CHICAGO — Chicago is 3,256 miles from tiny Tok, Alaska, but they will be connected with the transfer of a very rare medal.
River North resident Denise Sauriol finished Sunday's London Marathon in 5 hour and 29 minutes, making her one of less than 2,000 runners to earn the Six Star Medal, which is given to runners who complete the six Abbott World Marathon Majors: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo.
Sauriol, 49, a full-time running coach, will be sending her medal to 10-year-old Holly Beeman of Tok, population 1,258. Holly, an avid runner, state champion hockey player and dog musher, has neurofibromatosis, which can cause growth of tumors on nerve tissue, producing skin and bone abnormalities.
Sauriol and Holly's family have never met, but Sauriol said she wanted to donate her medal to a child with the disease after she worked with the London Marathon team for the Children's Tumor Foundation. When she saw Holly's bio — she's a fourth-grader who recently started running, and Sauriol began her running career in fourth grade — she knew "this was the girl I wanted to give my medal to."
"If I can bring a smile to someone who is in their fight of their life from one of my medals, that puts more meaning to my miles," said Sauriol, who has completed more than 70 marathons, including one in Antarctica.
Holly's mother, Carrie, describes her daughter as someone who "won't let anything stop her."
In the recent Tok Junior Race of Champions dog sled competition, Holly got knocked off her sled and then ran to catch up to her dog team before earning the fastest time in her age class.
On Saturday, she planned to participate in a 10K in Tok as well, and she is part of the Tok cross-country/track team, which finished first for third- through fifth-grade girls in the Alaska Gateway School District championship.
Sauriol, who has a master's degree from DePaul, planned to Skype with Holly after the London Marathon, and she's hoping they can meet in person over the summer when Holly and her family visit relatives in Indiana.
"I'm excited to share this accomplishment with Holly to let her and others know anything is possible, running is fun, and there is a whole world out there for us to explore," Sauriol said.