NORMAL — The number 19 was everywhere at The Corn Crib on Saturday. 

Nineteen purple balloons. Nineteen boxes with commemorative shirts and prizes. Nineteen organ donors registered with the Gift of Hope.

The number also was stitched on the back of many jerseys in memory of Michael Collins, a baseball player who wore "19" on his own jersey at Normal West and Heartland Community College.

Collins, 22, was an Illinois State University student when he died last year after a drunk driver hit the car in which he was riding.

More than 1,200 people participated in the first MC Strong 5K classic hosted by the Michael Collins Foundation. Organizers said it was the second largest 5K held in McLean County.

“The mission of the foundation is to honor God and remember Michael,” said his father, Jim Collins. “We're choosing to do that by donating to various charities and causes that were important to him and his family.”

Jim and Kelly Collins presented $5,000 checks to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and The Gift of Hope. The foundation is also working to provide baseball scholarships for University High School and Heartland Community College.

Amy Copple, physical education and aquatics teacher at Normal Community West High School, won a miniature engraved baseball bat for the fastest time in the age 40-50 women's division. Copple was Michael's PE teacher and gave him private swimming lessons as a freshman.

“Michael was an awesome, fun-loving kid. He knew when to be serious and he knew when to have fun,” said Copple. “As much as we try to teach our students at NCWHS how important it is not to drink and drive, Michael has helped spread the word even more in this community.”

Tyler Demarb, 19, of El Paso, who won fastest time overall in the men's division, is an HCC student who chose to run in the 5K\k to stay in shape and support the cause.

"I know about Michael's story and I felt this was a good way to honor him," said Demarb. "I can relate to the family because I lost my mom when I was in high school. I hope these events help people realize that this sort of thing can happen to anyone and it's important to stay close to family."

Tawni Ricketts traveled from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., to join in the run. She was in the car with Michael, and suffered fractures in her pelvis and back.

"A year ago today, I was leaving the hospital and I didn't know if I would ever be able to walk again," said Ricketts, who completed the race without a hitch.

"I made a promise to myself that I would run the entire thing without stopping and I wanted to do it for Michael. Crossing the finish line, I was looking up, thinking 'This is all for you, M.C.'"


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