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The Magic of Medals4Mettle

Dr. Ken Abrams donates his first marathon medal to Ben Noble of Marlborough, MA

Dr. Ken Abrams donates his first marathon medal to Ben Noble of Marlborough, MA Photo Credit: Steven King

Doctor donates Disney medal to disabled boy for bravery, courage

Published in baystateparent magazine

When Dr. Ken Abrams, a veterinary ophthalmologist from Rhode Island, completed his first marathon in 2009 —The Disney Marathon — it was magical. He crossed the finish line in 3:34:52, qualifying for Boston, and proudly accepted the Mickey Mouse finisher’s medal that was placed around his neck.

The magic didn’t end there.

Ken was inspired to donate his Disney medal to Medals4Mettle, an organization that facilitates the gifting of hard-earned endurance race medals to sick patients displaying “mettle” as they battle life-threatening illness.  Since then, Ken has run two additional Disney Marathons and donated his medals to the organization. In the letter accompanying his latest donation, he wrote, “I trust you will find a new home for my medal around the neck of a child who is making it through WAY more suffering than I will ever do at a marathon.”

That child is 11-year-old Ben Noble of Marlborough, MA.

Ben’s parents, Ken and Susan Noble, are overwhelmed and honored by Ken’s gift. “To me, it means so much that someone would take a symbol of an enormous amount of work and commitment and perseverance and give that to Ben as a symbolic gesture to encourage him,” Susan says.

An Act of Compassion

Medals4Mettle began with a simple gesture of compassion and friendship. In 2003, Dr. Steven Isenberg from Indianapolis was visiting Les Taylor — a colleague with prostate cancer—in his hospital room the day after Dr. Isenberg had completed the Chicago Marathon. On an empathic impulse, Dr. Isenberg reached in his pocket, pulled out his marathon medal, and placed it around Taylor’s neck.

“I want you to have this,” he said. “You are running a much more difficult marathon than the one I completed.”

This was the first gifting of a hard-earned finisher’s medal of what would become Medals4Mettle.  Since Dr. Isenberg’s founding of the organization in 2005, nearly 20,000 half marathon, marathon and triathlon medals have been collected and gifted to children and adults worldwide battling serious illness.  Medals4Mettle “celebrates our collective human courage, and our innate desire to reward and support each other as we all face life’s challenges.”

So Much More than His Disabilities

Ben Noble has faced numerous health challenges in his young life. He was diagnosed at birth with Spastic Quadriplegia —a severe form of cerebral palsy. Ben is wheelchair-bound, vision-impaired, suffers from seizures, and requires a feeding tube. He’s had seven major surgeries and at least 50 hospitalizations in the last eleven years. Ben’s latest medical hurdle was a full spinal fusion surgery in March to correct severe scoliosis.  Ben faces months of recovery from the surgery.

Despite his challenges, Ben is a friendly and engaging boy who “lights up the world with his smile,” according to his mom. He is an engaging, loving and sometimes mischievous big brother to his two younger sisters, Joelle (age 10) and Makenna (age 8).

“He’s captivating,” says Susan. “Ben is so much more than his disabilities. People just see a kid in a wheelchair and they don’t always see how hard his life is.  You can’t grasp it unless you are around him to understand it. He can’t speak but he’s got a lot to say. He’s really trapped in a body that doesn’t work.”

Ben’s disabilities haven’t stopped him from participating in local road races, including the annual Team Hoyt 5K Road Race.

“Ben understands what it takes from running races with me —and laughing hysterically as I huff, puff and spill water on him,” says Susan. “He was super excited about receiving the Disney medal from Ken.”

Medals4Mettle in Massachusetts

As the Massachusetts chapter coordinator for Medals4Mettle, Julie McLucas of Westborough, MA has been awarding hard-earned finisher’s medals to pediatric patients like Ben for the past three years.

“It’s the perfect volunteer job for me,” says Julie, a clinical social worker who specializes in oncology. “I get to combine my love for running with my professional life.” To date, Julie has enabled the gifting of around 300 medals – including Boston marathon medals from legendary “Boston Billy” Bill Rodgers.  She coordinates the gifting of medals to pediatric chemotherapy patients at UMass Memorial, and other times to individual recipients like Ben who are recommended to the program.

“Every medal has a story behind it. And every recipient has a story as well. It’s the pairing of these two stories that makes the Medals4Mettle so powerful,” she says.

One of those stories happened in Worcester in 2010, when Westborough firefighter Chris Knight awarded his Bay State Marathon medal—along with a genuine firefighter’s helmet signed by Westborough firefighters—to a young boy finishing chemotherapy treatment for leukemia.

“He put the medal on and the helmet. It was fantastic,” Chris says, recalling the event. “He was the one who really ran the marathon. Just to be able to give back like that was amazing. It was humbling.”

It’s these stories that keep Julie committed to the cause. Nearly every day, she receives medals by mail at her home in Westborough, MA. She sees her job as connecting two people on different ends of the health spectrum who understand the courage to persevere.  “To me it’s the epitome of the peak of health joining with the struggle with health,” she says.

A Medal for Ben

Ten days before Ben spinal surgery, over 50 friends and family gathered at the Nobel’s house for Ben’s Medals4Mettle ceremony. Ken Abrams drove from his home in North Kingstown, RI to award Ben his Disney marathon medal in person.

Julie McLucas said a few words about the Medals4Mettle program, explaining the compassionate mission of the organization. Then Ken Noble spoke for a moment about his son.

“This ceremony is an opportunity for us to all give Ben the courage to go into the hospital,” he said. “This medal was earned through a lot of hard work and training by Ken. Hopefully it will encourage Ben as he takes it with him to the hospital — and let him know he can make it through.”

Then Ken Abrams stepped forward with his medal.

“This is for you, Ben,” Ken said as he held up the shiny Mickey Mouse medal now adorned with a bright Medals4Mettle ribbon.  “It’s from the Disney Marathon. For me it was only 26 miles.  For you it’s a lot more work. That’s why I’d like you to have it.  Be brave as you go into the hospital, OK? I know you will.”

He placed the medal around Ben’s neck, as Ben broke into a huge smile.

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One Response to “The Magic of Medals4Mettle”

  1. Great article! Very interesting, and emotional.

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