I Run 4 Lola

“I run because I can. When I get tired, I remember those who can’t run, what they would give to have this simple gift I take for granted, and I run harder for them.”

This quote was on a meme that runner, Tim Boyles, shared online. A man named, Michael, who has Down Syndrome, saw the meme and replied, “You can run for me anytime!” And from that exchange, the idea for I Run 4 Michael came to fruition. I Run 4 Michael is a non-profit organization that matches athletes of all levels with individuals who have special needs. The athlete dedicates their workout (whether it be a jog, a marathon, a swim, a bike ride or whatever) to their buddy. Many times the athletes find great inspiration from their buddy and often help spread awareness about the individual’s condition or disease. I Run 4 Michael has facilitated over 11,000 matches although that number was reported in 2014, so I’m sure there are many more matches by now.

On June 26th, 2014, Lola was matched with Allison. At the time, Allison was embarking on a move to Washington D.C. Her first dedicated run for Lola was on June 30th, 2014 and this is what she said, “Hi Lola, I’m finally moved into my new apartment and start work tomorrow. I ran 2 miles today for you. It’s much hotter in DC than it was in Connecticut so it might take me some time to get used to the humidity!” When Allison was matched with Lola, she was not a runner. We have watched her evolve as an athlete. Every week, her runs would get longer and longer. We’d virtually cheer her on, but Lola doesn’t understand who Allison is or what she’s doing on her behalf. But it doesn’t matter. Allison is inspired by Lola and Allison is inspiring us. Back in November, I asked her about why she wanted to run for a complete stranger and this was her response:

I signed up for IRun4 in March of 2014 because I thought that having a buddy to run for would keep me accountable and help me get into better shape, this remains true but the reason I run has changed. I have always loved helping others and thought this would be an awesome organization to be a part of. I had no idea at the time that what I was signing up for was much different than what I had expected. The day I was matched with Lola was so exciting for me. I told all of my co-workers and tried to explain to everyone what Irun4 was. I began to look at Meredith’s blog and wondered how I would ever be able to inspire Lola. In July I started running, very slowly, 3 days a week. I am completely serious when I say I could not run 1 mile without gasping for air and the following day my muscles being very sore. I really thought that I was going to have to ask Irun4 to match Lola with someone else. What motivation could I be when I could barely run 1 mile? The Irun4 community if filled with people competing in triathlons, obstacle course races and marathons and there I was telling Lola how I finally ran 3 miles. At the end of October I ran in my first 10k with a few of my co-workers, as usual I ended up at the back of the pack but I finished. Immediately after that run I went to sports store and was fitted for a pair of running shoes, determined that I would run a marathon for Lola.

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Running is only part of Irun4. A big part of it for me was learning how I could help create a better place for all children. Joining Irun4 has helped me educate students on my campus on how we can create a more inclusive environment. Running is not easy for me, it is a mental battle. When I signed up to run in the Marine Corp Marathon this past March I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Runs of 10-18 miles on the weekend were normal and temperatures in Washington, DC were completely awful. However, quitting was not an option for me, more than anything I thought about telling Lola how I ran for her! I would think to myself about the challenges that Lola has faced and how she is constantly proving others wrong. She has achieved so much in the year that I have been able to get to know her. I have been able to see Lola the amazing improvements since Lola has come off of Keppra and I love to hear the new words she is using to express herself.

Being healthier is a result of running but is no longer the reason I run. The only reason I run is for Lola. I wish I could say that running is fun for me, but most of the time it isn’t. Most days I would rather watch Netflix than run but the feeling I got from seeing Lola with the Marine Corp Marathon medal makes every mile worth it! I am so thankful that I was matched with Lola, she is incredible and is my inspiration. I look forward to running many more marathons for her and being able to see the amazing things that she will one day do.”

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Allison worked so hard in preparation for that marathon. Her body was pushed to a level she had never experienced. Sheer will, determination and thoughts of Lola is what got her through. But you know, rather than keeping her very first marathon medal, her runner number or any of the other goodies that went along with running 26 unforgiving miles, she sent it all to Lola. Every last remnant. It was, perhaps, the most selfless act of human kindness I’ve ever been a part of. And it meant a lot to me, as Lola’s mother. Tears streamed down my face when I opened the package. I was proud of Allison and I also had a tinge of sadness because Lola’s reality is that she might not ever run a marathon. But that’s OK. I probably won’t either and my legs are quite capable. We now have Allison’s medal right next to Lola’s medal for completing an adaptive Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired triathlon. They look perfect next to one another.

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Allison contacted me earlier this year as she had news to share…she was coming to Indy and she wanted to meet Lola! We eagerly jumped at the chance and on a Saturday afternoon in March, Allison came to our house to finally meet her buddy. As I said, Lola doesn’t understand who Allison is, but she certainly liked her. Allison brought gifts and we had gifts for her. We ordered a pizza and chatted extensively over dinner. Allison is an incredibly bright individual who is definitely here to make a difference in the world. She’s heavy into volunteerism and her eyes shined with joy when she spoke about her family. When asked about her father, she reluctantly shared that he had passed. I told her my father died as well. We sat on the floor of Lola’s bedroom and opened up about the vulnerabilities we now encompass because we lost a parent. She told me about her love of owls and the symbolism behind them. She even brought Lola a stuffed owl and, in return, we gave her one of Lola’s own stuffed owls. I explained how I am drawn to dragonflies because of Lola and told her why I think they protect her. It was shocking yet comforting to feel so connected to a person you’ve only spoken to online. After a few hours, it was time for Allison to leave, but not before some snuggles with Lola. Allison and Lola will most likely be friends for a very long time. We are so appreciative that Lola has Allison as a champion in her life!

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If you or someone you know would like to be matched through I Run 4 Michael, please go to their website:
http://www.whoirun4.com/match-me/