After completing our first marathon last weekend at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, I couldn’t help but take in the lessons one can learn from from running a marathon that coincide with raising a child with special needs. First lesson learned: focus on today. I made a huge mistake around mile 18 and began to start counting down to how many miles I had left and started to become anxious about how great it would feel to cross the finish line. The first 16 or so miles, I was taking in the whole experience in and was, believe it or not, having a great time. The mistake I made with not focusing on the task at hand and just enjoying the present journey is extremely similar to the mistake I made, and most other new parents make, the first few weeks of Lily’s life. Instead of taking in the amazing new life that we brought into this world, I was consumed with fear of all of the what ifs of Lily’s future. “Would Lily ever go to college? Will Lily ever be able to live independently? Will she be able to do things that all of the other kids are doing when she gets older?” Not one of those concerns were things I could do anything about either then or now. Luckily we have been blessed by local organizations like the Central MS Down Syndrome Society and the Little Light House that put us in contact with so many different local families that were able to help put things into perspective for us. Yes, it is completely normal to worry about the future for your child, special needs or not, but it makes a lot more sense to take each day one day at a time and enjoy each and every second of the present. Why worry about tomorrow, next year or even 20 years down the road when you can celebrate each and every small milestone that your beautiful princess is accomplishing today?
Lesson two: enjoy and celebrate the small things. You might be thinking, “There are small things to enjoy in a marathon?” If your only thought when running a marathon is “holy crap…I have to run 26.2 mlies!”….then you are most likely going to have a long, painful marathon experience. Instead, take in the full experience. Take in all of the awesome folks that got up early that morning just to come out and cheer for thousand of random people that they don’t even know. The first group that comes to mind is the Birmingham Track Club. This crazy bunch not only came out to cheer you on, they made you feel like an absolute rockstar as you passed by them. And when they noticed Lily and saw her waving and clapping at them, they got louder and louder and cheered her on like she was winning the race. That is one memory I will never forget and am extremely grateful for this crazy group:) In comparison, as parents we can easily get caught up in worrying about some of the larger milestones that other children are accomplishing that our child has not yet attained. Instead, I have learned to not focus on the things Lilybean can’t do and instead celebrate and enjoy each and every small accomplishment. It’s more fun to celebrate anyways isn’t it?
Lesson three is something I have learned from observation. While we were training and during/after the marathon, so many people have the opinion of “there’s no way I could run a marathon nevertheless push a stroller in one!” This is comparable to the opinion most people have about having a child with special needs. Most think…”there’s no way I could do what you guys do with all of the therapies and everything else.” Now, we did have the choice to run a marathon and didn’t have a choice of having a child with special needs, but I can honestly say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. You never know what you are truly capable of until you are in the situation. I used to say I would never run a marathon…I mean who wants to run 26.2 miles and pay to do it? Yes, there were tough times to push through, but the accomplishment of going through that finish line pushing Lily is something I will never forget. In comparison, I was naive enough to actually pray for a child that didn’t have special needs. I feared the unknown and wanted what all of the other normal parents had…a normal child. Now I wouldn’t trade what we have with Lily for anything. Yes, we have more traveling back and forth during the week with doctor appointments and therapies, but that’s just a small part of our new normal. Each doctor appointment ensures my baby girl is as healthy as possible and each therapy appointment is giving Lily a better chance at reaching her true potential.
The last lesson is that running a marathon is synonymous to raising a child with special needs as raising a child with special needs is similar to raising a child with typical development. Yes, Lily may have a few more doctor and therapy appointments than a typically developing child, but besides that, we deal with the same things as any other parent. We have our ups and our downs, but we are in love with our sweet Lilybean and are her largest supporters! The word “can’t” is not in our vocabulary nor is it in Lily’s! No matter what life throws you, find some way to embrace the struggle and “Enjoy the Journey!”
Two ways to support Down syndrome awareness:
1. Participate in the 2014 Run Up for Downs : http://runnningforlily.com/3-21-run-up-for-downs/
2. Preorder a Run 321 Down syndrome awareness shirt: http://runnningforlily.com/shop/product-category/run-321/