The above photo is when Cole arranged a virtual race and Facetimed with Hannah. We were in Ohio walking while Cole and her friend Heidi ran in Wisconsin. We even had an award ceremony once we finished. Heidi was so impacted by it she signed up to be a runner that day and while waiting to be matched, she is dedicating her runs to Hannah.
Facebook has the reputation for being a time waster, a drama creator, and a place where we can lurk and learn what our friends and acquaintances are up to. It also has a positive atmosphere to it, especially in the special needs community. I’ve received helpful information, great encouragement, and been able to do the same for others.
It’s also where I first learned about the I Run 4 program.
I Run 4 is an organization that according to this this website, started from that phrase runners are used to hearing from friends who aren’t as passionate about the sport. “Run some for me” is a phrase they know well.
With I Run 4, the phrase took on a new life when Timothy Boyle needed something to counteract the weight he was gaining after he stopped smoking. He started running, logging between 15 to 20 miles a week. He wanted something motivational and found the saying,
“I run because I can and when I get tired I remember those who can’t run and I run harder for them.”
He posted it on Facebook and his friend, Michael, a man with Down syndrome who is in a wheelchair, left a comment on the post asking Tim to run some for him. The rest is history.
From the website: “Here at IR4, we foster relationships. We want to see runners and buddies alike experience the profound power of encouraging and being supported by people who were once perfect strangers. Running can just be about health. Or it can be about dedicating our miles to and creating awareness for our buddies with special needs whose conditions span the spectrum from total physical disability to developmental delays to autism spectrum disorders, as well as myriad rare conditions we’re only now learning about thanks to our participation in IR4. Through I Run 4 Michael and its branch organizations Kerri On: I Run 4 Remembrance and IR4 Siblings: The Unsung Heroes, athletes of all levels and kinds find new motivation, purpose, and power for their workouts. It’s about more than miles; it’s about building relationships and bolstering support systems.”
When I first heard of I Run 4, it was from a friend that was in the same due date club as me. A group of us were all expecting babies in August 2003 and we all became so close we branched off and started our own group before Facebook came along. Kat is a runner and one of the most compassionate people I ever met.
When Hannah was so sick as a baby and we nearly lost her, Kat was a constant source of encouragement and support. One of the other moms went on to have other children, and Austin is a sweetheart with Down Syndrome. We both asked Kat more about I Run 4 and if our children qualified as buddies. When we got the yes, we both applied. I know Austin loves his runner as much as Hannah loves hers.
We were matched within days with Cole, a runner from Wisconsin. We found we had a lot in common. She’s a mom and she enjoys writing. I mentioned that Hannah has an adult brother that lives in Wisconsin. Same city that she works in. One day she messaged me and asked if my stepson was Matt. Turns out his new job was not only with the same company as Cole, but in the same building. What a small world!
We hear from Cole nearly every day. She’s been in marathons and a triathlon. She gets to the gym and will log either runs, cardio, or bike miles before Hannah’s had the chance to hit snooze. When she works out, it is for Hannah. Hannah is on Cole’s mind during all those workouts and races. Cole even signed up for a virtual race where in Ohio, we promised to walk the same distance she was going to run in Wisconsin.
Once we agreed on the day and time, Cole Facetimed Hannah so they could talk the entire race.
I can’t tell you how precious that memory is for us. I knew it would be fun for Hannah to have someone rooting for her. Hannah’s mobility is limited by delay, weight, and bone fusion.
To know someone is out there every day thinking of her, it’s amazing.
What I never thought about was the impact I Run 4 has on me. I don’t feel as alone. To see every day like clockwork a notification that we’ve been tagged on social media because Cole got her workout in and it is done for Hannah, I tear up every time.
Runners are not obligated to but Cole arranges it so Hannah receives race “swag” after each event. Hannah has so many “Cole medals” that I had to buy a display, and I think we might need another. One event was after my husband’s favorite movie series and the swag came with a medal, map and a ring. After twenty years of marriage, our rings have changed sizes so many times we kind of gave up wearing them. As a joke I suggested he try the ring on. Not only does it fit, it has the inscription that was so central to the movie. Now Cole and I joke that her running also provided a precious wedding ring!
Runners and buddies are from around the world, and most do not have the opportunity to meet. Yet, I’ve read story after story about how buddies will book a flight to surprise their runner for a race. I cry every time I see those photos. Now, we are among the families that have met our runner. In fact, Cole gave us a tour of the workplace her and Hannah’s brother work. It was such a big campus, that we qualified for another virtual race and Hannah earned a medal by walking with Cole. It was an amazing experience and already we are talking about getting Cole to Ohio so we can talk writing, and then I half-joked that I’m taking her back to my hometown so she can run in the famous Wine Glass Marathon so we can cheer her on.
I know with what we deal with in paperwork, appointments and therapies to hear about something to sign up for sounds like an obligation or something that can’t be trusted. Believe me when I write that our I Run 4 experience is rewarding and it is the runner that does all the work. These are compassionate people who want to make their workouts mean something. They want to cheer us on. They are so passionate to participate that runners wait an average of six months to be matched.
The need is so great for buddies that like I said, we were matched in days. There are times the match coordinator can’t make matches, there aren’t enough buddies. I urge you to please consider allowing yourself or loved one to become a buddy. There is also a program where runners run for siblings. They understand how difficult things can be for the siblings, so they dedicate work outs, runs, and races for the sibling. The need for siblings isn’t as great as it is for buddies, but still, I encourage you to consider participating in the I Run 4 family.
To learn more, visit http://whoirun4.com. There is a video at the top, plus instructions on what to do to become a buddy. Once you are part of the Facebook group, don’t be afraid to jump in. It has become a safe haven for me, an extended family between fellow buddies and their families, runners, and “our Cole.”
*My thanks to I Run 4 Founder/President Tim Boyle for allowing me to write on this subject and quote from the website.