she doesn’t know how far that is, so I tell her it’s like someone ran around the hospital floor a hundred times (which is actually a pretty accurate guess). Her eyes widen in amazement. I tell her that someone ran this really hard race, earned this medal for finishing, and wanted to pass it on to someone going through a really hard time. She grabs the medal and shows it to her parents, saying “I’m a princess!”

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The child life specialists we work with provide us with touching feedback about the patients that receive our medals. A boy wears a superhero medal to his chemo treatments because it makes him feel brave. Another patient hangs his medal from his IV bag stand in his room. A child that finished treatment went home with her medal and brought it in to show and tell at school.

Many of us have large collections of medals at home. Some are displayed on racks that we half-joking call the “shrine to ourselves.” Every medal has a memory. Those of us who choose to donate our medals do so because we want to pass on the sense of accomplishment and achievement those medals represent, and because we want to pay forward the encouragement we got from others in our race.

When I prepare medals for a presentation, I think of my most-treasured thank you note received from a medal recipient. She wrote: “when I started my treatment, everyone told me that I have to be strong, to be brave. You are the first people that actually recognized that I am strong. I am brave. Thank you!”

To learn more about Medals4Mettle, visit our website:

By Nichols