Why they run: 40,000 people can't be wrong

By Victoria

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Every year it feels like a scene straight from the movie "Groundhog Day," only no alarm clock is needed.

Music blares through the windows around 6 a.m. on a Saturday along Coleman Boulevard. It is the unofficial start of the annual Cooper River Bridge Run.

Typically, I bury my head beneath a mound of pillows wondering why anyone would get out of bed at this time on the weekend, much less run 6.2 miles over a mountainous bridge with some 40,000 people.

They have their reasons.


The Blonde Leading the Blind

Melissa Grunbt and her mother-in-law Ellen certainly stick out in a crowd.

"I'm totally blind, no light perception," said Ellen Grunbt. "I've been that way for about four years."

But it's not just Ellen's cane that catches your eye. The two are wearing matching hot pink t-shirts with black lettering that says "The blonde leading the blind."

"She walks with me a lot when they are visiting from out of town," explained Melissa.

"We were walking into a restaurant one day and I ran both of us right square into a wall and I just comically made the comment that I was the blonde leading the blind," she said. "And we both broke out laughing, so we decided to put it on a shirt to do this."

Melissa's husband runs the 10K every year so she encouraged his mother to give it a try. Together they would walk, not run.

"She was a little hesitant," Melissa said. "And I called one day maybe three or four months ago and said I've paid the registration fee. You're coming to Charleston."

If Ellen was once hesitant, it doesn't show. She smiles as Melissa helps her turn to face the camera for a picture.

"I can do this," Ellen said. "I'm going to do this in under two hours. That's the plan. I'm not going to be the last in the bunch."

Whoever is behind them will get quite a laugh. The backs of their t-shirts are lettered as well. Ellen's says "blind" while Melissa's reads "blonde."


A firefighter carrying a heavy message

Alex Murray must have had a tough time getting through the new heightened security at this year's race.

"It was like going through TSA," he said.

The Beaufort firefighter is dressed like he's going to work.

"I run for a charity called Code 3 for a Cure. It was started by a firefighter who's had cancer three different times," said Murray. "He had a lot of problems financially so he started this foundation to help other firefighters out."

At his feet, there's a whole lot of gear.

"Full set gear minus the boots, air pack and a flag," he said. "So it works out to be about 60 extra pounds."

Alex says he will proudly strap the extra weight across his back as a symbol of the burdens other firefighters bear.

"We come out here to promote firefighters have a greater chance of getting cancer and to raise awareness as well as funds," he said.

He's left the boots at home for a reason. This firefighter intends to run.

"Usually in 5K I run 35 minutes or so," he said. "I'm going to shoot for a little under an hour today."


Flying high in their costumes

One group came prepared to fly over the Ravenel. Where are they from and what is their mission? It's hard to get past the costumes to even remember those questions.

"Last year was my very first year," said Marty Biernbaum. "I'm a senior citizen and decided that we needed to fly over the bridge because it makes us healthy and happy."

So if the helicopter circling the gigantic crowd wasn't enough, Marty made enormous bug costumes to buzz the bridge.

"The wings actually work we know for a fact. It's scientifically proven," said Biernbaum. "It's pure magic if nothing else."

Marty talked her entire family into wearing the butterfly wings and caterpillar costumes. Her sister even flew in from Texas.

But there's a little bumble bee buzzing about and she says no, she's not part of the bug family. They've just adopted her.

"My first reason to run was the anniversary of my heart surgery," said Abigail Lynn Smith.

That was three years ago and she's made the bridge run her honeycomb home ever since. Her costumeless husband tags along.

"Not today, I'm not a bug," he said.

Both can't get help but be attracted their new bug crowd.

"They're fabulous, so many different colors," said Smith. "The caterpillar is fabulous."

Speaking of bugs, who invited the noseeums this year? They're less than colorful and all too real, especially when those red welts swell up on your arms and legs.

"I ate bunch of them," said the caterpillar.

Please, whatever you do bug family leave them at home next year.


Pushing their way across the bridge

Brad and Kristin Costello are new parents. How can you tell? They have their six month old with them in a stroller.

"We did it last year," said Kirstin. "I was four months pregnant with him last year."

Brad admits it was his idea, but he lets Kirstin do most of the talking.

"Last year I pushed him to do it, so this year he pushed me to do it," said Kirstin.

Together, they both have some serious pushing to do if they're going to get baby Liam and his packed down stroller over the Ravenel.

"There's a full diaper bag, extra bottles and extra food for us and for him," said Kirstin. "We've been practicing as best we can around our house in Charlotte."

Yes, the Costello family came here from Charlotte. They still have to drive home.

"We've already had a few people say by the end of the race, you're the ones who'll be asking to ride in the stroller," he said.

The Costellos say they hope to make this a family tradition, but it's dad who finally confesses it might not be all about the bridge run.

"It's a good excuse to come to Charleston," he said.


From the Middle East to West of the Ashley

Ask Lisa and Scott Stewart where they're from and he'll quickly tell you, "Out west."

"Really, we're from West Ashley," said Lisa.

The Stewarts moved to the Lowcountry from North Carolina six years ago.

"It was cheaper to move here than to keep visiting," said Scott.

Both say the bridge run has been on their "to do" list for some time.

"We just talked about doing it forever, since before we even moved to Charleston and this is the first time I've been home for good," said Scott.

Scott Stewart just finished up work as a contractor in Afghanistan.

"He would only come home every six months for a week or two," said Lisa.

So when he was home, Scott admits the bridge run wasn't always the first thing on his mind.

"You got your priorities," he said.

But now the two have more time together and say they want to stop putting off all the things they've talked about doing.

"This is a party. To just come out and celebrate, it's fun," said Lisa.

"The truth is we need the motivation of the group to get it done," said Scott.

"To get over the bridge," said Lisa. "Somebody is probably behind us going go, hurry, go."


Get over it, take it down

Joe Amerson and his crew have some of the best seats on Coleman Boulevard and they are eager to cheer people on.

"It seems to be a social event," he said.

Amerson is the fence foreman for the company National Rent a Fence. It's his job to put up and take down all the fencing around the start and finish lines of the bridge run.

"We do 20,000 feet approximately," he said.

He and his crew of 15 started putting up fencing first thing Friday morning.

"We installed it in about four hours Friday morning and then another six hours overnight," said Amerson. "All just to take it back down in six or seven hours. I've had about an hour of sleep in the truck."

They watch the runners and walkers take off from the tops of their trucks.

"This is my fifth or sixth race," said Amerson. "There is some good people-watching today."

But it's when the last runners and walkers finally make their way to the starting line, that Amerson and his crew really get excited.

"Come on by. Finish, so we can do it," he says, hoping to see the last wave of runners move onto the course.

Because when the last person crosses the starting line, that means it's time to take down the fences and put them away until they do it all over again -- next year.

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