By Elijah Mckenzie

After Dr. Steven Isenberg finished the Chicago Marathon in 2003, he paid a visit to Les Taylor, a colleague who was hospitalized and battling prostate cancer. A head and neck surgeon from Indianapolis, Ind., Isenberg decided to offer his newly-acquired marathon medal to Taylor as a token of bravery for his fight against cancer.

After Taylor’s death, Isenberg established the Medals4Mettle charity in 2005, aimed at collecting marathon medals from runners across the country and donating them to patients with serious illnesses.

A variety of medals have since been awarded by athletes as diverse as Olympic competitors and Indianapolis 500 drivers, honoring patients in the Indianapolis area who show courage in their fights against illnesses.

It wasn’t long before new Medals4Mettle chapters began springing up in cities throughout the United States and Canada, prompting marathon runners to donate their medals to local hospital patients in a variety of cities.

In 2009, the movement made its way into Derby City.

“I loved the idea,” said Riley Jones, a third-year graduate student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and the founder of the Louisville chapter of Medals4Mettle. “I was an athlete myself, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to give my marathon medal to a patient here. I wanted it to be local – to give it to someone that knew me.”

Jones said it was at that moment that he decided to start a Medals4Mettle chapter in Louisville. U of L undergraduate, dental and medical students have since donated medals from the Derby Marathon and miniMarathon.

Sally Feeney, a practice manager in pediatric hematology and oncology at the School of Medicine, said that Medals4Mettle has been a learning experience for students, especially those in the medical field.

“This has been probably one of the best things I’ve witnessed in my 25 years of working here,” said Feeney. “It’s awesome to see future doctors relate to patients as people. And to know that they’re going to take that on with them after graduation is wonderful.”

Twelve participants took part in Medals4Mettle with the Derby Marathon and miniMarathon in 2009. The following year, around 80 runners ran for the Medals4Mettle charity. This year, approximately 50 students are expected to run in the Derby Marathon and miniMarathon and give their medals to patients being treated by U of L pediatrics.

Some patients have the option of waiting at the finish line to cross with the runners.

For Jones, running the marathon has been an experience that has left a lasting impression.

“The kid who crossed the finish line with me – he was a patient at the hospital – and when we crossed together, he looked at me and just said, ‘Thank you,'” said Jones.

Dr. Salvatore Bertolone, a professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine and the director of hematology/oncology at Kosair Children’s Hospital, said the Medals4Mettle charity is much like a study in holistic medicine, which allows students to understand patients on a personal level.

“Medicine is a combination of studying disease and the art of understanding people,” said Bertolone. “The disease leukemia has no heart. It has no soul. It’s just a disease. Now, with Medals4Mettle, leukemia becomes very personal. It has blue eyes, it cries, and it becomes very personal for students.”