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updated: 11/13/2017 12:50 PM

Dispute over dog's half marathon medal ends with happy tears

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  • Monica Prestifilipo, a leader in the Naperville running community, donates her "legacy medal" from the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon to Mina, a service dog who completed the race with Debbie Mossburg, a cancer survivor who founded a childhood cancer support charity called Bike Bald.

      Monica Prestifilipo, a leader in the Naperville running community, donates her "legacy medal" from the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon to Mina, a service dog who completed the race with Debbie Mossburg, a cancer survivor who founded a childhood cancer support charity called Bike Bald.
    Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

  • A new "legacy medal" glints around the neck of Mina, a service dog for Debbie Mossburg, a Naperville cancer survivor and founder of a childhood cancer nonprofit called Bike Bald. Naperville Running Company training group leader Monica Prestifilipo donated her medal from the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon in October to Mina during a city council meeting Tuesday, and council member Judith Brodhead narrated the ceremony.

      A new "legacy medal" glints around the neck of Mina, a service dog for Debbie Mossburg, a Naperville cancer survivor and founder of a childhood cancer nonprofit called Bike Bald. Naperville Running Company training group leader Monica Prestifilipo donated her medal from the Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon in October to Mina during a city council meeting Tuesday, and council member Judith Brodhead narrated the ceremony.
    Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

 
 

There were some tears at a recent Naperville City Council meeting when a special competitor -- a four-legged one named Mina -- received a medal for her distance running.

The emotional ceremony came after Naperville running group leader Monica Prestifilipo donated her Healthy Driven Naperville Half Marathon "legacy medal" to the dog to settle a dispute between race directors and the founder of a childhood cancer charity.

The legacy medal is awarded to people who complete the same half marathon three times in a row.

But a disagreement arose when Mina and her owner, Debbie Mossburg, completed the Naperville race for the third time and Mossburg insisted that the Belgian malinois -- running in the name of a child with a brain tumor -- had earned the medal, too.

When it became clear Mossburg and race organizers were at loggerheads, Prestifilipo stepped up and presented her medal to the pooch.

Prestifilipo, who has finished so many half marathons she's lost count, said it was "simply the right thing to do."

The dispute began after Mossburg, who founded the Bike Bald charity, crossed the finish line of the Oct. 22 race with her service dog, Mina.

Both Mossburg and the dog were given finishers' medals for completing the 13.1 miles. Then they headed to a separate area of the race village to claim the additional medal.

Mossburg said she got hers with no problem, but race officials balked at giving one to Mina.

"We give medals to participants, not to nonparticipants," race director Craig Bixler said. "We don't have dogs in the race. They're not legal entries. We said, 'No, dogs don't get medals.'"

What runners do with their legacy medals after earning them is a personal choice. But organizers say they must follow the rules in distributing the medals to keep them meaningful.

"There are people who work hard for those medals," Bixler said. "I just feel like it's our job as race directors to not devalue those by handing them out ... just to any nice story."

But Mossburg insisted Mina had earned the medal.

Mossburg's story starts when she founded Bike Bald in 2013 to provide emotional, social and financial support to families affected by childhood cancer. To raise money for the cause, she sponsors cycling-themed events in Naperville.

A cancer survivor herself, Mossburg said she's run the Healthy Driven race the past three years and always brought Mina with her.

"She's wonderful," Mossburg said about Mina, who functions as a post-traumatic stress disorder service animal. "The community loves her. The kids come out to cheer for her. She gives hope."

Each year, Mossburg has entered Mina in the race under the name of a childhood cancer patient chosen by Bike Bald.

"They can't do this race," Mossburg says about the children she's selected, "so Mina runs for them."

This year, Mossburg said she registered Mina under the name of a child who has a brain tumor, a child whose name she won't divulge because of health information privacy concerns.

But Mossburg and the race directors don't agree on the dog's registration, either.

Bixler said Mina ran using a bib from a Bolingbrook runner who registered, but then decided not to run. He said that runner's bib was disqualified and the entrance fee was refunded.

No matter, Mossburg insists Mina deserved a legacy medal because the dog has run three consecutive half marathons. She said organizers' reluctance to acknowledge that indicates they don't respect her or her cause.

As a result, she said she and Mina won't run the race again and will instead participate in next April's Naperville Women's Half Marathon, which is organized by a different company.

It wasn't the spat that triggered tears at the council meeting, but rather Prestifilipo's kind gesture as her medal glinted brightly around Mina's neck.

Council member Judith Brodhead was visibly moved as she narrated the medal ceremony.

Mossburg said she's contacted the family of the child with a brain tumor on whose behalf Mina ran. She hopes Mina's medal will change hands again soon and bring even more joy.

"We pass the medals on to the children that we're running for," Mossburg said. "We want it for them because ... it's an honor."

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