Jonah Barnett, a young boy from this small town in Georgia has become the inspiration for a runner headed to the 14th annual St. Jude Country Music Marathon & 1/2 Marathon presented by Nissan, which takes place on Saturday, April 27. Jonah, who was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor as a toddler, has motivated Eastman resident Kelly Burch to train for and complete her first marathon, a 26.2-mile endurance race she compares to Jonah’s medical trials.
“I pray for him every mile,” Burch said, “and I am becoming a better person because of Jonah.”
Jonah, who is now 11, and his family moved from Eastman to Covington to be near St. Jude Children’s Hospital where he is treated. Burch grew up with his parents – played softball in high school with his mom – and the families have always been close. Over the years, the Barnett family has helped raise funds for St. Jude’s, which conducts important research to help critically ill children, and never charges its patients for care.
“Jonah and his family have always been an inspiration to everyone in town,” Burch said. “Even now, while he’s in a wheelchair most of the time and has trouble breathing, he is still a ray of sunshine for everyone who meets him.”
Burch began distance running after losing 55 pounds. That first year she ran a 5K every month, then followed up with half marathons the next year.
This year she trained for the full marathon in Nashville as part of the St. Jude Heroes, a team of runners from around the country who raise funds to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“I’ve become a lifelong runner now,” Burch said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I really enjoy it. Even if it’s hard, I make myself run. And I keep raising the bar so it’s always a challenge.”
“I try to run to be appreciative of what I have. I do it for people like Jonah, who can’t run,” she said.