By Sarah Kuper
It’s a big month in the McCalley household.
Every February for the past 12 years, Will McCalley has run the Mercedes Marathon benefiting the Bell Center.
At first, Will ran the race because he loved running. It is how he met his wife and it has been his hobby since his early 30s.
But for the past five years, being a BellRunner has been indicative of another significant part of his life.
“I never imagined I would be running for my own daughter,” Will said.
Will and his wife, Anna Ruth, adopted their daughter, Francis, as a newborn. She has Down syndrome, which they knew before they adopted her.
At the time, Anna Ruth was working at the Bell Center. She called her husband when she learned about the baby who is now their 5-year-old daughter.
“I thought she was just telling me a hardship story about special needs adoption. Then she said, ‘It’s a girl,’ and I knew how badly she wanted a girl. At that moment I was scared to be driving. I really think God was sitting next to me and punched me in the arm saying, ‘That’s your daughter!'”
Through a private adoption, Francis came into the McCalley’s lives a few days after the 2011 Mercedes Marathon.
That next year, Will ran in support of Francis, who was attending the Bell Center.
Now, Francis has graduated from the programs at the center, but Will will run in honor of another child – Kayleigh.
“I’m crazy about the Bell Center and everything they do – I always want to be connected in some way.”
Anna Ruth has participated in every other Mercedes Marathon, but she will be sitting this one out.
After years of trying and waiting, Will and Anna Ruth are expecting a baby. Francis is thrilled that she will have a baby brother or sister in August.
“We’ve been looking for this reason for (Anna Ruth) not (to) run the marathon for a while now. We are happy about it!” Will said.
Will said he has run more than 30 marathons and he knows he is slowing down.
“I think I’m down to one marathon a year,” he said. ”It hurts and I’m tired but I’m running for them.”
He said that when he gets tired and discouraged, he imagines the smiling faces of the children at the Bell Center and it puts a pep in his step.
“They are the only reason I sign up. I could easily not run, but I do because of them,” he said.
Anna Ruth and Will aren’t the only runners in the family. Francis is training for her part in the Mercedes Marathon as well.
In a home video posted on the family’s YouTube channel, Francis dresses in exercise gear and sneakers, and stretches and hydrates like a pro athlete.
Will said Anna Ruth and Francis have a lot of fun making videos and he replays them in his head as he is running.
A video of Francis’ training was once featured on the news in a segment on the Mercedes Marathon.
While she doesn’t run the 26.2 miles that her dad does – she’s with him every step.
“She’s very inspiring. Every day I look at her and say, ‘I’m doing this for you,’” he said.
Will said he never knew he was cut out to have a child with special needs and he sometimes has a hard time even remembering that Francis is adopted.
“She could not be any more our child,” he said. “I’m just wild about her. She’s my best friend.”
The marathon is Feb. 14, but Will said there is still time to make a donation through his or other runners’ fundraising sites.
For more information or to make a donation to Will’s run, visit give.everydayhero.com/us/will-mccalley