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Kids show how friendship, dedication can overcome the challenges of coronavirus

Coronavirus has canceled a great many things. But not the bond between best friends and not the dedication of a 16-year-old runner. Maybe lessons for us all.

SOUTHLAKE, Texas — From Southlake to Mansfield, children and teens are offering adults object lessons in how to deal with the coronavirus. Adapt, persevere, and overcome. And maybe buy a wicker basket and a couple hundred feet of rope.

Maybe I should explain. 

Mitchell Bowen is a runner, a very good one. He's a high school freshman cross country runner and puts in as many as four miles a day, and once logged more than 90 miles in one week. 

But 16 years ago, the thought of him ever running was something his family never dared to dream. 

Credit: Bowen Family

Born with a congenital brain tumor, Bowen endured a craniotomy to remove the tumor at just six days old. The surgery led to inter-cranial bleeding and weakness on the left side of his body. 

Leg braces were the norm for much of Bowen's early years. Being a cross country runner wasn't necessarily on the to-do list.

But in 2011, just six months after additional surgery to improve the mobility of his leg muscles, Bowen ran in the first-ever Children's Health Red Balloon Run & Ride, a fundraiser for Children's Health. And he's run in the event every year since.

"Just proving to myself and others that I've got this, I can do it," he said. 

"I think it's a great idea," he said of the annual event. "I love it. I love running it every year with my friends." 

But this year, the coronavirus crisis shutdown the physical event on its 10th anniversary and turned it into a "virtual" one. For the first time, the Southlake teen can't run side by side with his friends and raise money for the hospital with his own "Mitchell's Magic" team.

"Not really surprised considering the circumstances that are going on right now," he said.

But then again, no one was surprised with what Bowen decided to do next.

We'll get to that in a second. 

Meanwhile, on a subdivision street corner 30 miles away in Mansfield, two elementary school best friends were finding a way to beat this coronavirus shutdown too.

"We got the idea from like, when we called each other," said 9-year-old Charlotte Dazey.

Her best friend 10-year-old Riella Finzer lives next door, her second-floor bedroom window faces Charlotte's backyard. But both families, trying to abide by shelter-in-place orders to keep their families safe, make sure the kids are always at least six feet apart.

"And it's like hard for me," Riella said, "because I can't see anyone and can't do much inside the house."

"I really want to hug them but I can't. It's so hard," Charlotte said. 

"All we can do is marshmallow hugs. It's like where there's a giant marshmallow between us," Charlotte explained. "And that's not as good as real hugs."

The solution came in the form of a little red basket, a rope, and a couple of dad-installed pulleys at neighboring second-floor windows.

"All the sudden there's a board coming through my house, they're rigging a pulley system," said Charlotte's mom Crissy Dazey. "So, it was fantastic."

Credit: WFAA

The girls, with the walkie-talkie nicknames of "Blue Tiger" and "Cheetah Girl," send notes, books and school supplies back and forth, staying connected in a high-tech world in a very efficient low tech way.

"It's better than like just staying in the house and yelling through the windows," said Riella.

Credit: WFAA

But back in Southlake, Bowen decided to stay connected too. The Children's Health Red Balloon Run & Ride might have been canceled as a physical event where hundreds gather to celebrate and to raise money for the hospital. But this year it is a virtual event with teams and participants still actively raising money for the hospital and running on their own. And Saturday morning at Bob Jones Park in Southlake, Bowen will run his 5K anyway, with his family and friends cheering him on. 

The Mitchell's Magic 'virtual' Red Balloon Run and Ride is what his team's T-shirts say this year. 

"The one where we stayed 6 feet apart," the shirts say on the back.

"I'm just excited that I did it for another year," Bowen said. 

"It's just so inspirational, it makes me so proud of him," his sister Lauren Bowen said. 

Lauren is a freshman at the University of Oklahoma in the nursing program, she admits that her brother's medical challenges and triumphs are part of her inspiration to become an oncology nurse. 

"And it's so cool to see how he's grown up and become the awesome kid who he is," she said. 

Coronavirus has canceled a great many things. But not the bond between best friends, and not the dedication of a 16-year-old runner proving to himself and the world that he can compete and contribute at the same time. 

Perhaps lessons for all of us on this long road we are traveling together.

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