POLISH RUNNERS AT GATE OF IVY GREEN, THE CHILDHOOD HOME OF HELEN KELLER.

POLISH RUNNERS AT GATE OF IVY GREEN, THE CHILDHOOD HOME OF HELEN KELLER. The runners are shown just before beginning their 650-mile run from Tuscumbia to Chicago. The runners made the journey to raise funds to build a school for Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon — and attending school in shipping containers, the same as those used for cargo on ships.

En route to the recent 2017 Lions Clubs International Convention to celebrate 100 years of Lionism, a quartet of runners from Poland will began their 1000 kilometers trek in north Alabama and then ventured through five states to Chicago where they will joined the Lions’ parade of states and nations on July 1. The runners requested donations along the way. Proceeds will be used to assist the children in Aleppo, Syria. (The runners have in the past few years done children’s charities runs in four European countries).

The runners invited experienced adult runners or high school/college track teams/members to join the event. The locals were allowed to run any or all of the ten days. The format will be relay style — with each runner covering 25 kilometers per day. Snacks, hydrating liquids, and two meals a day will be provided throughout the run. (Runners will need to purchase their midday meals). A car or van followed the runners each day for safety’s sake.

In late June, the group of energetic experienced runners from Poland be stopped in Cherokee County during their run from Alabama to Chicago for the Lions Clubs International centennial convention.

The experienced runners (One has done 22 marathons during the past two years!!!) managed the 1,000 kilometers from Alabama through Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and into Illinois — where they joined the Lions centennial parade.

While in Cherokee County, the runners will laid wreaths at the World Wars monument in front of the courthouse and the military memorial at Centre City Hall. They also lay wreaths at Ivy Green, the family home of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia and at a cemetery in Pulaski, Tennessee — where many soldiers of polish descent are interred. The runners emphasize that they want to show respect and gratitude for the contributions American soldiers made in Poland during World War II. “We want to show that we support peace around the world.”

Members of the Centre Lions Club will hosted a breakfast — open to the public — before the runners travel to Tuscumbia.

A grand “Welcome to the Land of Cherokee” went to Mariusz Szeib and his fellow energetic runners as they visited in the county before traveling to Tuscumbia and the childhood home of Helen Keller AND running on to Chicago to attend the centennial convention of Lions Clubs International.

The runners made their jaunt by foot to call attention to the plight of the children of Aleppo — and hopefully raising funds to help support a hospital for the children.

Dr. Szeib is a past district governor of Lions Clubs in Poland. In the almost three years that he has been doing long-distance running, he has made 23 major runs — in Europe and Japan.

Mariusz Szeib and his trio of fellow runners arrived in Centre on Saturday, June 17 — after a flight from Warsaw to London and then a flight to Atlanta.

Though they had a two-hour wait in the immigration and customs lines, they were still awake when they entered the driveway at the local Days Inn!

This writer appreciates Lions District treasurer Norbert Falk’s “chauffeur service” — as he met the runners at the airport and drove them — and their huge pieces of baggage! — from the Atlanta airport to Centre — arriving just before midnight.

After a quick night’s sleep, the runners joined this writer and husband Al for lunch at the Spring Garden Chinese restaurant and dessert at Al’s office. Hearty appetites were the order of the day — as they runners noted they usually consume about 5,000 calories per day just before and during a run!

The runners attended mass at St. Michael’s Catholic Mission late Sunday afternoon. They were greeted warmly by all parishioners. The runners then accompanied this writer to Cherokee Rock Village — where, in spite of wearing non-climbing shoes (two were decked out in flip flops), all four zipped to the top of the highest rock formation. They were delighted with the view and took many photos and videos.

As they returned to a lower level they requested that this writer take photos of the four “holding up” the large stone formation at the entrance to the trail.

(Maybe they were trying to play Zeus or other strong Roman or Greek gods?). Those were the first photos e-mailed to friends in Europe!

On Monday morning the runners were honored at a breakfast in the Cherokee County Public Library’s conference room. On the agenda were were comments by Rep. Richard Lindsey, Probate Judge Kirk Day, Sheriff and Lion Jeff Shaver, and Centre Mayor Tony Wilkie — who presented a key to the city to the runners.

Others in the audience were Hokes Bluff Lions Don Jarrells and Jim McGuire (both past district governors) and Hokes Bluff Tawannah Lions leader Jean Hill; Centre Lions Jeff Wolfe (Thanks, Jeff, for driving the runners to and from the breakfast, for taking photos, and for your very kind words!!!), Norbert Falk, Diane Hardy (club president), Yvonne Salmoni (club secretary); Kathy Griffeth, Ginger Cobia, Shyann Wells (who made the wreaths used at the war memorials), library director Elaine Henry, breakfast caterer Edna Jennings, and this writer. ( The extra food was distributed among several Cherokee Manor residents).

The runners presented shirts, caps, and certificates to several members of the breakfast crowd. This writer was pleased and honored to receive a large, beautifully-illustrated book about Poland.

Following the breakfast, most attendees joined the runners as they displayed a wreath (in red and white Polish flag colors!) at the veterans war memorial at Centre City Hall. The runners then dashed inside city hall to have their picture made with city hall staff.

At the Cherokee County Courthouse, the runners placed a wreath at the World War memorial. That wreath was red, white, and blue.

The wreaths were placed in appreciation of American military personnel’s contributions to Poland in World War II.

Team leader Mariusz sated that the group needed some flag poles. Sooo-we went to Wal-Mart and found some poles sold separately from flags. When it was realized that there were some packages contained flag and pole — and were cheaper than the poles alone, it was decided to buy the packages. The poles were used to carry American, Polish,and European Union flags — plus the runners banner. Each runner kept an American flag as a souvenir of the run in the USA.

The runners decided to keep the extra American flags as souvenirs.

Because rain was predicted during the drive to Rainbow City to pick up a rental car for the runners, a tarp was declared as a necessity to protect the runners’ luggage. As we went through a check-out line, cashier Debra noted Mariusz had a different speech accent — compared to local folks. Mariusz told her he was from Poland.

She shook his hand and told him she was glad to meet him — and then wished him well on the run!!!

Thanks, one and all, for extending Cherokee County hospitality to the runners. They are grateful for kind words and deeds.

The runners drove to Killen for a Monday night stay, dinner, and breakfast on Tuesday morning. They then drove the short distance to Tuscumbia and Ivy Green — where they had a tour of the Lions’ memorials to Helen Keller and her family’s home, participated in a ceremony where they were greeted by Tuscumbia Mayor Kerry Underwood, the Ivy Green director, and Johnny Tuten (the Lions’ past district governor who has led the drive to raise funds for the new statue of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan — the statue is expected to be in place by early July!

THEN the run began — from the front of Ivy Green.

As the runners traveled through the front gate, they were greeted by 60 school students — who began clapping and cheering the runners. Interestingly, the students were wearing florescent green — the same color as the runners’ shirts. The runners had a police escort to the city limits — generously arranged by the mayor.

The runners shouted “We run, We serve. — the Lions motto as they raced down ivy green’s front walkway.

Lions from Tuscumbia, Florence, Killen, and Centre bid godspeed to the runners.

Thanks to Cherokee County native Sheri Mackey Torstrick for putting this writer in touch with a Lions leader in her current Goshen, Kentucky, area. Oldham County Lions Club members will host the runners for a night in the Bluegrass State.

The runners are using the run to raise funds to build a school — and hopefully a hospital — for the refugee children of Aleppo, Syria, who are now in Lebanon. Mariusz notes that when he visited the refugee compounds in Lebanon just a few weeks ago, he observed the refugee students’ school was made of containers (the kind usually used on cargo ships). The containers are hot, dirty, cramped and crowded.

The runners have a website and are on Facebook.

The website is www.freedomcharity run.org. Facebook connections may be made via “freedom charity run.”