Wednesday, April 13, 2016

I Run 4

In the past couple months, two complete strangers have become two people who bring an immense amount of happiness into our world. I Run 4 is a non-profit organization that matches individuals (children or adult) with disabilities with able-bodied athletes. The athletes dedicate their workouts to their buddies, and the buddies cheer on their athletes. It's basically the modern version of a pen pal. Instead of writing letters, everyone posts through Facebook. It's also one of the most positive groups I've ever encountered, with people cheering on each other and offering prayers and kind words whenever needed, even through the night. (I learned that last part on nights that I've been up with Teddy.)

When I signed Teddy up for a buddy in December, I was surprised that he was matched the very next day! Teddy's buddy is a wonderful woman named Heather who lives in Warren, Michigan. She is an awesome person who cheers on Teddy's accomplishments and makes our world better.

Heather loves Disney! (And Teddy!)
The timing of their match couldn't have been more perfect because Heather completed a Disney marathon about a week later. It may seem like a silly thing, but the picture she sent of her ready for her race brought tears to my eyes:

Seeing this still tugs at my heart.
The fact that someone who just "met" our son ran 26.2 miles with this on her legs, giving a voice to Teddy and encouraging our family, showed me how amazing I Run 4 can be. Heather is one of the first people I tell about Teddy's latest tricks because she's someone who selflessly has agreed to cheer on Teddy.

Because Teddy's non-verbal, I type all his messages for him. Teddy smiles, though, every time I show him a picture Heather posts. I also realize that in some ways Heather is as much my running buddy as she is Teddy's. Having her in our lives has been such a blessing, and I'm grateful beyond belief for the role she plays.

Not only can individuals with disabilities be matched, but there's a partner organization called I Run 4 Siblings: The Unsung Heroes. This group gives the siblings a spotlight, so I immediately signed AJ up for a buddy. It took us a few months to get a solid match for AJ, but it was absolutely worth the wait!

AJ's running buddy is Bridget, who lives in Flint, Michigan. She is an incredible woman who takes the time to acknowledge every one of the 25 silly pictures AJ may send as comments to her posts. She is someone who will be a fantastic role model for AJ as he grows older and learns about overcoming challenges and obstacles in his own life.

Bridget loves running races! (And AJ!)

Bridget is the perfect match for AJ! She sends him messages frequently, which he loves. She also answers every message he sends her. And trust me, since AJ is dictating his messages, they're often a bit unique.

Although it's not required or even implied with I Run 4, some buddies send medals to their matches. We just so happen to have buddies who've done this for our boys. Believe me, it's not about spending money, sending packages, etc. It's about the relationships and the support. But I won't deny it's an awfully exciting day if a package arrives from either Heather or Bridget.

AJ shows off his bling from Bridget's first run for him!
Since both our runners live one state away (and are only an hour apart from each other), I'm hoping we can meet sometime this year. I know both boys would love to meet their buddies in person, as would Dave and I.

I signed up to be matched the same day as Teddy. Teddy got his buddy the next day. It's been nearly four months, and I'm number 780 on the waiting list. This amazes me because it shows how many good people there are in the world that there's more than 2,000 people currently waiting to cheer on and support individuals and their families. I'm hoping to get matched in the next couple months, and I'm excited to be able to pass along some of the happiness, joy and support we've received.

Not only are there groups to support siblings, there's also a remembrance group called Keri On: I Run 4 Remembrance. It's one way to keep someone's memory alive and continue to share their story.

If you know of someone who would benefit from a buddy, please share this with them and encourage them to sign up through I Run 4. Remember, there's 2,000 people just waiting to cheer on people with different abilities and become one of their biggest fans. No buddy waits long for a match ... only the athletes.

Teddy's diagnosis comes with a whole slew of challenges and obstacles. At the same time, so much good has come along this short journey, and I count our running buddies as two of the blessings we've received.