West Michigan man runs Boston Marathon for others

With his connections to the children's hospital, Jason Wheatley, at left, was partnered with Michael, at right, who faces a variety of health challenges. Michael has been an inspiration for Wheatley. (WWMT/Courtesy of Jason Wheatley)

When the runners hit the starting line for this year's Boston Marathon , a West Michigan-born man will be on the starting line. But, he's not running for himself.

Jason Wheatley ran cross country for Portage Central Middle and High schools. He moved to competitive swimming for a few years, but when he moved to Boston in 2008 he got back into running.

Wheatley attends the Boston Marathon every year.

"There's something about the Boston Marathon that draws you in," he said. "There are hundreds of thousands of people who go and just cheer for every runner."

Five years ago was no different. Wheatley was walking through the crowd when the bombs went off, killing three and wounding 200 others.

"I was there at finish line moments before," Wheatley said. "Hearing the first one go off, you weren't really sure what had just happened. It affected the city, it affected the runners, and it affected me. Every year since then, I still showed up to cheer, and I finally decided that I wanted to be 'in there' and running that final stretch of the Boston Marathon with all of those runners."

Wheatley chose 2018 -- the five-year anniversary of the bombing -- to be his year to run.

Getting into the race

Wheatley said he does not run fast enough to qualify, so he decided to run for charity. Who would be that charity was an easy decision.

"I wanted to run for Boston Children's Hospital," he said. "Children are our hope, and I believe every child deserves the chance to live a long, healthy life."

Once accepted, he was paired up with a patient, Michael. Along with training, Wheatley has spent many hours getting to know Michael as they encourage each other on their journeys. Michael has Netherton Syndrome, Developmental Delay and Type 1 Diabetes. He faces many challenges including the need for a feeding tube hooked into him every night.

"He goes through so much," Wheatley said. "He sees 21 doctors over there, and to be able to look at him and see how much life he has and his health issues, it doesn't even phase him."

With Michael's encouragement, Wheatley has raised nearly $12,000 for the Boston Children's Hospital. Anyone who would like to donate to his cause, can do so through his website.

But, Michael is not the only person he's running for.

West Michigan runs with Wheatley

As part of his fundraising efforts, Wheatley auctioned off squares of the checkered jersey he will wear during Monday's race. For at least a $35 donation, he would include your name so you could run the race with him.

A swim coach from Portage Central High School, Michelle Greene, contacted Wheatley asking if she could put another person's name on the jersey. In February of 2018, her friend's brother, Adam Keilen died unexpectantly. He was an avid runner and ran in multiple marathons. She asked to put his name on the jersey.

"That was emotional to me," Wheatley said. "I said yes immediately, so his name has been added to my now completed race day jersey. He left behind his wife and two kids, so I am happy to do this for his family, for his sister, and for Michelle."

Keilen's parents, Joan and Richard, said their son lived his life full of faith, and he would be honored to run the race with Wheatley.

"I'm no longer running for myself. It's no longer a selfish journey," Wheatley said. "I'm running for all of these people who have so much to offer in life, or in memory of somebody, and it's just become such a phenominal experience."

About 30,000 runners are scheduled to run in the 2018 Boston Marathon, set for Monday, April 16, 2018. The first wave of runners starts at 8:40 a.m.

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