Runners during the A2A Race for Mercy had the wind in their face and at their back. Along the course and entering the stadium, a number of volunteers also had their back. And in some cases, it was the extra encouragement that allowed participants to dig deep and cross the finish line in support of the cancer center, which the race benefits.

"We have almost 600 volunteers," Alison Smalley, A2A Founder and Race Directors said. "It seems like people are really wanting to get involved. I think the publicity gets people stirred up and excited about the race."

The excitement extends to participants. Smalley said she met a runner from Tulsa who told her that A2A is their favorite race to take part in."

Runners from as far as Idaho competed in the race as well as a healthy contingent of local runners. Patty Cheek took part in her second A2A and finished 51st among men and women in the half-marathon.

"It was a little windier this year but the temperature was cooler," Cheek said. "I worked on my time, staying at a steady pace. Last year, I would go fast and then slow down. This year, I ran my race."

Competing in the race was both a reason for recreation and competition. It was also for a cause that hit home for the Ardmore resident.

"This race is in our hometown and it is to support the cancer center," Cheek said. "I also have a passion for it because I am a nurse."

Other nurses and hospital personnel were posted at two spots within Noble Stadium, cheering on the hundreds of runners entering onto the track. On one side of the stadium, the Mercy Thunder Cheer Squad greeted runners. On the other side, the Pit Crew, also from Mercy, gave that last bit of encouragement in the homestretch.

"There were 12 of us but two had to go to church," Dawn Davis, captain of Mercy Thunder, said. "We came out at 8:45 a.m. and started cheering. It's awesome to see people finish. There was one guy that had a shirt that said he had weighed 431 pounds and had been running for 12 months.

"Plus we are all bonding. It has given us a chance to do something outside of work."

Volunteers were also lined across the course as well as in different parts of the stadium. For some, the A2A is an annual event to get out and support the community.

"We have a lot of fun," Mita Bates said. "It's like we have the same people that come back to volunteer."

Steve Wright volunteered on the course as bike patrol, keeping a helpful eye on runners on the fourth through sixth mile.

"We just make sure people are running smooth and not limping," Wright said. "If anybody needs anything, we are there to call someone to help. That is kind of why we are there. It's kind of basic, but every little thing helps and we also provide encouragement."

And with four years under the belt, the A2A becomes easier to run as volunteers continue to step up to the plate to promote the cancer center and the City of Ardmore.

"Every different committee has remarked it is easier," Smalley said. "We are more organized and that is what makes it fun."

Michael Pineda