Coming to America / 50-state marathoners bring runners to Columbus

Rosemary Wilson had never stepped foot in America before she met Robert Bishton three years ago. But now, she’s on a journey to leave footsteps in every state in the country.

The 68-year-old Bishton, who has run a marathon in more than 50 countries and completed 50 marathons in 50 states fives times already, traveled to South Africa en route to running yet another marathon, and that’s when the Florida resident met Wilson. That interaction is what helped bring Bishton and 64-year-old Wilson to Columbus for this year’s Mill Race Marathon.

Wilson, a Johannesburg, South Africa, resident used to run marathons in her native country when she was younger, but the scarcity of opportunities only allowed her to run one marathon a year. She no longer could run 100 meters without stopping by the the time Wilson got to her, but three months of training got her back to form.

Bishton told Wilson that he would take her to all 50 states to run a marathon if she came to America, which would be the sixth circuit around the country for him. Wilson said yes.

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That was three years and 38 states ago.

Columbus will be the 39th stop on their marathon journey. Wilson is planning on becoming the first South African, to her knowledge, to ever run a marathon in all 50 American states.

Wilson also is enjoying the sightseeing she’s been doing in the process. She already has traveled to Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., and was excited to visit Elvis Presley’s birth place in Tupelo, Mississippi.

“It’s actually very very nice,” Wilson said of America. “I’ve been taken around to a lot of places … If I had to compare the United States to South Africa, it would be the infrastructure. Everything is just so much bigger and huge. America is big.”

Wilson doesn’t have a favorite place. But if she could move to America, she would stay in Florida.

Bishton’s first two 50-state circuits took him three years to finish, but Wilson’s visa stipulations are prolonging this journey a bit.

Wilson stays in Florida with Bishton and his wife while in the U.S., but her visa only allows her to stay for three to six months at a time. She has to leave the country for at least two months before returning back.

Everybody who comes across her in races knows she’s from South Africa because of the shirt she wears for each race. It has a logo on the back that says “Running from South Africa to America’s 50 States.”

The shirt has allowed Wilson to come across a plethora of people who have helped make her experience memorable, and she has even come across a few runners who have traveled to Johannesburg for marathons.

“You always find people that talk and make conversation with you on the runs who are very, very interesting and very nice,” Wilson said. “I thoroughly enjoy all the people that I’ve met, and I keep in touch with them.”

Wilson and Bishton usually stay in each city for two days and try to do something in the city outside of the marathon. Bishton has run in Indiana during his other five circles around the country, but this is his first time stopping in Columbus. His most recent Indiana marathon was in Columbia City.

“Another reason why I picked Columbus is because I try to do smaller venues, just to meet the people,” Bishton said.

Meanwhile, 36-year-old Suzanne Sweetser from Alabama also looks for smaller venues. She started her 50-state journey six years ago and said running marathons is a good way to visit each state. Traveling to Indiana for the Mill Race Marathon will be state No. 14 for Sweetser.

Sweetser usually arrives to her destination a day before the race and leaves a day after to give her time to explore a bit. This will be her first time in Indiana.

“I really enjoy running and I like traveling,” Sweetser said. “So I found that doing a marathon maybe takes me to a place that I may not have otherwise chosen like Columbus, Indiana. I didn’t really know anything about Indiana in general until I searched.”

Many other athletes are coming from all over, and runners like Matt Kuper of Texas are also using the Mill Race Marathon to check off another state in their 50-state journey. It’s also a way for them to see all pieces of the country, especially for an international runner like Wilson.

“It’s been a life lesson and also to see the country which you just see on movies, or you can see it by pictures,” Wilson said. “But to actually experience it, it’s just so nice.”

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The Sixth Annual Mill Race Marathon, half marathon and 5K will be Sept. 22. The races begin and end on Washington Street just north of downtown Columbus.

Fees are $80 for the marathon, $65 for the half marathon and $25 for the 5K through Aug. 31. From Sept. 1 through Sept. 20, the prices increase to $95 for the marathon, $80 for the half marathon and $30 for the 5K. At packet pickup on Sept. 21 and 22, it’s $110 for the marathon, $95 for the half marathon and $35 for the 5K.

Registration and other info is available at