Hand in hand, Hal and Fran Finney crossed the finish line in Sunday’s Select Staffing Santa Barbara International Marathon with their South Coast Fights ALS relay team and supporters.
As the steady stream of marathon runners reached the final stretch near Leadbetter Beach, their large group of yellow-shirted walkers became visible in the distance a little after 11 a.m., about four hours into the race.
Hal Finney was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in August, and his wife, Fran, came up with the idea to organize a fundraiser associated with the marathon.
The team has raised several thousand dollars and was joined Sunday by their families and members of the local ALS support group, which is organized by the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
Fran ran the tracking chip to Hal, where they and the rest of the group walked the last two miles of the race. Before his diagnosis, Hal wanted to get a Boston Marathon-qualifying time in either the Los Angeles or Santa Barbara marathons, but he can no longer run.
With at least 40 people, the group walked alongside the Finneys, who were the final leg of the relay. Hal carried the team’s chip across the line about 11:30 a.m., leaning on a cane for support.
Hal recalled the cheering crowd and announcer’s enthusiasm as they crossed the finish line. “Oh, it was great,” Hal said after they finished. “I’m pretty tired, though.”
They stopped twice to rest on the way, but still finished before many of the runners.
“At the mile marker (one left until the finish), Hal said he had just one regret — that he never got to run a marathon,” she said.
MDA Executive Director Parvaneh Givi and health-care services coordinator Andi Sass gathered with the group at the finish line.
They hope to continue the fundraiser every year, Givi said. All of the money raised by the team will go directly to MDA-funded research.
“We’re so grateful they let us do this,” Sass said of the marathon organizers.
Sass met the Finneys at the UCLA clinic where Hal was diagnosed, and after hearing the horrible news, they wanted to know what they could do, she said.
The Finneys have been involved with the Santa Barbara Athletic Association, and there were many local runners among the 1,670 finishers.
Pomona native Carlos Handler came in first at 2 hours, 24 minutes and 48 seconds, more than 10 minutes ahead of the next runner. Among the top 15 finishers, most were from the South Coast area, including four from Santa Barbara and one from Goleta.
Andrea McIarty of Santa Barbara was the first woman to finish, at 2 hours, 52 minutes and 23 seconds.
The ALS relay team came in at 4 hours, 27 minutes and 41 seconds.
Click here for complete results.
— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.