Tom Archdeacon: ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ to inspire at USAF Marathon

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caleigh Little Miss Sunshine & the USAF Marathon

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

When it comes to the U.S. Air Force Marathon, forget today’s weather forecast.

While the meteorologists are calling for an 80 percent chance of rain and possible morning thunderstorms, Caleigh Hildebrandt is telling us there will be a little sunshine, too.

Against all odds, the 23-year-old Bellbrook woman — nicknamed "Little Miss Sunshine" — plans to compete in the annual 26.2-mile event.

Her story may well be the most remarkable of the over 15,500 competitors taking part in the marathon and its three satellite races.

Five days ago she had surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to put in a port so she could begin chemotherapy for the cancer — stage IV carcinoma — that’s spread to her liver, bladder and spine. The surgery was complicated because of the spina bifida she’s had since birth that has left her wheelchair bound.

RELATED: Big challenge for 'Little Miss Sunshine'

Then last Tuesday she nearly died.

During her initial chemo session, she had a seizure that lasted 40 minutes and “left us all terrified,” said her mom, Bonnie.

By the time Saturday’s race begins she already will have had five chemo treatments, Bonnie said, and she might get another oral one during the race.

She gets morphine in the morning and at night for the pain. And though she’s scheduled for more of it during the day, she refuses it because of how it makes her feel.

Instead, when the pain becomes intense, she has her mom or her dad, Randy, read some of her “happy mail,” as she calls it. Ever since her story appeared in this column last Sunday — and after a relative posted a Facebook report on her — she’s been receiving well wishes from across the nation.

Her mom said Caleigh “insists” on racing today — she’ll be in the Burley jogging stroller her retired Air Force dad will push — because, as he said, “she wants to pay it forward.”

She’s made her marathon a fund-raising event to benefit sick and disabled children with some Special Wish trips similar to the one she took a few years ago.

Since birth, Caleigh’s had over 30 surgeries. Then two weeks ago — five months after she’d begun training with her dad for today’s race — she got the out-of-the blue cancer diagnosis that left the family reeling.

And yet Caleigh presses on.

It’s how she’s lived her entire life and why Pat McGohan, the founder of the McGohan Brabender company, where she works, dubbed her “Little Miss Sunshine” for the way she regularly brings cheer to fellow employees.

As for her grit, that was recognized by Kyle Maynard, the ESPY Award-winning college wrestler, quadruple amputee, mountain climber and motivational speaker who presented her with the No Excuses Award at the Cinderella Ball in Washington, D.C. for students with disabilities and serious illnesses.

“I don’t know if she can do this, but she’ll try,” said Bonnie. “Her oncologist said to let her because it means so much to her and would be good for her (mental health).”

The thing that has concerned Caleigh the most was that she has not been able to go out and raise the funds she wanted to make the Special Wish dream come true.

But since last Sunday’s newspaper story, some people have stepped up to help and you still can, too.

Support TEAM CALEIGH with a tax deductible contribution made in her name to:

A Special Wish Foundation – Dayton Chapter, 436 Valley Street, Dayton, Ohio, 45404.

Meanwhile, Caleigh has been trying to get ready for the race.

“She sleeps between Randy and me at night because we have to keep an eye on her,” Bonnie said Friday. “So this morning she wakes up at 5 a.m. and she’s confused by the morphine and says, ‘Dad, is the marathon in three days?’

“He said. ‘No, it’s tomorrow morning.’

“A moment later she asked, ‘Is the marathon in two days?’ And, he said, ‘No, tomorrow.’

“Finally, he goes, ‘Are you in pain?’

“She said no and he said, ‘Well then go back to sleep, it’s 5 a.m.’

“And that’s when it hit her and she says, ‘No, we gotta get up. We’ve got so much to do!”

After all, she is the one bringing the sunshine that will eclipse the day’s storm clouds and rain.

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