Half Marathon Photo Captured Much More than A Cute Moment

The crowd was thinning dramatically as the clocked ticked past the three-hour mark at the finish line of the Door County Half Marathon on May 5, but Sheboygan’s Hannah Schroeder and her two-year-old daughter Emerson weren’t going anywhere.

Emerson Schroeder mimicked her mother’s worried gaze as she waited for her aunt, Hilari Rottier, to finish at the Door County Half Marathon. Click photos to enlarge.

The short orange cones on the side of the road were no longer necessary to guide the crowd, so Emerson played with them, rearranging and stacking them to form new shapes while her mom trained her eyes on the bend in Shore Road several hundred yards away.

“Have you seen anyone finish wearing bright pink knee-high socks yet?” she asked me, clearly concerned.

I had been near the finish line cheering and directing runners for three hours, but I had yet to see any bright pink socks. Shroeder didn’t take her eyes off the course as she told me that her sister, Hilari Rottier, was injured. Hannah just hoped she hadn’t been pulled off the course.

I was drawn to Emerson, who had now left her cones and was mimicking her mother, staring down the road to search for her aunt. I knelt down to snap a photo of her, and in the first shot her eyes are worried.

Worry turns to happiness as Emerson’s mother screams after spotting her injured sister round the final bend of the half marathon course more than three hours after the start.

Hannah, Hilari, and their siblings had been introduced to Door County by their dad, who brought them to Aqualand Camp Resort outside Sister Bay every summer to camp as children.

A strong, hardworking chiropractor who missed only three days of work in 36 years, Dr. John Bruns and his wife Jeanne visited Peninsula State Park with their kids often, visits that carved out “a really important place in our hearts,” Hannah says.

Last fall she learned that her dad, “a horse of a man” who played hockey as a student at UW – Madison, had cancer – everywhere. Hannah can’t erase from her mind the image from the CT scan, a picture of a relentlessly vicious disease taking over her father’s brain, lungs, and bones.

“We thought we were going to get at least a year,” Hannah says. “Looking back, maybe we would have done something differently. We just didn’t think it would go so quick.”

On Feb. 1, he was gone. John Bruns was just 62 years old.

“It’s a big void right now,” Hannah says, her voice quivering.

Hannah’s brother-in-law Josh Carmack signed up for the Door County Half Marathon before the family got the news about John’s cancer. After he passed, the sisters decided there was no better way to remember their father than to run together and reunite the family in Door County, the place where they had made so many memories with him.

Josh, Hilari, Hannah, and Hannah’s husband Eric ran together, each wearing a necklace with their father’s thumbprint. Eric and Hannah were running veterans, but Hilari and Josh were first-timers. Though Hilari got injured a few weeks before the race she wasn’t about to drop out. “She didn’t care what her time was, she was going to finish,” Hannah says.

As her mother jumps in excitement, Emerson breaks into applause, sharing a smile with the camera.

Hannah had brief thoughts of quitting herself – “That course was a beast!” she says.

But she didn’t. Three hours and ten minutes after the race began and an hour and a half after she finished, Hannah stood at the finish line with family members from Sheboygan, Georgia, and Tennessee, hoping her sister could make it.

That’s when I knelt down to snap a couple photos of Emerson as she stood behind her mother, bundled in a pink jacket to match the pink flowers decorating the bottom of her pants.

“Wait, I think that’s her,” Hannah said nervously, then, “It is! There she is!”

As her mother jumped and screamed, Emerson broke into a smile and clapped the soft clap of a toddler before darting in front of her mother up the road.

Dr. John Bruns died Feb. 1 at age 62.

Hannah and Emerson ran behind Hilari, cheering her and her knee-high pink socks to the finish, where they met the rest of the family.

“It felt so perfect to do the event and finish with our family,” Hannah says. “It’s a tradition in our family now.”

A few days later I contacted her to see if I could send her copies of the photos I had taken of Emerson. Before responding she asked her mother if it would be OK if she talked to me about her father for an article, and her mother responded with words more valuable than any finisher’s medal.

“Of course,” she told her. “Nobody would be prouder of you girls than your dad.”