Running for the Children: Bell Runners raise money and awareness for the Bell Center

Mercedes Marathon Bellrunners

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Ella Rose is a vibrant five year old, she loves riding her bike, and her kindergarten class. If you ask her mom, Ella Rose is unstoppable.

Ella Rose, is also legally blind.

“When she was 7 months old a virus attacked the left side of her occipital lobe. We were in the hospital for a month. When we came out she wasn’t able to roll over or crawl or do anything of her wild and crazy things,” Says Ella Rose’s Mom, Anne Martha Corley. “So she had to re-learn everything at that point and we were dealing with the vision impairment also so we really didn’t know what we were getting into.”

BellRunners race for the Bell Center
BellRunners race for the Bell Center
Ella Rose Corley on race day
Ella Rose Corley on race day

Ella Rose responded well to physical therapy, and was walking by 15 months. That’s when her family realized it was time for more social interaction.

“She needed to be around other kids, not just us, or therapy. Then someone recommended the Bell Center,” says Corley. “It changed our lives.”

The Bell Center in Homewood, provides crucial early intervention services to infants and toddlers with developmental delays. With physical and speech therapists, special education teachers and occupational therapists in the classrooms, students excel.

“She loved it, she loved being with the kids and the teachers,” says Corley. “Now she is in a typical classroom in kindergarten, she reads brail, walks with a cane and does everything.”

That’s why Anne Martha Corley and her family are Bell Runners during the Mercedes Marathon. To give back to the organization that’s given them so much.

The Bell Center is the official charity of the Mercedes Benz Marathon weekend, and has been since the inception. The race actually started as a half marathon fundraiser for the Bell Center 18 years ago. It’s grown ever since. The BellRunner program is a way to motivate and support runners and walkers in any of the weekend events, who in turn agree to fundraise $100 per mile they run for the Bell Center.

“We pair these bell runners with a child at the Bell Center, and that’s who they train in honor of, fundraise in honor of, they wear photos of these children on their shirts on race day,” says The Bell Center Marketing and Development Director Kelly Peoples.

This year Anne Marie is running for her daughter, and another child who is at the Center. Her team, is made up of parents who have all had children who benefited from the Bell Center programs.

“The Bell Center really connects us. It doesn’t end at graduation,” says Corley. “We really get to know the network of families and kids and become cheerleaders and friends. We follow each other in the school systems and get to know their progress and their challenges.”

Bell Runners can run, or walk, any of the races that weekend. There is a 5k, a half marathon, the relay marathon, and the full marathon.

“It’s such a team building experience to do anything for anyone other than yourself,” says Corely. She is admittedly not a runner, but says that shouldn’t stop anyone from signing up. “You don’t have to run, you can run walk. I do not like to run, I wouldn’t run for anything other than my child or these kids. It’s not as hard as you would think it, especially when you’re doing for someone else, especially these kids who may not be able to do it for themselves.”

It’s not too late to sign up either. Race weekend is February 9th and 10th.

“We still have a few kiddos here who have a runner who needs to be paired with them. We really want to make sure each child has someone running in their honor,” says Peoples.

There is also a children’s race, and this year, Ella Rose plans to run it too.

“The bell center has changed our lives. It’s given her confidence to do anything, anything that she wants to do. To the point where she wants to run the mile this year with the kids, I am very proud of her.”

You can find information about the Bell Center, and how to sign up to be a Bell Runner here.

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