STOCKTON, Calif. - There are yellow rose bushes along the Stockton trail where Donald Mascardo runs in preparation for the Oakland Marathon on Sunday. When the 50-year-old Stockton man takes a break, he said he stops to “smell the roses” to remind him how precious and fleeting life can be.
On race day, he said he’ll continue his ritual, but this time with 9-year-old Brianna Moua in mind. In early March, the Stockton girl was hit and killed by a car while she was crossing a street that intersects the trail where Mascardo runs.
“This run is for her,’’ said Mascardo, who hopes to complete Sunday’s race in about five hours and 20 minutes. “I will not only stop and smell the roses, but I will look up to the heavens.”
Brianna was hit and killed on the afternoon of March 6, while walking home from school with friends. Police say the driver stayed at the scene and cooperated with authorities.
But the girl’s death clearly hit the community hard. Brianna’s family and their neighbors are calling on the city to install traffic lights or stop signs at the site, before another tragedy occurs.
For now, a street-side memorial of flowers, balloons, cards and letters memorializes the smart, selfless and caring little girl who was just days away from being celebrated for being on her school’s honor roll.
"When she meets new people, she just goes up to them and talks to them. She is kind of shy but she overcomes that. She loves traveling with me. Even when I just go to the store, she’ll tag along. She just always wants to be active," Brianna's mother, Debbie Cha, told FOX40 after the accident.
Mascardo remembers that side of Brianna too. She was always the one to ring his doorbell and greet him when she came by with her dad to pick up her older teen brother from his house.
“(Mascardo) is basically a second parent to my son,’’ said Brianna’s father, Chue Moua. “He’s overall a great gentleman, and I really appreciate what he’s doing. There are no words that can express how thankful I am.”
Mascardo says he’s thankful that his health has allowed him to train to run 26.2 miles. He set out to do a marathon 10 years ago when he turned 40. But his health prevented him from finishing the training. But last year, with his 50th birthday approaching, he decided to give running another shot.
He finished the Los Angeles Marathon last March and then kept training. He chose the Oakland Marathon because training during the winter months is easier on his body and the course is relatively flat, he said. Recently, he completed his longest training run: 20 miles on the trail.
But for Mascardo, running is more than about bragging rights and staying fit.
“The longer I run, the more I feel connected to nature too, and to my very own ancestors. I know that many years ago, some of my great relatives came to California (from the Philippines) as contracted farm labors working right here in the Delta,’’ he said. “I feel like I am following their footsteps, just in different ways.”