“I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can’t run, what they’d give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them. I know they would do the same for me.”
Hey there, Blog World. I would like to introduce you to someone.
Ladies and gentlemen: meet Aaliyah.
Is this not the most gorgeous little soon-to-be-5-year-old you’ve ever seen? And now, I’m going to tell you the story of Miss Aaliyah, and how she came into my life.
As some of you may know, I’m a runner. If you’re new to my blog, you may not realize that fact since I haven’t really talked about it in a while. I just ran my second half marathon in November (after running my first in May), and have been a bit of a slacker ever since. As I’m sure a lot of runners will understand and relate with, I was having a bit of a post-race slump. But as the New Year approached, I started to remember some promises I had made to myself. One promise, in particular.
Last year, I insisted that 2014 would be the year I ran my first marathon.
I even started a training plan and had a race picked out for April 2014. Well, I’ll just be quite honest with you…that idea fizzled. If you’ve never trained for a distance race, let me explain what happens. Pretty much everything in your life has to take a backseat to training. I’m not kidding. Even when you’re not running, you’re thinking about running. The things you eat and drink change, the amount of sleep you get changes (or at least you stress over the fact that you’re not getting enough), your weekend plans have to revolve around your ‘long run’ day. Etc. Etc. Etc. And I only know all of this from training for a half marathon. Training for a full marathon? Yeah, double all of that. It’s a commitment. A big one. Because of the holidays and the cold weather and the release of the book, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dating Game, that contains my story (woohoo!) and all of the hoopla that went with it, I decided I didn’t quite have the time to devote to training for a marathon just yet.
And then, I found Aaliyah.
A few months ago, prior to my running slump, I stumbled across the Facebook page for a community called IRun4. After I started doing a little research, I found their website and got pretty excited about the whole idea. Basically, this is a program that ‘matches’ runners with children with disabilities. You strike up a friendship with the child’s parent and you dedicate your logged miles to the child. It’s really a way to motivate both sides. The parent and their child (if they’re old enough to understand) know that there is a practical stranger out there in the world who cares about them and what they’re going through, and the runner is provided with a reminder of how blessed we are to have the health and ability to do this thing we love to do: run. Another benefit? It increases awareness. Awareness of some of the illnesses we’ve never even heard of that these beautiful children (and their parents) are living with everyday.
Well, yesterday, after an almost 3-month spot on the waiting list, I received notification that I had been matched. With beautiful little Aaliyah who lives in Texas with her mommy. After speaking online with her mom, I was introduced to a disorder that I had never heard of. Little Aaliyah has what is called Rett Syndrome. The best way I know to describe this is to use a phrase I have found on many of the websites I’ve researched:
Imagine the symptoms of Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s, Epilepsy and a variety of anxiety disorders all rolled into one little girl. That’s Rett Syndrome.
This is what Aaliyah has to battle every day of her life.
Now, this is all new to me. All I know about the disease is what I’ve read since hearing the term for the first time yesterday. I don’t live with it every day like Aaliyah and her young mom do, so I don’t really know what life is like for them. But I plan to learn. And I plan to do more research and I plan to become more aware of what little Aaliyah’s life is like. And until I can find another way to support the disease itself, I will do the only thing I know to do here in my little world half way across the country from her – I will run for her. Each time I put on my running shoes, I will say a little prayer for Aaliyah and her mom and send good vibes and love their way. And I will hope that they feel them.
And….I will start searching for my first full marathon somewhere this fall. What better reason to go the distance, right? First on the agenda: training for another half marathon in early May (the same one I did as my first half last year). With Aaliyah’s little spirit cheering me on, I think this is going to be a successful running year.
So, little Aaliyah in Texas – I am going to do my best to not let you down. I will earn the distinction as your running buddy and will do all I can to promote awareness of what you are going through. I will keep you in my prayers and in my heart and will remember you and your mommy and hope that you know that each step I take from this moment on, is for you.
Because, after all….
One little girl out there in the world is going to know that she is thought about and loved. I won’t let you down, kiddo.
Here’s to a 2014 filled with running successes and wonderful new friendships.
In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”
– Albert Schweitzer