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A Father and Daughter Connection to the Finish Line

As every runner toes the start line, within them resides the story that carried them there. Those stories are made up of moments that culminate in milestones.

The history of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series is made of moments and milestones created by runners just like you. In honor of our 20th anniversary celebration, we invite runners to share their most memorable running moments with us.

This is the story of Leah B. from Phoenix, AZ.

 

A Father and Daughter Connection to the Finish Line

When her body ached late in Sunday’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon and her cell phone died and she could no longer blast music through her earbuds and there was a stretch minus bands, Leah Baliko talked to her father.

“All right, dad,” Baliko said. “It’s you and me. You’ve got to get me through this. Here we go.”

Baliko’s father, Bill Fergus, was an avid runner. He died on July 27, 2015 after a lengthy bout with brain cancer. He was 62. But on Sunday, Bill was by his daughter’s side as Baliko ran her first half marathon, finishing in 2 hours, 28 minutes.

“It feels amazing,” Baliko said minutes after crossing the finish line. “I’m honored to run for him.”

Baliko ran side by side with her uncle, Tom Fergus. Bill and Tom were two of 10 children. Bill was the first sibling to die.

“We were all crushed,” said Tom, who lives in Phoenix.

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Baliko, 29, ran with a charm laced through one of her shoes. The charm features a picture of her father and was attached to her bouquet when Leah was married on Aug. 13 last year.

“He’s walked with me several places,” said Leah, who got engaged two weeks before her father passed.

Baliko lives in Chicago. She grew up in Barrington, Ill., a Windy City suburb. She followed her father’s career path. Bill owned a pharmaceutical market research company. Leah works in pharmaceutical digital marketing.

During the 3½ years her father battled brain cancer, Leah moved home for more than six months to help her mother care for her father. Bill and Lynn Fergus were married 33 years.

“He always motivated me to run, and I always pooh-poohed it,” said Leah. “Eventually, I gave in and we started running together. When he was sick, that was my stress reliever, my escape. I’d run around the lake near their home.”

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Of Sunday’s 13.1-mile run, Leah said of her father, “I know he was here with me.”


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