THEY registered for the PhilHealth-Department of Health Run, fully aware they just can’t make it -- physically, that is -- to the nationwide foot race that fires off this morning to generate support for the country’s ailing kids.

But these 40 runners can’t be denied the chance to help bring this community closer to what it should be. Within their givens, they will respond to a starting gun other than those that will be fired in 18 key cities across the nation.

While the over 3,000 who signed up will negotiate a roller-coaster route of the Baguio leg, the 40 will follow a flat, rectangular course, one limited and enclosed by the walls of the courtyard of the Baguio city jail that, today, houses some 500 detainees.

Their route, rather, lap, constricted further by the need for literal elbow room, is 60 meters, said jail warden, Chief Inspector Wilson Banasen after he had supervised the measurement. That means 50 laps to complete three kilometers, the shortest category in the four-bracket race outside for participants at large.

Given the space limitation, the 40 inmates who signed up can’t really race against each other. They may even have to run or jog in batches. Given the lack of funds, winning will also be of no moment, unlike in the race outside which offers cash prizes to the top three finishers, aside from a group award.

All the inmates need is to feel good after completing the equivalent of three kilometers outside with the 50 rectangular laps, knowing they, to, contributed to the fund for the country’ sick children.

More inmates wanted to sign up, but space and fund limitations didn’t warrant.

That’s why some jail officers opted to run the same course, to raise the inmates’ total contribution pooled from jail visitors and sponsors. That’s why sponsors led by Shoshin, a small foundation established by former world karate champion Julian Chees in Germany, bankrolled their registration fees pegged at P250 per runner.

After all, half of what will be raised from the Baguio leg will go to Helping Hands Healing Hearts, a ministry that runs a half-way and recovery house at Camp 7 here for kids battling cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

After all, the inmates, like those outside, also saw their need to be helping hands and healing hearts too.

That’s why Buddies, an alumni group of Class ‘78 of the Baguio City National High School, will feed the 40 runners and supporters with “arroz caldo” (rice and chicken porridge) at the end of the run. That’s what the Buddies initially did - feed them with “pinikpikan” – on the Feast of the Three Kings last January 6.

That was when Rotarians under the Summer Capital chapter and others went to jail to deliver packets of bath soap, face towel, toothpaste and brush and P100 cash to each of 70 inmates who never had visitors for quite some time.

After the run, under their rectangular patch of blue, the inmates will wait for the awarding ceremonies outside to end. That’s when a representative from PhilHealth, the government’s health insurance system, will join them inside, to symbolically accept their contribution. (Ramon Dacawi)