I learned about the Isabella Santos Foundation about 3 years ago. Because I work in the media marketing industry, somehow the video we just watched landed in my lap. I hit play . . . and then I was ugly crying in my office at work, blowing through a box of Kleenex, and was very moved by the video and organization.
Next thing I knew, one of my very dear friends – Jaymie Nielsen – posted on FaceBook that even though she was not a runner, she was going to join Isabella’s Dream Team and train with a group of people to run a half marathon.
Upon inquiring about the Dream Team, I found out that an amazing person, Coach Tom, started the Dream Team and coaches everyone through the training. We all have a training schedule that we do on our own throughout the week. Then, we come together on Saturday mornings, run as a group and raise money along the way. So, I joined the summer of 2015.
The training starts in July, and we are all training for a half marathon that falls in November. There are a few different regional races to choose from. We were about 3 weeks away from the Charlotte Half Marathon, and life threw me a curve ball. My son, Jackson, was admitted to the hospital and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I thought – it’s just diabetes, right? Don’t you just take a pill and manage what you eat? It is going to be fine. But I clearly didn’t understand the diagnosis. I had to get up with him at midnight and 3am every night for the first few months in order to make sure his blood sugar didn’t go too high or too low. Otherwise, he would go in to a coma.
I was exhausted. I had to swallow my pride and email Coach Tom, Erin Santos and Jaymie Nielsen to tell them I just couldn’t run the race that year. I had no energy and Jackson needed me. Of course they understood.
Erin said she’d run for me – even though she’d already completed her own half marathon for the season. I thought YES – she is going to make me look GREAT. She is a great runner. She will get a much better time than I will. But in all honesty, I was just relieved someone could use the race bib.
The morning of the race, I saw a picture on FaceBook. Erin wrote on one arm “Isabella” and she wrote on the other arm “Jackson”. I started to cry. This race was not about Jackson. It was all about Isabella and helping find a cure for pediatric cancer.
This generous gesture was very touching to me. That was it. I am all in. I will do all that I can to help the Isabella Santos Foundation.
I wasn’t the only one who was all in . . . . Jackson was very moved and inspired. He asked me if he was old enough to run on the Dream Team. Even though he is diabetic, he still knew he could manage it and run for Isabella.
So our team welcomed Jackson at the age of 12 with open arms and we trained the summer of 2016. And after the first group run, he was hooked. He got it. And while I encouraged him at every run, the mom in me still had a nagging concern in the back of my mind – will he be able to run 13.1 miles? With diabetes?
The night before the race, Jackson and I were preparing for the race. We decided to agree upon some ground rules . . . .
-Stay together. If one of us needs to slow down, then tell the other and slow down.
-Run the entire time. Don’t stop.
-Get a drink of water at every water stop.
-Every 3 miles, eat some energy beans.
“My mom and I were doing great. I could tell she was struggling a little bit, but we followed all of our rules. When we hit the 10 mile mark of the race, I started to slowly pull away from her. I was excited and having a great time. I ended up sprinting the last 3 miles of the race, and I finished 13.1 miles in 2 hours and 9 minutes. It was the most amazing feeling to cross that finish line.”
I, on the other hand, had one of the worst races ever. I had a terrible cramp in my feet and toes. But I was determined to not stop and to follow our rules.
Even though I was in a lot of pain at the end of the race, we did it. It is one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had . . . and I got to do it with my son!
If you are a runner . . . . or want to be a runner . . . or want to be inspired . . . or simply volunteer or make a donation, I encourage you to do so with the Isabella Santos Foundation. You will not regret it. I promise.
When you are a parent and you watch your child be diagnosed with any illness or disease – – you do all that you can to fight and find a cure. The Isabella Santos Foundation does just that for all children with neuroblastoma and other rare pediatric cancers.
It’s hard to believe, but this will be the fourth season of Isabella’s Dream Team. What started as a simple idea to introduce runners to this great Charlotte charity has become a movement. We are runners and run walkers that range from novice to competitive that believe in something that is much bigger than any single one of us. How can we make a difference right now for kids that are fighting cancer? We choose to define ourselves by our action and we want you to join us.
Our team has experienced tremendous growth over the past three seasons and we do not expect anything less in 2017.
The passion that drives this team is something I never imagined. You see, I am one of many that never met Isabella. Most have only been introduced to her through pictures, stories and videos. I knew I wanted to get involved with this foundation when I watched a video and heard her tiny voice.
In 2016, we were voted the Best Charity Program by Endurance Magazine.
We continue to be a grassroots effort, and look to grow our impact locally and expand into other communities. We are currently recruiting runners and run walkers to join our passionate team in Charlotte, and surrounding areas. If you are not local to Charlotte, join us virtually from your town, select your own race and still be a part of this wonderful cause.
The fundraising component is minimal compared to the larger charities that ask you to cover the difference if you do not meet the minimum. We simply ask each participant to commit to fundraising at least $500, but our hope is that each person will fundraise much more than that. We offer high end incentives that will run each month during the season to encourage everyone to raise the bar. In 2016, we were voted the Best Charity Program by Endurance Magazine.
Our target races this year: Isabella Santos Foundation 10K/5K for Kids Cancer (9/30), Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah (11/4) and Charlotte Marathon (11/11).
New this year: Train with the team for the ISF 10K on Sept 30th.
RnR Savannah offers a half and full marathon, and a half marathon relay (6-7 miles per person).
Charlotte Marathon offers a half and full marathon, and a marathon relay (5 runners: 4-6 miles increments).
New this year: “One to run. One for fun.” challenge to run back to back half marathons in Savannah & Charlotte. $1,000 minimum fundraising commitment comes with swag bag filled with lots of goodies.
We’ve had teammates in the past run: Chicago Marathon, Marine Corps Marathon, New York City Marathon, and numerous others as part of our team. It’s your choice what race you’d like to do, and we could always adjust the training schedule to match your race.
WHAT WE PROVIDE?
Training schedules (10K, half, half marathon relay, marathon & marathon relay) – training starts the week of July 10th.
I knew it was coming. I trained hard for it. But nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming emotions that came with running the NYC Marathon in Isabella’s honor last weekend.
Thousands of us poured into Whitehall Station on the tip of Manhattan early Sunday morning to board the ferries that would take us to Staten Island. My nerves were a mess, the crowds were huge and the lines for the bathroom where 100 people long. All the runners were friendly, sharing marathon stories, cheering, singing songs from their home countries – terminal was bursting with excitement. I was so thankful that I was able to meet up with my teammate Brian and go thru the rest of the journey to the starting line with him. There was something so comforting about being with a friend when surrounded by 50,000 strangers.
On the Ferry, most runners were quiet, enjoying the time to sit and rest while looking out at the Hudson River and Lady Liberty waving us on. It was only when we arrived in Staten Island that the chaos ensued. The terminal was packed, the lines were insane and no one was moving! A shuttle transfer that should have taken 15 minutes ended up taking over an hour and a half. We finally arrived at the starting village, went thru security and headed to our corral only to find that it had already closed and we couldn’t run in our scheduled start time. Our start was delayed 20 minutes, just enough time for me to get my music and apps setup and send a quick text to friends and family so they knew I’d be starting late.
We moved to our start on the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge. The National Anthem echoed thru the crowd and the blast of the cannon signaled the start of our race. Our starting pace was slow because the crowds were so thick. I knew it was great to start conservative in order to finish strong, but it also gave me another advantage. I spent the first mile and a half of the race on the left side of the bridge, looking out at the New York City Skyline and the Freedom Tower welcoming us to the five boroughs.
I saw my best friend and her family in Brooklyn. They were standing out in the cold, wearing shirts that said “Team Juls”. I slowed down just enough to give them high fives and tell them that I loved them. Those 15 seconds with them carried me through Brooklyn.
There were street parties, crazy signs, marching bands and children lining the streets. Church choirs sang on the steps of cathedrals and reggae bands had the runners and spectators grooving. I got more high-fives that day than I had in my entire life. Each one have me a small burst of energy, each one made my heart grow a little more. What I wasn’t prepared for was that people would read my shirt and cheer for Isabella. Within the first 5 miles of the run, I heard of TWENTY people yell “Run for Isabella” or “Go Isabella’s Team” (after that I stopped counting, it was just too many!). They don’t know me. They don’t know the Santos family. But they sent such good vibes and energy. They cheered for the sweet girl I had pinned next to my heart.
Throughout the race, words of encouragement were not only found on the streets of New York, but they were ringing in my ear. Coach Tom had told us about an app that allows supporters to send messages along the route. I heard 28 messages that day. Some made me smile, some made me cry and some made me laugh so hard even New Yorkers looked at me like I was crazy!! Hearing from my friends and family on the journey made me feel like they were all there with me.
After 23 long but exciting miles, I made my way over the final bridge that took us from The Bronx into Manhattan. It’s usually by this mile of a marathon when I hit “The Wall”. This time, it didn’t happen. I felt powerful and invigorated by the crowds – I ran down 5th Avenue feeling strong. At one point we came to a fire station. They had taken their truck to the edge of the sidewalk, extended the ladder over 5th Avenue and hung American flags from it. The firefighters were lined up next to their truck cheering and giving encouragement. It was a powerful moment and just what everyone needed as we made our final turn into Central Park.
The park was lined with spectators and filled with hills. It was as if I didn’t feel the hills, all I heard were the cheers. As I rounded the corner and the finish line was in sight, a woman on the sidewalk yelled “Take Isabella to the Finish Line!” and I’m proud to say that’s just what I did.
After 16 weeks of training, countless mornings of early alarms and hundreds and hundreds of miles run … I did it. I completed the Chicago Marathon. This wasn’t my first, wasn’t my last (although I do love to throw around the word “retirement”), wasn’t my best, wasn’t my worst … but there is something extra special when you run across that finish line knowing that you did so not just for yourself, but for something much bigger.
I’ve fundraised before with a group similar to The Dream Team … a group of incredibly motivated people that are committed to doing something to better the world. It’s definitely easier to do when you are physically part of that group (rather than virtually). It’s easier to see the impact that you make when you are one standing within the group rather than one standing alone from afar. I thought of this often as I ran through the streets of Chicago with 45,000 other people. I thought of the pictures that I’ve seen on the Dream Team group page of the huge gatherings of people … the enormous sea of purple that would fill the streets. I thought of the impact that would make within a race like this … how much more noticeable that sea of purple would be over just one lonely purple person proudly sporting her cause across her chest amongst the so many other charity runners sporting their causes as well. I started to wonder if people would even notice me … even notice the cause. Not for the recognition, but for the sake of spreading the word about pediatric cancer and the desperate need for funding. I knew I was part of the sea, but it was hard to see the sea in that moment.
Then the focus shifted. Perhaps not EVERYONE in Chicago noticed our cause, but people DID notice. I got shout outs several times along the course. “Go Isabella’s Dream Team! Keep it up purple!” I may not have been noticed by all 45,000 people running or every one of the thousands that lined the streets … but I was noticed by some. Perhaps one of those people got online later that day and looked up Isabella’s story. Perhaps one forgot the name but remembered something about childhood cancer and takes notice the next time an opportunity to help comes along. Perhaps one person chose to do a little more digging and became aware that pediatric cancer only receives 4% of federal funding, came to the realization that 4% was complete bullsh*t and then decided to take some action. Whatever impact you make .. whether it be to one person or many … reaching but one person means you’re making a difference.
“I am only one, but I am ONE. I cannot do everything, but I can do SOMETHING. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I CAN DO.” ~Edward Everett Hale
So, thank you, Dream Team, for allowing me to be a part of your SOMETHING. For inspiring and motivating me along the way … even from hundreds of miles away. Thanks for welcoming me into your sea of purple.
This past Sunday afternoon I crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon. And I did so for a reason greater than myself. I did so to make a difference. I did so to raise money for pediatric cancer. I did so as a member of The Dream Team.
There’s a joke in the running world that goes something like this: “How can you tell if someone is training for a marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.” It’s true. When you are in marathon mode, nothing else seems to be as important. It’s not about days of the week, it’s about miles and recovery. There is a countdown to everything… the next long run…the next speed work…the marathon. As my husband can attest, our conversations rarely deviate from miles run, recovery and the plan for race day.
This year, my husband threw me a curveball. On September 30th we celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Last month, he suggested we take a trip to celebrate, a big trip. So, we’ve left the boys for the first time and traveled to Italy. What were my first thoughts when he suggested we go? “How would my training work overseas? Should we postpone our anniversary until after the marathon?”
This week I broke out of my regimented marathon schedule and headed overseas. I won’t lie – I crammed in 2 -16 mile runs in the days leading up to the trip, so I didn’t have to do a long run in Italy. We are walking so much that I haven’t pushed myself to do the miles I know I should. I’m loading up on carbs and giving my body a little recovery. The wine is flowing and the gelato is piled high.
I know it’s a risky move, 5 weeks before the marathon to go on vacation. If there is one thing I have learned being a part of the Dream Team, it’s to seize the moment. Isabella has taught us all that life is too short, it can be taken too soon. When you have an opportunity to celebrate life, love & family – you have to do it! Now that I’m here, I’m embracing the time with my husband in this beautiful country. I know that even if this trip sets me back a bit, even if it costs me a few hard miles next week, it is all worth it.
I’ve sat here all evening trying to think what to write about. Normally, I don’t struggle with writing, but after the crazy week it has been in the Queen City, I am still reeling with it all. As I woke up on Thursday morning to go for a run, I left my iPhone by the bed, so that I could think. Thinking how I run for love. For the love of people that I don’t even know, like the children fighting cancer right now. This love, this purpose, is vital as our mileage increases on Saturdays, closer and closer to our goal of 13.1 miles. While our physical training is important, so is the mental training. A few things I’ve learned along the way:
It takes a combination of passion and perseverance to carry you through the hard times. As my fellow bloggers have written, having the purpose in your heart and running to crush cancer helps spur you on when you want to give up. When you see a big hill and feel defeated, reminding myself of my purpose helps me overcome the physical obstacle.
Speak and think positive. You have to speak positive, and believe in yourself. This team cheers on everyone and encourages me during every run. I’m thankful for the smiles and high-fives on Saturday mornings from this team
As we finish #pediatriccancerACTIONmonth, don’t stop now. Let’s keep going