By CHARLES PULLIAMMore than 1,000 runners, volunteers and other participants took part in the first ever WillPower 5K Saturday in Franklin.
For Tom Grubbs and Heather Hanson of Vanderbilt University Medical Center it was another reunion.
The two flight nurses posed for a couple pictures with Will NeSmith and told their story several times to whomever asked.
The pair were part of the flight team that medevaced young Will from a hospital in North Carolina to Vanderbilt last summer just days after Will suffered a rare brain bleed that nearly took his life.
“We met Will when he was laying in his hospital bed there in ICU,” Hanson said. “When we first saw him, he was totally unresponsive. You walk in and you think this could be something that doesn’t have a very good outcome.”
|Video from Saturday’s Will Power 5K|
More than 10 months later Will still shows some effects from the brain hemorrhage, but it’s “night and day” to when the flight nurses first saw Will. The 13-year-old Franklin boy suffers from Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia or HHT, a genetic disorder that causes abnormalities in blood vessels.
“You see him today and I think, this must be his brother,” Grubbs said. “It’s fascinating.”
On Saturday, the first ever WillPower 5K was ran through downtown Franklin starting and finishing at the Franklin Public Square in front of the Mellow Mushroom restaurant. The 5K worked as a fundraiser to help pay for the continued rehabilitation for Will as well as a way to help raise awareness for HHT. More than 700 runners participated and more than a 1,000 turned out in support.
Steve NeSmith, Will’s father and race organizer, said 17 states were represented at the race.
“Will just had a lot of support from all around the southeast,” Steve said. “We are happy, Will is happy.”
Will said the support was overwhelming. He spent most of the morning congratulating runners as they crossed the finish line, posing for pictures with friends and families and mingling with his supporters. He also fired the starting gun and helped distribute awards post-race.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said.
The race mirrored that of a marathon with entertainment spread throughout the course and booths set up around the square.
“We really tried to take the big race recipe with fun all along the course,” Steve said, adding that high school drumlines, banjo players and support groups were placed throughout the course to encourage participants. “It was a great time.”
For Doug Schutz and his family from South Carolina, the race was just further confirmation of Will’s ongoing recovery. It was just last week that Will and his mother Stephanie NeSmith stayed at the family’s home during a field trip.
“Will did a front flip on the trampoline,” Shutz said laughingly. “We are just so encouraged and proud of him.”
The Shutz family has known the NeSmiths for years. Both families are actively involved with Camp Ridgecrest and Camp Crestridge in North Carolina. Will has attended Camp Ridgecrest since he was 7 and it was in the first week of summer camp he suffered the brain hemorrhage last year. The camps were primary sponsors of the race with camp counselors and staff all making the trek from North Carolina for Will’s big day.
“We see them every year,” Shutz said, adding that most of his family participated. “We all ran the race to celebrate Will’s recovery. The atmosphere was great.”
Sully Pierce out-stretched Adam Dodson at the finish line to win the 5K in 17 minutes, 15 seconds. Pierce finished four-tenths of a second faster than Dodson. Megan Roach was the fasted female runner with a time of 17:33, more than three minutes faster than the next female finisher.
Charles Pulliam is a reporter for Franklin Home Page. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cspulliam.