Caleigh Hildebrandt, the 23-year-old Bellbrook woman who has spina bifida and is battling stage IV carcinoma – concluded the Air Force Marathon is stirring fashion Saturday as her dad, Randy, lifted her from the Burley stroller he had pushed her over the 26.2 miles and carried her across the finish line
“I’ve never seen so many people crying and cheering as I did right there at the finish line,” said Caleigh’s mom Bonnie. I was weeping and I was just so proud.”
Father and daughter finished in an unofficial 6 hours and 14 minutes. They were accompanied by the rest of Team Caleigh, which included her older brother R.J. and two aunts who ran alongside her and an uncle who ran ahead.
Caleigh had already gone through over 30 surgeries and was left wheelchair-bound by her spina bifida. Then she was diagnosed with cancer just two weeks ago and had surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center on Monday. During her first chemo session last Tuesday, she nearly died when she went into a seizure that lasted 40 minutes
Although many thought her dream of completing the marathon to raise money for other Special Wish kids was over, she refused to concede. Finally her oncologist gave the OK and thought it would be good for her mental health
Saturday morning before the race she had another chemo session and twice during the race, she had to stop and be carried to a waiting van where her mother – a nurse – did a medical procedure so she could continue. A paramedic then checked her vital signs and she returned to the competition.
Her story has become well-known after her saga was recounted twice by the Dayton Daily News in the past week.
“As she came through Fairborn, the crowd lining the street began to chant ‘Caleigh! Caleigh! Caleigh!’” said her mom, “And she managed to stick her arm out of the Burley and wave like she was the Queen of England.”
The race was especially emotional for her dad, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force and works as a government civilian employee at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
“Randy wouldn’t let anybody else touch the handle of that Burley,” Bonnie said. “He wanted to push her the whole way. He was really emotional.”
Saturday night as the family celebrated, Bonnie said Caleigh was proudly wearing the medal around her neck.
“She’s almost back to her old self tonight,” Bonnie said. “This race was great for her spirits. It was great for all of us.”