I’m what some people might call a minimalist, and I guess I can’t argue with that.  I mean, everything I own is in my Honda Element, the car that I live in. Well, everything except my high school letter jacket which is hanging at my mom’s house.  So, what does a minimalist, van dwelling ultrarunner do with the plethora of running medals that I’ve acquired over the years?

Akabill Amulet

Akabill Amulet

First, stop accumulating them. No, I don’t mean stop running, I have transitioned from running races for medals to running races for experiences. I still get finishers awards, but now I prefer Akabill Amulets, Sweeney Shovels, fleece blankets, and of course, belt buckles (and though they are much more practical than medals I still don’t even wear the buckles). I’m sure I may run a few races in the future that give medals at the end. I guess I’ll deal with the hardware when I get there, or bypass the medal stand in favor of the beer tent, a much better idea.

But hey, that’s all about the future medals, right? What about the surplus of heavy medals stored away, impairing the gas mileage in my house?

Well, I’ve been running marathons since 2002, and in that time I’ve amassed a large number of race medals. The first medal was a huge accomplishment, and a large source of pride. It was the 2002 Chicago Marathon, my freshman year in college, and my first marathon. I trained hard, ran hard, and was so proud of that medal that I wore it to all of my classes for a week (I know…embarrassing, huh?).

The second medal was also a Chicago Marathon award in 2006, and again I was proud enough to wear it to work for a few days. Then the third, fourth, fifth….and on and on until I had 40+ race medals, all stuffed in a box under my bed. Each time I earned a new medal I’d take a picture of it, take it off, and stuff it away for safe keeping. When I lived in an apartment with plenty of space this was fine, but when I started preparing to live in my car that small box of heavy medals became a bit of a problem.

Throughout the year I had given away most everything I owned. Furniture, kitchenware, clothing…and it was liberating. Besides, why do I need 25 race t-shirts if I only wear 5? Shouldn’t someone else who needs a t-shirt today be wearing one? But what about race medals, it’s not quite the same as giving away t-shirts and furniture…or is it?

I started looking for options to do something positive with my race medals. I was pretty sure that Goodwill had no interest in them. I searched the internet and came across the Medals4Mettle organization.

me·dal – /ˈmed-l/ – noun – a flat piece of medal, usually to commemorate the completion of a running race, of which I no longer needed to tote around in my new house, aka, my car.

met·tle – /ˈmedl/ – noun – a person’s ability to cope well with difficulties or to face a demanding situation in a spirited and resilient way.

Since 2005, Medals4Mettle has been giving endurance athletes an opportunity to pay it forward by gifting their hard earned medals to people who demonstrate similar mettle, or courage, as they face life’s challenges. The organization was started by Steven Isenberg, M.D., a surgeon who paid a visit to a colleague who was hospitalized the day after Steven finished the 2003 Chicago Marathon. Dr. Isenberg pulled his finishes’ medal from his pocket and placed it around his friend’s neck. Before he died, Steven’s friend told him how much he treasured the Chicago Marathon medal, and the organization was born.

Chris Tarzan Clemens - Medals4Mettle

Chris Tarzan Clemens – Medals4Mettle

One Saturday afternoon I set all of my medals out and one by one cut the ribbons off of them and stacked them in a USPS flat rate box. I no longer needed these shiny objects to remind me of my running accomplishments. Instead, I wanted to pass on my positive thoughts, prayers, and good karma I’ve had in my life to those who need it right now. I shipped them to the Southern California Chapter where they would be outfitted with Medals4Mettle ribbon lanyards and then taken to hospitals in the area to honor local patients.

Laid before me was the history of my running career, but that’s just what it was, the history. We traverse our past to get to our present and live for the future. The medals would be going to people who have uncertain futures, but are still displaying amazing fortitude to push another step for another day. In the future I’ll be running my races not for my own accomplishment, but for my own mettle, in taking every day and living it to the fullest, always remembering that tomorrow is not promised to any of us.

I know because of their circumstances many of the recipients of my medals have very uncertain futures. I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like. I do hope that several make it through their own challenges in life, and maybe, just maybe someday, I’ll be able to toe the starting line of an ultramarathon with someone who was positively impacted by the added mettle they gained from a donated medal when they needed it the most.

Check out Medals4Mettle here:  http://www.medals4mettle.org/index.php