I run for myself, of course. But I also run 4 Belle – an adorable 8 year old with Down’s Syndrome, who likes all things Disney, The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and cheerleading.
Last year, Colby and I both signed up to be matched through “I Run 4” with someone who is unable to run. Each Runner is matched with a Buddy. We run for them. We dedicate our training runs to them, posting updates to a closed group on Facebook a few times each week, to let them know we are thinking of them and running for them. We run our races for them, marking ourselves with tattoos or marker indicating that we “Run 4” them. Many races will provide us with extra medals to give to them, and we also send other race swag, since it is their race, too.
I Run 4 was started 2 years ago by Timothy Boyle. Timothy had taken up running and was inspired by the “I Run…” meme above. He shared the meme one day and a friend named Michael with Down’s Syndrome replied with, “You can run for me!”
And thus “I Run 4,” which now has 30,000 members in 28 countries, was born.
Reading through the posts on the page can be heartbreaking some days. There are so many people with real challenges. You are often reminded of the saying “If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.” But it is uplifting, too. The utter strength of people affected by special challenges is inspiring. The progress that buddies make in their recoveries and in their development is wonderful to watch. And all who read the pages are made aware that people can suffer very difficult conditions and yet have wonderful lives.
When you see someone with special needs from afar, sometimes your first emotion is pity. But when you connect with someone who has special needs, the pity disappears. It is replaced with awe, respect, understanding and acceptance. You feel compassion. Empathy. Not pity. People with special needs might be traveling different paths, but their lives are just as rich, their accomplishments just as joyful, as anyone else’s. If not more so.
The connections between runner and buddy are heartwarming and inspiring. I love the look on the buddies’ faces as they wear their medals. The support that members with similar issues can provide to each other is truly awesome. And the connections that people forge around the world: just incredible.
There is still a lot of good in this world and much of it can be seen on the I Run 4 page.
One recent post will not leave my mind. A runner had promised her buddy that she would run one mile per day for him in January. She posted that one night, she got into bed before realizing that she had not run her mile. Her first though was to just add the mile to her run the following day. But then she thought: No. He has to live with his own challenges every day. No days off. No opportunity to leave it for a day. So she got out of bed, threw on some running clothes and a headlamp and ran her mile.
Colby and I both have nephews with special needs and are familiar with the daily challenges that they and their parents face. We both know that even if they never wear a timing chip, they conquer marathons every day. And that makes them the real champions in our book.
If you are interested in running 4 someone, visit I Run 4 Michael.