Running to Zero

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I tossed and turned in bed. I knew my mind was racing. I had this feeling a lot back in the day and I know how to fix it. I had to write. I knew that if I did my mind would settle and I could sleep. But the “new” Erin convinced myself that my anxiety was due to the Dream Team 6 mile run at 6:30 am the next day. It was just nerves that I would oversleep or worse, not be able to do the run.

My mind and body tossed from 10:30 pm – 1:30 am.

I woke at 4:30 am and I knew it wasn’t running nerves. The day before while shopping I received a call from a new friend. Her Granddaughter just received results from recent scans and the neuroblastoma was aggressive, although I not sure aggressive accurately describes it. The neuroblastoma had become deadly. Palliative care options were given due to the rapid progression of the disease.

I tried to remain calm with the news because at this point in my life, I know that Doctors are really just guessing. You learn this when you too, have been given this option several times – yet your own daughter proves them wrong and makes a comeback. These Doctors are not God and you learn this the hard way. I gave the best advice I could give.

Tell the parents to read their daughter. If she wants to fight – then fight. If she is done, they will know and then the fight will be over.

We read Isabella each time we got devastating news. Doctors said she was done but her light showed “Green” so we fought. Sometimes it seemed “Yellow”, so we would cautiously continue. But when it turned “Red” for the first and only time – we stopped. She died quickly.

But I found myself Friday night at Nordstroms, crying. Sad and Angry.

It feels like we just made our decision. It was just yesterday right? I found myself at 4:30 am counting days.

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There is no way.

I began to freak out that another mother might soon be counting.

1 is the hardest number. But oddly 1494 still feels hard. When you see that number it may seem like a lifetime ago. But for me, it feels so recent. It’s 1494 missed kisses, missed goodnights, and missed smiles. I’m sure that number can be a hard motivator for some to take action. But to me, that number is as motivating as ever. Especially during these hot summer months when every number we see kills our motivation.

99 degrees, 100% humidity, 13.1 miles, 6:30 am, $500 fundraising goals. You may begin to wonder why you are doing this to yourself?

1494. That number motivates me because it’s an awful number. And next Saturday that number will be 1501. My number will continue to grow this season and I know that everything I’m doing, every time I ask for a donation, and every mile I run in this heat is so that someone like me will not have to write that number on their arm.

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I will run and continue to ask until that number is zero.



– Isabella’s Mommy


This Isn’t My First Rodeo

As an original dream team member, and someone that this isn’t my first rodeo for training for a half-marathon, you may think I love running all the time. Sometimes I do feel like this:

(Photo credit: Tom Patania)

But sometimes, it is a struggle to get out there and pound the pavement.

When you commit to Isabella’s Dream Team, it doesn’t mean it does not guarantee the journey will be easy. It still takes a lot of sweat and determination to get across the finish line. Our training consists of running at least 3 times a week plus cross training days (and rest).

There are days that it’s a challenge to get myself to go for run. Days when cozy my bed wants to keep me inside and comfortable.

Like this morning. My alarm went off and I immediately hit snooze for another 30 minutes. ‘Not yet,’ I told myself. The alarm buzzed at me again. I still wasn’t feeling it. I got out of bed and started my checking my emails, buying myself time to talk myself out of running. As the minutes ticked by, it was only getting hotter outside. ‘I will run tomorrow,’ I think.   Then I scrolled on Facebook and clicked our Dream Team group. Another team member had posted just moments earlier that they finished their run. Oomph. ‘Time to step it up, Julie,’ I think.

(Via John Maxwell)

This team holds me accountable and constantly reminds me of the purpose of our runs. Our reason is backed by a decision, commitment, passion and the desire crush cancer.  Even though I may not be smiling as I head out the door for my run, or during every run, I’m always smiling afterward.


(P.S. Don’t mind the fact that my face is the same shade of pink as my walls…)

I throw the sheets off, get dressed and start my warm up. I play my favorite song (Isabella’s Fight Song video) and as I step outside I remember what Coach said, “Raising money for pediatric cancer will one day be a thing of the past, but until then, we run.”

My Journey From the Couch to the Trail

Prior to this spring, if you had told me that I would begin training for a half marathon, I would have laughed in your face. Runner? Me? Hilarious.

I began my running journey in 2015. I was a new wife and a second year high school English teacher. And I was stress-eating my way out of the biggest pair of jeans I’d ever bought. I felt miserable and just… gross. (Adulting is hard, guys.) So, like the majority of America, I set a New Year’s Resolution to get fit, but I had no idea how to do it. My friend Kayla invited me to start the Couch to 5K program and I was just desperate enough to say yes. I vividly remember her saying, “Don’t worry, it eases you into it.”

Yeah, right. Two weeks later, I was huffing my way through the 60 and 90 second interval runs around our school gym, shooting glares at her with every step. I complained every minute of it– Why were we doing this again? How am I supposed to run a 5K when I can’t run a minute without dying? And why did the trainer’s voice have to be so peppy? But Kayla pushed me through it, encouraging me (read: bullying me) at just the right moments. I began to love running and I successfully ran my first 5K in June 2015. I was so proud of my accomplishment!


But we had just started an intensive graduate program, and our focus toward our classes (paired with the summer heat) caused us to fall out of our running routine pretty quickly. So long, progress. Hello, research paper.
After several rounds of a cross-training routine in the winter, Kayla came to me in February with a goal to run a half marathon. She had run several during college, so she knew what it was like. Obviously, I only started running last year– and at that point, a 5K had seemed like a stretch. But after achieving that hurdle, I decided to go for it. I knew if I paid for my registration, I would stick to it and I needed the push to stay with running throughout the year. We began with Couch to 5K again and I quickly acclimated back into my running routine (not without the occasional grumbling).

In May, Nichole approached us about joining the Dream Team. We were quite familiar with ISF because our football team and school supported the foundation each year with a Purple Out game and spirit day. I’d also seen my high school friend Brenna run in honor of Isabella multiple times in the past and knew her story well. Needless to say, Kayla and I went all out in the fall and were quite the spectacle at school and the football game.


Neither one of us hesitated at the invitation. For me, ISF hits close to home. I lost a classmate and friend to osteosarcoma in 7th grade–she was just a kid, and one of the sweetest in our class. If you’re a Charlotte native or have lived here for more than ten years, you probably know Hope’s story. I’ve lost several family members to various forms of cancer and my best friend is currently battling leukemia. Cancer gets personal. But it’s even more personal when it affects a child and it is insulting that it is one of the least funded research programs in our country.
Joining the Dream Team gives me the opportunity to fight back against pediatric cancer and it gives me a purpose in my running goals. I’ve pushed past my previous ability and just hit a major milestone when I ran my first 10K several weeks ago on at the Common Heart Firecracker Run with a few other Dream Team friends.


I’m excited to be a member of the Dream Team for the 2016 season and I’m ready for the challenges ahead. I love the camaraderie of the team and we have already begun building new friendships–and we are only two weeks in. I’m grateful for the opportunity to run for something more and to join the fight against pediatric cancer. And above all, I’m honored to run for Ibby.

The Faces of ISF…Meet Rachel Wood

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 3.33.19 PM Names/ages of children: Asher (9), Haldo (20) and Conrad Jr (25)

Years married and to whom: Conrad- 12 years

Years in Charlotte: 14 yrs

Neighborhood: Piper Glen Area

Hometown: New Bern, NC
College Alumni: Meredith College, Raleigh NC

Occupation: For the past 10 years, I have shared a Marketing business with a childhood friend. We provide full circle marketing for several green building products as well as provide specific marketing needs to many other industries/markets. My love is graphic design and turning ideas/thoughts into a visual presentation.

Years Involved with the Foundation: 6 yrs

What is your role with the Foundation: Director of Marketing

How did your involvement with ISF begin? Our youngest son, Asher, was in preschool at Calvary with Isabella’s brother Grant. We became good friends with the Santos family during that year. As I got to know them better, I started helping out in marketing related activities for the foundation.

What is your favorite story about Isabella? We used to have playdates at our friend Karen’s house. One night, all of the kids wanted to have a dance party. We danced for hours with our kids singing at the top of our lungs… Miley Cyrus, Beyonce, Taylor Swift. All Isabella’s favorites…. she danced and danced and sung so loud. After that night she begged for dance parties. She was always dancing and singing. She was the best snuggler, would much rather be with 30-something old ladies than kids and had the best high pitch laugh. I miss that laugh- it truly was one of a kind.

What is one of your top ISF moments? Becoming part of Isabella’s Dream Team last year. Bringing a group of passionate people together for one cause is extremely powerful. Not only do you grow so many unexpected relationships, it is amazing how much good a group of people can do. If just feels right being part of something bigger than yourself. Even though I hate running! And in the process, Conrad and I ran our first half marathon! And we just started training again for our second half marathon.

Where do you see ISF in 5 years? I see ISF with a wider national presence raising funds for orphan cancers.

What is something you think ISF could improve on this year?  Telling our story better. ISF has accomplished so much in just a few short years. As a marketing team, we are working on telling those stories better and the impact… where exactly is all the money you donated going to, what clinical trials we are involved in and the story of those trials, ect. People want to know where their donations went and telling the impact story will hopefully help people continue donating year after year.

How has ISF impacted your kids?  Bringing awareness and raising funds for ISF has become a family effort. Our kids have always taken part in ISF events and been given specific volunteering duties.   I loved having my last parent/teacher conference and having the teachers ask more about ISF… because Asher talked so much about Isabella and raising funds. It is so important for kids to be aware of others around them that are in need. And it is so important that our kids grown up volunteering and giving to those around us.

Who are your role models?  My parents. From being married 45+ years and still being in love and good to one another, to doing so much for the people in their community and church, to loving my insta-family the very moment they stepped into my life, to supporting every ISF race we have put on, to being big kids at heart with all the grandchildren … my parents are the epitome of what parents should be. I can only hope that my kids, family, friends and community will think the same of Conrad and I one day.

What is something about you that would surprise people? I am deathly afraid of the dentist.

What is your biggest pet peeve? Popping/clicking your gum drives me up the wall. Keep your gum chewing to yourself please!

What is the hardest thing you have ever done? 
Becoming an insta-mom at age 24. My husband Conrad was a single father to 7 and 11 year old boys when we met. I instantly went from the single girl life to being a insta-mom to Haldo and Conrad Jr. Diving in head first was the best thing that ever happened to me.Rachel 3Rachel 2

What do you love to do in Charlotte? We love the Whitewater Center (even with it’s current troubles). I have a new found hobby of Paddle boarding and would be out there every day if I could. I love being out on the water. Most days you can find me working out at Orange Theory or Flywheel. My workout group is my backbone. They keep me sane, healthy and in-check. Love backyard cookouts with good friends/kids… and of course anything to do with the PANTHERS!!

What are a couple of your guilty pleasures? Binge watching netflix shows with my husband. Currently trying to get through House of Cards and it is madly obsessive. I am gluten free; but I crave donuts almost all the time. A good donut goes a really long way.

Who is your celebrity crush? Channing Tatum

What is your favorite drink? Wine



I’m a Gym Class failure.

dream_team_runderpantsLet me rephrase that. I’m the daughter of a PE teacher AND a Gym Class failure. In Junior High School I wouldn’t run a mile. Not a single mile. The thought of getting sweaty, of being lapped by the athletic kids, of coming in last, was just too much. So instead, I did NOTHING. NOTHING at all. I failed for lack of trying.

5 years ago, after having my third son, I decided it was time it was time to stop being afraid of physically failing. I had 3 boys in 2.5 years. I was tired, I was overweight, I was ready for a change. I registered for my first 5K and announced to my family and friends that I was doing it – because then I was accountable to more than just myself. 4 months later I crossed my first finish line.

Over the past 5 years I’ve pushed myself past my comfort zone. First it was a half marathon, then two and three, then I announced I would do ONLY ONE full marathon. ONLY ONE. When I finished the marathon, my entire family was there, including my Dad, the retired PE Teacher. He told me how proud he was of me, and then said “ok, you did it, that’s enough.” I may have redeemed myself with my dad, but marathons are like childbirth, after a while, you forget about the pain and want another.

When I heard about the ISF Dream Team in early 2015 I sent Coach Tom an email. I said I wanted to join the team, but wouldn’t be their strongest runner and asked if I could be a part anyway. He welcomed me and invited me to join them for a run. At the time, I didn’t truly understand what the Dream Team was all about. I went to my first team run on an early summer morning, all alone, not knowing a single person. I feared it was going to be gym class all over again. I soon realized it wasn’t about being fastest or who would run the longest distance. It was about running for a greater purpose, running for a cause, running for a cure, running for Isabella.

In Fall 2015, I ran the Charlotte Thunder Road Marathon with the ISF Dream Team. We all gathered at the starting line, wearing our purple. Coach Tom helped us stretch, put us in the right frame of mind, and reminded us why we were there. Of all the races I’ve run, this one was the most emotional. Throughout the course, I continued to see spectators holding purple signs cheering on the Dream Team. During one particularly grueling hill, when the crowds had thinned and I was struggling, I looked to the sidewalk and saw Stuart Santos. I had never met him before, but I knew who he was. I yelled “hey ISF!” and he yelled back “go Dream Team go go go…”. I could still hear him cheering when I made it to the top. I swear it was knowing that Isabella’s Dad was on the sidelines that pushed me up that hill.


It’s the feeling of running for something bigger than myself that pushes me to keep going. To know that this Dream Team of ours is making a difference, in Isabella’s honor, motivates me at each and every run. This year I’m running the New York City Marathon and the Charlotte Half Marathon in the same week. 25 years ago this Gym Class Failure refused to run a mile and now I invite you to share in my journey towards 39.3.