Thursday, January 28, 2016

Zero to Hero

For the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, I participated as a St. Jude Hero in The Dopey Challenge.  This was my first time running for a cause and I want to start by saying it was a humbling and rewarding experience.  When I registered as a St. Jude Hero, the fundraising minimum of $2,500 seemed larger than life to me.  After raising $2,300 (I still have a few days left to reach my goal), I can only look back and say "WOW."  This has been an experience too great not to share!  

Many races throughout the world offer runners an opportunity to run for a reason, using their race to raise awareness and money for a special cause.  The benefits of racing through a charity include free race registration, a guaranteed spot in the race (even if it sells out), a sense of accomplishment and so much more.  Back in 2013, I had my eyes set on The Tower of Terror Ten Miler at Disney's Hollywood Studios.  I was hesitant to sign up because I didn't know if I could complete the miles and then it sold out.  It was still months prior to the race and I contemplated running for Noah's Light Foundation.  I believe the fundraising minimum was around $600-$700.  I talked myself out of it because I didn't know how to fundraise.  

I deeply regret that decision and I want to help anyone who has ever considered fundraising for a race.  In addition to sharing my once-in-a-lifetime experience fundraising for my first marathon at Walt Disney World, I'm going to share some tips with you on how to make your miles count and run for a reason!  If fundraising for a race is a goal of yours, you can do it.  Don't let the fundraising requirements scare you away!

"You're crazy," "That's nuts," "I don't even want to drive that many miles."  These are all common reactions I received when I told people how many miles I was running for The Dopey Challenge.  Those opinions quickly changed when I added that I was running all these miles for St. Jude.  I still can't decide what I'm more proud of- finishing the miles or helping St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.  Regardless, I was motivated by helping patients and families at St.  Jude.  Find a charity that really speaks to you and encourages you to run.  You will need that motivation on days you don't want to put in the effort to fundraise. 

There were so many well-deserving charities I could have selected in my journey to becoming a marathoner.  So why did I pick St. Jude?  Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80% since it opened 50+ years ago.  I respect the progress St. Jude has made in ending childhood cancer and I wanted to contribute to their fight.  I highly encourage you to share why you chose the charity you are running for.  People want to hear your story and they especially want to hear what the charity does to change the community. 

I began my fundraising efforts in the fall and was elated when I received my first donation.  After reaching the $100 mark, I received an email stating that I had earned a St. Jude Heroes singlet.  At the time, I didn't even know what a singlet was!  All I knew was that my efforts up to that point had raised enough money to provide a pair of pediatric crutches to help children maneuver during treatment.  

In the beginning, I used social media to share my story.  Next, I contacted close friends,  receiving many donations just on the first day!  Off to a great start, I continued contacting people I knew.  At $250, I was congratulated for raising the amount of money needed for one red blood cell transfusion.  The numbers kept growing.  By the time the ball had dropped on New Years Eve, I had almost reached $1,000.  I couldn't stop there.  

I left for Florida on January 6th with over $1,600 towards my fundraising goal.  I received notifications while I was down at the race that more and more friends were donating.  It was encouraging to see the numbers growing.  It gave me motivation to keep running with the knowledge that I was helping St. Jude.  My race weekend consisted of four races- a 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon.  After realizing what a singlet is, I wore it for my third day of running.  

Before my corral even took off, I saw an announcer wave at me and for all runners to hear he thanked me for being a St. Jude Hero and praised the organization for what they do for the children.  I couldn't imagine a better way to start off a race.  I received "Go St. Jude" cheers and high fives all 13.1 miles of the course- from complete strangers!  I met fellow Heroes on the course, too.  Even if we didn't have the time to stop and talk to each other, all St. Jude runners made it a point to encourage each other on the course.  After the race, I made my way to the St. Jude hospitality tent to chat with the Event Specialist and let her know how the race went.  After telling her how much recognition I received as a Hero, I knew I had to wash my singlet and wear it the next day for my 26.2 mile adventure through all four theme parks.  

So, I wore my singlet the next day.  Running double the distance definitely meant getting double the high fives and "Go St. Jude" cheers.  I also met twice as many fellow Heroes.  

Even since I've returned home from the race, friends and family members have continued to donate towards my fundraiser.  Waking up at 3:00 am for four consecutive days and running 48.6 miles definitely wasn't easy, but I would do it all over again in order to benefit the kids of St. Jude.  I never doubted that I would finish the races, but the fundraising aspect got me discouraged at times.  I had friends, family, former teachers (from high school and college), cousins, neighbors, friends of my parents and grandparents, classmates (going all the way back to elementary school), an old babysitter, former co-workers, virtual friends (who share my passion for running or working out), even the two women who mentored me for my Bat Mitzvah- all generously donate.  With only $200 to go, I'm positive I can reach my goal.  Also, I'm positive I can do it again!  My goals for next year's Dopey Challenge are to run faster, have more fun, and raise more money.  

My friend Ashley had these Dopey-inspired tanks and tees designed to raise awareness of childhood cancer.  All proceeds benefit St. Jude.  If you can design something to raise awareness for your charity- do it!  People are more likely to support your fundraiser this way.  We have gotten such a positive out pour since we released these shirts.  Prices range from $22-$25 and you can purchase them here

I wanted to share some of the comments I've received from complete strangers thanking me for running St. Jude.  I couldn't have done it without the support from so many people, and their words of encouragement and gratitude should be extended to everyone who made this race possible for me.  I became a marathoner and a St. Jude Hero all at the same time! 

"Congratulations! Running for St. Jude is wonderful."
-Anne Marie Brock
Boston, Massachusetts 

"Thank you from St. Jude's patient #9977,  That's me, a 29 year survivor.  Keep up the great work.  These kids and their families need you.  May God bless you."
-Billy Beavers
Powell, Tennessee

"God Bless. Amen Sister."
-Raymond N Kyndra Julian
Radcliff, Kentucky

My favorite comment is the one below.  The St. Jude Heroes Facebook page shared a photo of me alongside my story and I received an overwhelming amount of praise for my race.  One woman found me on Instagram to tell me about what St. Jude did for her daughter.  I asked her daughter's name and was delighted to hear that it's Lily.  My absolute favorite clothing company is Lilly Pulitzer.  If that wasn't a sign I was meant to run this race for the children of St. Jude, I don't know what is!

If you'd like to make a contribution to my St. Jude fundraiser, click here now.  If you've ever considered running for a cause, I highly encourage you to do it.  $2,500 seems out of reach, but I was able to achieve it with a little help from a lot of kind-hearted people.  The Rock N Roll Nashville Marathon and St. Jude Memphis Marathon are two large race opportunities for runners to raise money for this life-changing organization.  I am hoping to run both races in the future.  My next run for St. Jude is The Chicago Marathon!  This race is a  great opportunity to fundraise because of the lottery systemSo many runners apply that they cannot guarantee entry to them all.  Running with a charity secures your registration and waives your fee!  

Were you a St. Jude Hero?  Leave comments below on your experience running St Jude- or any charity!  I'd love to hear how your fundraising went!  


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