A proposal, a double racer and a weight-loss goal: Stories from the Miami Marathon

Proposal at the finish line of Miami Marathon

Stefano De Leo, 37, from Manhattan, New York, proposes to his girlfriend Sofia Hedstrom, 39, at the finish line of the Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018.
Up Next
Stefano De Leo, 37, from Manhattan, New York, proposes to his girlfriend Sofia Hedstrom, 39, at the finish line of the Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018.

Sofia Hedstrom was crossing the finish line at the Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday as she locked eyes with her boyfriend, Stefano De Leo.

It was Hedstrom’s 20th marathon, De Leo’s first.

The couple from Manhattan, New York, expected to finish the 26.2-mile race. What Hedstrom didn’t expect was to see her boyfriend of about nine months go down on one knee and propose.

Without hesitation, she said yes.

“When it’s right, it’s right,” Hedstrom, 39, said. “I love this man.”

The proposal plan was about two months in the making, De Leo, 37, said.

And he pulled it off without Hedstrom knowing.

When the race began in front of AmericanAirlines Arena, he had an Italian flag on the front of his shirt. As he was crossing the finish line, De Leo picked an orange flower near the finish line to serve as a makeshift ring. Then he ripped off the flag to reveal a message on his shirt: “Sofia, will you marry me?”

De Leo had to wait about 20 minutes for his fiancee-to-be to catch up.

“I didn’t expect her to be behind me,” De Leo said through a laugh.

The moment came, though. And the two will now prepare for the next chapter of their lives together.

“I’m still in shock,” Hedstrom said. “Still trying to digest it. I’m extremely happy.”

‘Running to finish’

Dr. Omar Nelson felt his legs cramping as he finished the last two miles of the marathon.

Fatigue at the end of this type of race is typical for anyone.

Except he did more than just run a marathon.

Before taking off from the starting line with more than 20,000 others, Dr. Nelson ran the half-marathon course for a total of 39.3 miles — becoming the first person in Miami Marathon history to run both races on the same day.

“With this race, I wasn’t running for time,” he said. “I was running to finish. That’s most important.”

Runners were buffeted by 20-mph winds during Sunday’s Fitbit Miami Marathon and Half Marathon but that didn’t deter more than 20,000 people from competing in the 16th annual event.

His purpose was two-fold.

Dr. Nelson, a 36-year-old assistant scientist for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami, used the race as a way to fundraise for the medical center. At the time of the race, he had raised just over $5,000 — half of his goal.

But Dr. Nelson also uses running as a form of motivation, a way to show people they can accomplish their goals if they try.

“It was painful, but you know what? It’s done, and I can say I’ve done it,” he said. “It’s over. Now, I can go back to running crazy stuff again.”

An ‘amazing’ feeling

Most of the competitors in the half marathon were already finished with the race when Leslie Thompson made his way to the finish line.

For Thompson, the race wasn’t about time, money or when he finished.

All that mattered was he made it across that finish line, even if it took him more than five hours to do so.

“It’s gonna feel amazing when they put this medal around my neck,” said Thompson, an Atlanta native.

It was a process six months in the making for Thompson, a self-described “ultra competitive” man who began his marathon training for health purposes. When he started six months ago, Thompson said he weighed about 425 pounds. On Sunday, he was down to 375.

“It’s not low enough yet,” Thompson said, “but it’s getting there.”

It won’t be Thompson’s last race, either. He said he plans to run half marathons in both Atlanta and San Diego this year.

Could a full marathon be in the picture soon?

“Maybe here next year,” Thompson said.


Dr. Thomas SanGiovanni, medical director of the Miami Marathon and a physician with Miami Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Institute of Baptist Health, said there were no major health issues during the race. The most common issue was dehydration.

Award-winning singer and songwriter Prince Royce, 28, served as the race’s grand marshal and ran the half marathon. He finished the 13.1-mile race in 2:03:55. He also ran with about 2,100 others in the Fitbit Tropical 5K on Saturday.

Gert Brienne, 49, known as “The Flying Pilot,’’ is a KLM Cargo pilot who ran his third Miami event and first Miami half marathon on Sunday, finishing in 1:22. “On Saturday night, I flew from Miami to Bogota and loaded flowers,’’ said Brienne, of The Netherlands. “Then I flew back to Miami and ran.’’ Brienne has run marathons in all seven continents and recently fulfilled a goal of running what he considers each of the world’s major marathons — New York City, Chicago, Boston, London, Berlin and Tokyo — in under three hours. His next quest: the 90K Comrades Marathon in South Africa.

The tail end of the marathon once again included the Kids Run, an opportunity for middle school runners to run the final 1.2 miles of the course.

Related stories from Miami Herald