Documenting Race-Day 'Heroes'
As thousands of runners raced to the finish line at the Akron Children's Hospital Akron Marathon Race Series on Sept. 23, 2017, Kent State photojournalism students documented the sideline heroes who, at a young age, have won many battles.
Akron Children’s Hospital invited the students to cover the “Hero Zones” at the Marathon: Akron Children’s Hospital patients who have overcome an illness, equipped with “press for power” signs so runners could high-five them as they passed by.
Canon Professional Services loaned the eight students $33,000 worth of photo gear to document the day. Austin Mariasy, one of the eight, said each patient had a sponsor organization, including FirstEnergy, GoodyearTire and Kent State.
“The people there supported the runners, but more importantly they were supporting the patient that was sponsored at that zone,” said Mariasy, ’19, a journalism major.
Jim Arnold, Akron Children’s Hospital’s digital media manager, came up with the idea of using student photographers. While in college, he was invited to photograph the Kentucky Derby for a local newspaper. He wanted to recreate that experience and add in more workshop elements for students.
“Kent State has one of the best photojournalism programs in the country, and it’s right in our backyard,” Arnold said. “So I thought, “What if we could tap into that, giving us a cadre to cover all our Hero Zones?’”
After the race, students were paired with advisors to edit their work. They first produced a tight edit, four to five images each, for the social media manager. Then, they were able to create a portfolio of their 10 to 12 best images. The advisors included JMC professors as well as professional freelance photographers.
“It’s really hard to edit your own work,” Bruce Zake, part-time faculty member, said. “It was unique for students to look at their own work with a coach and determine what is really a good picture.”
Each student photographer had a unique experience because their “Heroes” were very different.
Carrie George, ‘19, a journalism major, covered a 16-year-old patient who had overcome a deadly autoimmune disorder.
“He’s just a normal kid,” George said. “He interacted with his friends and family, and I was inspired to capture that.”
Other students worked with families whose patients were younger and were still fighting illnesses. Mariasy connected with his subject and offered to photograph future benefits and fundraisers for the family.
“I love being able to take an assignment and make a story out of it,” Mariasy said.
Through classes in JMC, students learned how to approach sensitive subjects, in this case, documenting a child with an illness. They are taught the importance of treating subjects like people, not news. Students selected to participate had to be aware of their interactions at the race.
“(Retired faculty member) Dave LaBelle really taught me how to make a connection with subjects,” George said. “It’s not just about how you are as a photographer; it’s about how you relate to people.”
Zake explained that the race was an opportunity for students to work on a tight deadline and with a real client.
“It helps out Children’s tremendously, and our students got great stuff out of it – great images and great experiences,” Zake said.
Another student photographer, journalism major Nathan Manley, ‘18, explained how the work was bigger than other projects they’ve done.
“The work we did impacts how people see these kids and how Akron Children's Hospital care has benefitted their lives,” Manley said. “We made a difference.”
Photos from the event can be found on Akron Children’s Facebook page.
“We’re thrilled with the caliber of work by the Kent students,” Arnold said. “Our hope is to make this a yearly workshop.”