It was only the second time out of six that Maddie's butterflies had sunshine in which to flutter their wings as they ran or walked a 5-kilometer course.
“We think that Maddie giggles, that it tickles her to see us run in the rain,” said Donna Morgan, mother of Madilyn Grace Morgan, who died in 2005 after a struggle with pulmonary veno occlusive disease.
Her family formed the Butterflies for Maddie Foundation in 2006, and the 5k walk and run as well as a half-mile fun run for kids grew out of that as a fundraiser. Morgan thinks of all those who participate in and help with the event as Maddie's butterflies.
When Maddie was on life support in Kosair's Children's Hospital in Louisville, a friend of theirs wrote a song based on some of the things he saw around her. He named it “Butterflies for Maddie,” “so it just kind of stuck,” Morgan said of the foundation and fundraising events' name.
As the sun warmed the Saturday morning that had had lows in the mid-30s, people from all over the region flocked to the Barren County Family YMCA, and between 450 and 500 had registered for the sixth annual 5k.
“I stand at the finish line. That's the only time I get to see and kiss everybody and thank them for coming,” Donna Morgan said.
She was handing out high fives left and right later as runners and walkers came up that last hill on YMCA Way and approached the end of the challenge, but not until after she had led the way along the route, standing through the sunroof of a black police SUV with her white wings stark against her otherwise black outfit and her hair.
Saturday represented firsts in several ways, such as the first time in an actual race or in this particular race for some runners.
The mother-daughter duo of Rhonda and Miranda Hoggard, both of Edmonton, answered with “a big loud 'no!'” to whether they'd ever participated in a 5k walk or run.
Rhonda, who said she does walk a lot for exercise, decided to sign up for the event this year as a walker because it seemed to her there was more excitement about it and “a whole lot” more people she knew were participating.
“She said she was doing it, so it decided to do it with her,” said Miranda, 27, who doesn't walk much.
“So I may have to drag her,” her 54-year-old mother said.
But at the end of the course, as they crossed the finish line just more than 50 minutes later, it was a different tune.
“We made it,” Rhonda said, “but I thought she was going to have to drag me for a few minutes there.”
They both, though, said “Yeah!” without hesitation as to whether they would do it again.
About 18 months ago, a couple of discs in Patrick Gaunce's back collapsed, damaging some nerves.
“I was paralyzed,” he said. “They didn't give much prognosis for walking. I still don't have any feeling from my knees down.”
He was in a wheelchair for about 10 months, then graduated to a walker and Saturday he used leg braces and other prosthetic devices with canes to keep his balance.
The triumph was all over his face as Gaunce, 52, and half a dozen other people and two dogs who stayed along with him completed the course that included YMCA Way to Reynolds Road to Happy Valley Road to North L. Roger Wells Boulevard to New Bowling Green Road and then back up Reynolds and YMCA Way.
Before the back issue, he'd had no desire whatsoever to participate in anything like this, and then it seemed an impossibility. With help from his physical therapist, trainer and nurse, that changed.
“Glory be to God,” he said.
That nurse happened to be Cheri Paull, a family friend of the Morgans who had babysat Maddie at at one time. So besides having a perfect opportunity to show himself and others his comeback, he wanted to support the foundation.
“I do it in Maddie's honor and I do it for Cheri,” he said.
Justin Matthews of Uno rolled across the finish line in his wheelchair with friends right behind him not long after Gaunce's arrival.
“I never thought I'd be able to so something like this, but I did enjoy it,” he said. “It means that I accomplished something.”
After the 5k but before the kids' fun run, the crowd gathered for a special treat.
Morgan had requested that her friend Chad Lockhart perform a song that a bluegrass band had done a few years earlier, but maybe in a different style, he said, but he couldn't quite get that to work.
“I couldn't do it, so I just started from scratch and wrote a new one,” Lockhart said later.
With his guitar and his lyrics, he spoke to Maddie, telling her we are continuing the fight against her illness and he painted a picture of his vision of Maddie in Heaven.
“I see you, chasing butterflies,” he sang.
Morgan hadn't heard the song in advance, and it didn't take long for her to tear up as she stood at the edge of the stage with her daughters' arms around her.
“That was my heart. That was so beautiful,” she told Lockhart.
A bit later, as children were making their way around a field for the fun run, one age group at a time, she said that song was 25 on a 1-to-10 scale.
“That's what I see in my mind and my heart with Miss Maddie,” Morgan said. “I know it came straight from his heart, and that makes it even more special. … I just loved it.”