Medals4Mettle (M4M) is a non-profit charitable organization that honors those with debilitating diseases or illnesses. Runners from around the world, who have competed in marathons, mini-marathons, and triathlons, donate their finishing medals to M4M. In turn, a global network of volunteers, including physicians personally award these hard-earned medals to children and adults who are running their own marathon as they fight life-threatening diseases with courage and mettle. This Indianapolis based organization, started in 2005 and has taken off its starting line to a never ending marathon of its own.
“It’s just amazing how fast this organization is growing,” says Steven F. Isenberg, MD, founder and CEO of Medals4Mettle. “Every day I get medals from all around the country and all around the world. This transcends among all cultures and represents what we call, ‘international currency of goodwill’.”
How Did M4M Begin?
In 2003, Isenberg, a head and neck surgeon in Indianapolis, ran the Chicago Marathon at 53 years old. The next day, he went to the hospital to visit his colleague who was stricken with prostate cancer. Although Isenberg felt euphoric for having just finished the marathon, he also felt extreme sorrow for his patient, Les Taylor, who lay there in bed so utterly helpless. Not knowing what to say next, Isenberg reached into his pocket, pulled out his medal he had just won the day before and gently 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.”
After Taylor had passed away, Isenberg had learned from Taylor’s wife, just how much this gift had meant to both of them. This inspired Isenberg to come up with M4M where other runners could also experience the satisfaction of awarding their earned medals to those who demonstrate mettle every day as they battle their own diseases, or illnesses, running their own marathon. M4M symbolizes our universal courage and inherent desire to reward and support others as they face life’s many challenges.
Since its inception in 2005, M4M has been recognized for the following:
- Featured as Grand Prize selection for the inaugural “Human Race” section of Runner’s World (September, 2008) and in many local/national publications.
- Selected as the initial recipient of the “The Arnold P. Gold Humanism in Medicine” award (2009.)
- Awarded over 21,000 medals to recipients across the world including events in London and Paris where Dr. Isenberg personally awarded American medals to sick children and their families.
- Attracted attention of Indy 500 race car drivers and Olympic athletes such as Bonnie Blair and Brian Sell who have chosen to experience the exhilaration of donating their hard earned medals to courageous human beings.
The Uniqueness of Medals4Mettle Charity
“I can’t believe all the wonderful volunteers for M4M,” says Isenberg humbly. “It’s not about me. It’s really all about them. We have several local volunteers for the marathons: Indianapolis, Mini, Carmel, and Monumental. Most of them have helped me since day one and have never asked for anything in return.”Whereas most charities rely on collecting money from others to stay in the race, M4M collects medals instead. M4M works with established charitable organizations to generate awareness in order to provide runners a simple way to donate their medals to others. Almost every dollar donated goes directly to buy ribbons (designed by Walter Knabe) which M4M supplies for each medal donated. For instance, when M4M receives medals from runners, volunteers attach colorful branded ribbons to the medals before handing out to children or adults within a hospital. The other portion of proceeds covers minor expenses associated with the 501c3 public charity. Each dedicated volunteer of M4M is unpaid. They network by email and conference calls from homes or personal offices around the world to complete their mission.
Interestingly enough, each medal given to a recipient must be a medal that was earned in a marathon, mini-marathon, or triathlon. Runners can complete a Donation Form, providing information about themselves and their completed race, and even choose their recipient if they wish.
Speaking of originality, Isenberg represents a man of many talents. He is an ear, nose, throat, and head and neck surgeon, a marathon runner, a published poet, writer, and businessman. By the way, he continues to award his finishing medals to others including those within his own practice.
“My sister-in-law (Mary Ochowicz-Sczesny) was battling breast cancer while her 16 year old son (David Sczesny) was stricken with bone marrow leukemia,” says Pam Kassner, M4M Coordinator of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “These two were the very first medals I ever gave out when I started the Milwaukee chapter three years ago.” Unfortunately, David inherited a rare protein which made the possibility of finding a matching donor look very bleak. Even after his mom started an organization (www.davidsdonors.com) and two months of waiting, David’s doctors decided to use Mary even though she was only a half match. But after a routine mammogram, she learned the dreadful, unexpected, and untimely news—Mary had breast cancer. She was devastated not for herself but the fact that she could no longer become David’s donor.
Miraculously, a donor was found for David. After receiving a bone marrow transplant some of the cancer was still present so he endured 10 rounds of chemotherapy. Mary had a lumpectomy, six months of chemo, and 33 rounds of radiation all while taking care of her son. Two years later, she made the personal decision to have a mastectomy. In the middle of treatment both (mother and son) posed for a picture without their hair while wearing their M4M Medals that has captured a timeless heartwarming moment. Two years later, they posed once again together, only this time, not only were they sporting their medals but they were also wearing their post-chemo hair! Kassner recalls, “After David’s fifth month in a row indicating biopsy results with no evidence of disease, Mary (now in remission) finally got the courage to change her Facebook photo from the bald picture to the one with hair. It is a small gesture, but a huge step in putting cancer in the rearview mirror. Mary now joins us when we distribute medals.” Mary advocates, “The easiest way to be a hero and to save a life is to become a bone marrow donor.” (www.getswabbed.com)
On October 30th, a group consisting of 21 runners in support of M4M plus 5 local volunteers from Indy (including Dr. Isenberg) will meet up together in Washington DC., to run in the Marine Corps Marathon and help raise money for M4M. The medals collected will be donated to wounded veterans and to children’s hospitals in the DC area.
Then, on May 19th, M4M will be teaming up with volunteers of the St. Vincent Geist Half Marathon. This will mark an opportunity for brave marathon runners to donate their medals to M4M. There will be volunteers to accept these valuable gifts. In turn, volunteers will later deliver the medals to the children who contain mettle of their own at these hospitals: Peyton Manning, St. Vincent, and Riley.
Heartfelt Appreciation Beyond the Recipient
One serendipitous advantage coming from the generous act of giving these hard earned medals away to worthy recipients is the heartfelt appreciation not just from the direct recipients themselves but from their family members, friends and volunteers as well. Here are some excerpts from letters written to Dr. Isenberg:
“Dear Dr. Isenberg, There are not words to express my feelings today…What an honor to receive this medal in honor of Johnny and the dreams he had of running the Boston Marathon… God gave us Johnny, the most precious gift, our child. We still find it difficult to give our gift of Johnny back to God. It is the gift of people like you, Dr. Isenberg, that touch our lives as you have that makes this easier for us to do.”
“Today I had the pleasure of going to Wolfson Children’s Hospital (Jacksonville, FL) for the first medal awarding day…One little girl was awaiting a bone marrow transplant and several were fighting cancer… I wish you could have seen the sweet smiles when the medal was placed on them and when we congratulated them on their courage! One little boy listened, smiled, looked up at me and said, ‘When I grow up, I’m going to win a medal so I can give to you!’ Oh my. His father looked up with tears in his eyes. His mother dissolved into her chair trying to hide her flood of tears. I managed to get out of the room before my tears started.”
“Dear Dr. Isenberg, I ran the 2008 Chicago Marathon and a friend of mine, my age, was battling cancer. After completing it, I decided to give him the medal because of this organization you started. He died not long after that, so I told his wife she should keep it, she appreciated the sentiment…His reward is in heaven, he finished his race, and he was one of the strongest, most compassionate men I’ve ever known, plus a great volleyball player and basketball coach, too. I’m going to run more marathons in the future. I’ll let you know when I have a medal to donate to your organization. Thanks again, Sincerely, Chicago marathon finisher.”
“I think it takes a special, unselfish person to create such a heart-touching program like M4M,” says Kelly Williams, M4M’s first coordinator, present Indy volunteer and advisor. He elaborates about Isenberg, “Not many people who have so much success would bother with something like this and be willing to invest the amount of time this has, and will continue to take but I think it speaks volumes about the man and the vision he has imparted on not only the volunteers, but the precious children, their families, other doctors, nurses, etc. He is just an all-around wonderful human being.”
Growing globally, M4M has already accrued over 50 chapters and in excess of 64 coordinators throughout the US, Mexico, Japan, Canada, and Great Britain, and is still running strong.
“Since we now live in the internet age, I have been working with so many people for the last two or three years who I have never had the chance to meet,” says Isenberg. “What I notice, is that no matter how many individual differences we may have, we all share a commonality that binds us.”
Whether you know a runner who crosses the finish line of a marathon who decides to give his/her hard earned medal to another or you know someone who sits alongside in a wheelchair as a hindered spectator running his/her own marathon, or someone who graciously volunteers for M4M helping to connect the two, all these contestants share a common feat. They each represent a true champion.
If you would like to volunteer or make a cash donation to offset the cost of ribbons for donated medals, contact Indy coordinator, Sally Powell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Visit www.medals4mettle.org to learn more.
A Poem for Medals4Mettle
I want to open the door,
To a beautiful spring day,
Sweeping leaves off the threshold,
That wilted where they lay.
Rising from your pillow,
For pleasure, not for pain.
Replacing the scent of sick,
With that of newborn rain.
Watching your patient eyes,
In shallow sockets roll,
Viewing a colorful ribbon-
Lifting your soul.
Taking you for a moment,
Where courage needs no place,
Watching this gifted medal,
Bring a smile to your face.
Steven F Isenberg MD