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In fall of 2013 I was feeling like I was losing the will to continue running, but I knew I needed it too for my health. I came across a Facebook group called I Run 4 Michael. The runners are randomly matched with sick or disabled children to run in honor of. The runner encourages the child to stay strong & supports them by letting them know you are in their corner, in return the children and their families cheer you on and support your running endeavors. Most runners even mail their medals to their matched kids, called "Buddies".
It was a long wait, but on March 3, 2014, I was matched with an adorable 9 months old boy named Junior!
Junior is a CHD baby, meaning he was born with congenital heart defects, as well as other medical phenomena. He has Vacterl Syndrome, double outlet right ventricle, atrial septal defects, ventricle septal defects, transposition of the great arteries and Heterotaxy. Junior has had 11 surgeries so far, 3 of them being open heart.
I immediately began running my heart out for Junior and his sick little heart. His mom and I communicated a lot via text and quickly discovered that we were not too far away from each other to be able to meet in person some day, he in NC and I in VA.
That day came on October 25, 2014 in the play space of a mall in NC. That day began awkwardly but he finally warmed up to me after a rousing game of peek-a-boo. This little boy has stolen my heart and I love him (and his family)like I love my own family. We have met up again multiple other times.
Once his family brought him to Va on weekend vacation and they were able to have dinner with me the night before a half marathon, that was amazing! I've traveled to NC to attend one of his birthday parties. He and his family have traveled to my home for a weekend two summers in a row. Unfortunately we have not seen each other in person since the summer weekend in 2019 due to Covid. Thankfully there is FaceTiming and Junior has messenger kids so we can video chat occasionally. I send Junior all of my medals and if I had to guess, I would say he has at least 100 of them at this time. I have found that many race directors support the IRun4 community and willingly give me an extra medal to keep for myself.
Every February is CHD Awareness month and I do daily posts on my Facebook page with CHD facts and I do a fundraiser for Mended Little Hearts Organization.
For now Junior is a healthy, bright, precocious 7 year old and he is holding his own. There will be future procedures and surgeries, he has to be extra careful when he gets sick, but we are grateful for the here and now. March 3, 2021 will be our 7th year together and I continue running and working out for him because I don't want to let him down. I want him to know I'm still here and I still care.
For donations: https://www.facebook.com/donate/422723309058857/