Over a year ago I somehow heard about a group on FaceBook that matches people who love to run (or exercise in general) with children or individuals with special needs. I joined the group when I heard about it, there were less than a thousand people and matches when I joined. Since that time, the group has swelled to over 27,500 members! That’s crazy! And obviously there is little something to it!
Not only was I looking for someone to motivate me that I can run for but I also registered Dylan to get her own runner. We got a match in Heather. She was a big runner and now primarily does crazy work outs, she lets Dylan know by checking in every once and a while to recount her recent activities. I know, even though we don’t hear from her every day, that she is always thinking of Dylan when she does hard things. And I love knowing that Dylan inspires other people.
Heather has sent Dylan a race shirt and a stuffed animal from where she traveled to race. Its always fun to get those surprises in the mail and actually – Dylan’s brother loves to wear the race shirt to bed. He thinks he is so big! The little guy I run for, Jack, sent me a pin that I use to fasten my race bib at every race I go to. It has his picture on it and I consider it my lucky race charm. Fun right?
May of the individuals with special needs that are in the group are cognitively older than Dylan. They have the ability to read the posts to them, appreciate the gifts sent in the mail and they know they have a runner out there cheering them on. Races and even training runs give these children something to look forward to. It’s kind of an inspirational pen pal if you will.
I have heard from mothers who absolutely adore their runners and the relationships that they have built, not only with the child but with the entire family. Many have met in person. Some have set a goal to run the number of miles in between the two. They chart it, and it’s fun to watch those miles build up.
As a parent I love that it builds awareness for different rare diagnosis too. I am not sure what Heather’s connection to the medical educational community is but she had an opportunity to hear a lecture from Dr. Maximillian Muenke from the National Institute of Health who is the NIH’s premier doctor in studying brain malformations, specifically Holoprosencephaly. Heather went with the sole purpose of learning more about Dylan and her diagnosis. I am so jealous I have never met him, why he was in Denver for a lecture is beyond me… the stars aligned! Many runners become actively involved in the special needs community, including fund raising, because of the connections they have made through this group.
As a runner, I have mixed emotions, I know that this group is great for the special needs community but selfishly? I get way more out of it than my buddy Jack. Every time I run, every single time, I think of Jack. I think of Jack in his wheelchair or stander and how he defied the odds, not only surviving his birth but every single day. He has challenges, challenges that I don’t. I think of his cute face and his adorable family. He gets me through every hard mile. I love it, and I have very little to offer him back.
If you would like to join the I Run 4 group, as a runner or to get a runner, visit www.whoirun4.com to get added to the list. From there, you await a match. Right now there are over 3300 runners waiting to find their running partner. This means for an individual with special needs, they will get a match right away, there are runners waiting! Would your special needs child like to have a runner?
They have subset groups for siblings too! “The unsung heroes” if your child has siblings that would also like to be involved. Details are on their web page.
I cannot stress enough how much this means to the runner too. I am so grateful to have Jack to inspire me. What are you waiting for! Go inspire someone!