BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) On Sunday, thousands of runners will converge on Burlington for the 31st edition of the Vermont City Marathon. A select few will be focused strictly on their time, many others are looking to prove they can finish, and plenty are there just for fun. But five relay runners and the organizer of their team are looking to use the race as a platform for something bigger.
For Underhill's Jim Carter, a personal tragedy nearly 30 years ago served as the catalyst to dedicate his life to helping others.
"I do all of this really in honor of our daughter Andrea," Carter said. "She was in a car crash up in Jericho and donated her corneas, her heart, liver, and kidneys."
In the years since Andrea's passing, Carter has become heavily involved with the Transplant Donor Network in the State of Vermont, and regularly visits high schools to encourage students to register as organ donors. A few years ago, he and other members of the network came up with another idea to help raise awareness.
"About eight years ago, we said, 'You know we have a number of really active people in our group, maybe we should get a team in the marathon."
They called their team "Spare Parts," and eight years later, it's still going strong.
"I was lucky enough about a year ago to donate a kidney to my father," said Alex Wonnell of Burlington.
"When I was a baby, I was diagnosed with a disease called biliary atresia," added Cabot's Taylor Abbott. "Pretty much my liver sucked at being a liver and I needed a new one quickly so my dad stepped up to the plate."
Wonnell and Abbott are just two of the five runners on this year's team...and roughly 20 who have run for Spare Parts over the years. They both are excited to help bring awareness to a cause near and dear to them.
"When your dad or husband is on the couch doing dialysis four or five times a day, he can't really live," Wonnell said. "My experience was phenomenal but it's also brought me more into the transplant community in general."
"A lot of the time, people just don't know about organ donation, so the fact we get to get that message out there, it's a really good thing to be a part of," Abbott said.
According to Donate Life Vermont, about 22 people in the United States die every day while waiting on organ transplants. But according to Carter, the State of Vermont is making huge strides in that department.
"Five years ago, less than 5% of Vermonters had signed up to be organ donors. The latest count is it's now at 56%. We've gone from 20,000 Vermonters signed up five years ago to over 360,000 now.
He says that's largely thanks to a concerted effort by former DMV commissioner Rob Ide to register drivers...but...
"I think maybe the Spare Parts team is just a small part of it," he said.
As for the race itself, both Wonnell and Abbott say they have their work cut out for them.
"I'm running 5.7 miles," Abbott said.
"Is that something you feel comfortable with, you ready to go for this?" I asked.
"Not at all," she replied. "But you know we're just gonna take it one step at a time."
"I've got a funny twist here," Wonnell started. "I have a torn right lateral meniscus but that only affects cutting. So I'm gonna take it relatively easy but I'm sure when the time comes, I'll want to run pretty hard."
Carter has faith in them regardless.
"Well I'm looking forward to Alex sprinting the whole way...and then Taylor, and watching her sprint the whole way," as he looked at both and chuckled.
And they're hopeful they can convince a few of the other runners, and spectators, to register as well.