Asante Wilson is running his first marathon today.

Well, sort of.

The 39-year-old firefighter was looking to raise awareness and show his support for a Maine-to-Maryland charity relay run for first responders that started Saturday.

So, he decided take a little Sunday jog around his hometown of Camden — all of it.

“I was born and raised here in the city, so I have the whole entire map in my head,” Wilson said.

Wearing a hydration pack full of electrolytes and gripping a red baton, Wilson departed from his mother’s house just after 7 a.m., heading down rain-slicked Washington Street with the goal of tracing the city’s border. He estimates it to be 25 miles, give or take. A marathon is 26.2 miles.

“The first responders need a little extra push of emotion,” Wilson said. “I’m trying to tie that into a run that might motivate people to start getting out and doing some things.”

Asante Wilson is joined by supportive friends at the beginning of his Camden run.
Avi Steinhardt
Asante Wilson is joined by supportive friends at the beginning of his Camden run.

Four friends joined him at the start, although they admitted they have no intention of circumnavigating Camden.

Wilson, a firefighter for the past 17 years, runs with a convert’s zeal. He took up the sport only a few years ago after he injured his shoulder on the job and had to find a new way to get exercise.

“I got into running as a change of workout,” he said.

Last year, Wilson did the Love Run half marathon and the 10-mile Broad Street Run, among Philly’s most popular long-distance challenges. He was training for his first marathon in April, but it was canceled due to the coronavirus.

Wilson is running in Camden in solidarity with the more than 100 participants of the around-the-clock Run 2 Respond Relay from the Great Cranberry Island in Maine to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Maryland, ending next Sunday.

The run is a fund-raiser for the Firefighter Five Foundation, a nonprofit that supports first responders.

As Wilson laced up and began his Camden run, a runner named Jody Dinsmore was set to depart from Rockport Fire Department in Maine for a 7.1-mile stage of the relay. She was expected to be joined by Jala Tooley, who is running in memory of her sister-in-law, paramedic Deb Tooley.

Wilson will take the baton in the charity run on Wednesday for an 8.8-mile stage starting in New York City.

The Firefighter Five Foundation was founded in 2013 by Steve Bender, a longtime volunteer firefighter with Reliance Hook and Ladder Co. #1 in Boothwyn. The foundation promotes physical and mental health among emergency responders.

“There is a lot of support for veterans with PTSD, but very limited resources for first responders with PTSD,” said Bender, an Air Force veteran. “The foundation tries to give first responders resources to find help if needed.”

Bender (no relation to this reporter) is perhaps best known in Philadelphia for running the 2015 Philadelphia marathon in full firefighter gear. Helmet, air tank, everything. His goal is to do the same in all 50 states.

“That was a fun weekend,” Bender said Saturday from a minivan in Maine, where he was shuttling runners back and forth.

He said he was in touch with Wilson ahead of his planned Camden run and welcomed the support and additional publicity.

“He likes to run,” Bender said. “I really appreciate him doing it.”

Early Sunday afternoon, Wilson checked in via text. It was, in fact, a marathon-length run: 26.6 miles in 5 hours, 12 minutes.

“Today’s run was something to show the people of Camden that the first responders are still here for you and working to strengthen ourselves in order to be of better service to you during this time of need,” Wilson said.