Dying Runner Shares Her Medals to Spread Hope

Running isn't always about the medals. (Photo: TAKAZAWA/Shutterstock)

Six years ago, Kim Stemple was a cross-country coach, a special education teacher, and a solid performer in her age group at marathons and triathlons. And then she got sick. At first, her doctors thought it was the flu or pneumonia. Finally after three years of tests, medications, and misdiagnoses, the doctors figured out what was wrong. She has a rare mitochondrial disease that is causing progressive mental and physical deterioration. There was no cure, they told her. This disease would take her life.

Yet despite her grim diagnosis, Stemple kept running and competing in triathlons. In 2012, she was training for the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in Las Vegas when she became too sick to travel. The usually upbeat Stemple sunk into a depression. But then she received a gift that changed her whole outlook on life — it was the finisher's medal from the Vegas marathon and it was given to her by a friend who had finished the race and knew how much it would mean to her.

Stemple hung the medal near her hospital bed and it was an instant conversation starter with doctors, nurses and anyone who came to visit. That medal pulled Stemple out of her depression. And since she had a whole slew of medals at home from races that she had competed in, she decided that since she couldn't take those medals with her when she died, she might as well pass them on to someone else who could use some encouragement.

And just like that, Stemple started We Finish Together, an organization dedicated to connecting runners who wish to donate medals with those who might appreciate them. Stemple pens a handwritten note of encouragement on each of the medals she gives away. And there is no prerequisite about who can receive a medal. She has given medals to little kids, veterans and even doctors and nurses who care for the very ill.

We Finish Together helps connect people with medals to those who need them, but Stemple says it's really just as simple as writing a note on a medal and passing it on. “The idea behind We Finish Together is that it is truly organic and there is no money attached to any of what we do," she told Runner's World. "The only rule is that it has to be done with love and kindness."