By Jenny Earl

With 26 names written across his forearm, Ryan Fessler, 21, was able to finish his first marathon last year in Chicago.

Each name represented a person Fessler knew who had battled cancer at some point in their life — one name for every mile.

“Whether they beat cancer or not I ran for them,” he said.

Volunteering at the Chicago Marathon in 2008, Fessler had the urge to run. However, it wasn’t until last year that he received the nudge that he had been looking for —  running for the kids.

Preparing for the marathon seemed pretty intimidating, but with the help of a Dance Marathon the Marathon coach, he was able to stick to a schedule that he could manage.

“The hardest step on every run is the first one out the door,” said Fessler.

Finally the big day came. He arrived in Chicago with an audience of over 1.7 million people.

“Once race day came, I was ready to give the streets of Chicago everything I had to cross that finish line,” he said.

The first three miles he looked around as he ran to soak everything in. After about nine more miles he started to feel the pressure.

“At mile 12, my body told me to stop and drop out of the race. At mile 20 my body said Why are you still trying to finish this race? Drop out now,” said Fessler. “I kept telling my legs to shut up and stop hurting.”

Turning up the volume on his iPod and with cheers from Dance Marathon supporters and Hawkeye fans in the background, he continued to run.

“On my [music] playlist I actually had a radiothon of one of our Dance Marathon kiddos which really hit home,” he said.

Gearing up to run his second Chicago Marathon in October for the kids, Fessler has been taking his own advice with nightly runs and lengthy training.

“Dance Marathon is the sole reason I was able to finish the marathon,” he said.

With the Chicago Marathon coming up next month, Fessler said he will continue to remember the kids who continue to fight and have fought cancer.

“They are the reason why I am able to finish a marathon,” he said.  “They keep me going.”

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