Thursday, January 29, 2015

For Runner

Today, I ran for Runner.  Runner Aitken, a sweet boy who passed away last night at the age of 9 from a rare form of pediatric liver cancer.   I learned about Runner a few weeks ago after receiving our local Fleet Feet newsletter.  The St. Louis Track Club has an annual Winter race series, called the Frostbite Series, and the next race in the series was set to take place the next day, Saturday, January 10th.  What made this particular race so special was that it was an opportunity to grant Runner's wish to run in a race with his dad, Mike.

Runner was born with a rare genetic seizure disorder and from the time he was born, his dad would push him in a jogging stroller and take him on runs.  It was an opportunity for father and son to bond, but it was also very therapeutic for Runner when he become immobile.  In late 2014,  Runner was diagnosed with a rare form of pediatric liver cancer and his wish was to go to Disneyworld to run a race with his Dad.  Unfortunately, Runner's declining health made it impossible for him to travel to Disney, so Make-a-Wish Missouri and the St. Louis Track Club decided to bring the race to him!

Mike and Runner were going to participate in the 20K race that Saturday and runners and spectators alike were encouraged to wear green in support of liver cancer.  Make-a-Wish was also organizing cheering sections for Runner and I felt compelled to go cheer on this sweet boy who had been given so much to handle, especially considering that my Dad had fought liver cancer, too.

I made a few posters that night for Runner (note to self: use stronger paper and/or poster board when making signs.  On windy winter days, regular paper is fickle and bendy) and Nick and I set out the next morning to cheer Runner on.  It was bitterly cold, but we bundled up, accessorized with some green items, and made our way to the park.

Wearing green and ready to cheer on Runner!

Nick was a bit cold, but super excited to get a cowbell from a sweet stranger to help cheer Runner on!
Snuggling to stay warm
Mike and Runner #inspiring
We were able to get to the starting line at the perfect time, right before Mike said a few words thanking everyone for their support.  We cheered them at the starting line and since the course was actually several loops around the park we saw them two more times.  There was quite a good crowd of spectators for Runner, which was really awesome.

Nick and I started to feel the effects of the cold and since Nick had a Scouting field trip that morning, we needed to head out, so unfortunately we didn't get to see Mike and Runner cross the finish line.  
Here is a great story about Runner and Mike's race, though, which was featured on one of our local news stations.  We had a really great time cheering them on, though, and Runner really left an impression on Nick and I.  

I began following Runner's journey on his Facebook page and Nick would often ask me about Runner.  I kept him updated although as Runner's health deteriorated over the past week or so, it was a bit difficult figuring out the best way to explain it to him.  Nick, of course, was aware of my Dad's illness and passing, but it's hard to explain to a 7 year old that someone just a bit older than he is also facing the same difficult illness.  I told him a few days ago that Runner wasn't doing well and was beginning his journey to Heaven and he told me that he would keep Runner and his family in his prayers.  I've said it before, but I'll say it again, Nick always amazes me with his compassion and empathy and it is one of my favorite things about him.  Tonight, after I told him Runner passed away, he gave me a hug and said "I bet Bebaw [my dad] is showing Runner around Heaven."  Yes, sweet boy, I'm sure he is!

I can't even begin to imagine the pain and heartache that Mike, Julie (Runner's mom), and Dash (his little brother who is about Jack's age) are feeling right now.  On the one hand, Runner isn't in pain anymore and is at peace, but speaking from experience, I know how little that can help when you are grieving.  It is truly amazing, though, to see the impact that Runner had in his short life.  He donated a small portion of his skin a few days ago to help scientists research his genetic disorder, his corneas were donated upon his passing, and he inspired so many people with his strength in the face of such difficult circumstances.

I planned to go for a run at lunch today, but I really didn't want to go.  The howling wind woke me up several times this morning and it was cold.  I just didn't want to go and was thinking of just about any excuse to not go.  Then I thought of Runner and how much he loved to run with his Dad.  I thought of how sad his Dad might be on his next run, but also about how now Runner was surely running free. I thought of Runner's determination and strength and so I put on my running clothes and laced up my shoes.

It wasn't my fastest run, nor was it the most euphoric run, but it was a therapeutic run.  I saw a cardinal on a grassy field about a mile into my run and it reminded me of Runner spreading his wings and soaring in Heaven.  I took a different route through the park and ran by the Korean War Memorial that my Dad and I visited almost 8 years ago.  A place that I hadn't been to since that visit and frankly, I forgot existed.  I went over to visit the memorial again and sat on a bench for a few minutes just thinking about my Dad.  I honestly felt his presence for just a minute, as if he was sitting on the bench with me.  It was a gloomy, chilly afternoon, so I didn't stay too long at the memorial, but it was a nice moment.

The cardinal that reminded me of Runner

Having a moment at the Korean War Memorial

I'm really glad I went out for a run; it was really good to reflect a bit and remember two special people who left large footprints on the hearts of so many.

Rest in peace, sweet Runner.

"God saw you getting tired and a cure was not to be. So He put His arms around you and whispered 'Come to Me.'"