Sunday, October 7, 2012

My First 1/2 Marathon: Jill and Ashley's Story

Back in 2009, I featured the story of Ashley Kumen and her mom Jill. Ashley's mom, Jill has Multiple Sclerosis and Ashley has made MS awareness her mission. Inspired by here mom's everyday fight, Ashely resigned from her job as a cruise ship rock cliimbing and surf instructor to bring more awareness to MS. Ashley has created MS Run the US, Inc. which is dedicated to raising awareness and funds to support multiple sclerosis research while inspiring others to get involved in the fight against MS. The organization's endurance events focus on promoting a healthy lifestyle while inspiring individuals around the nation to maximize their capabilities and become active in their communities to help those in need. 

In September, Ashely shared the wonderful experience of running a half-marathon with her mom. Read on to learn more about her awesome experience. 
mTT Executive Director Christian Jensen,
mom & myself before the race!

The event started with a direct message on Twitter:
“Hey Ashley, just wondering: Do you ever run with your mom or have the desire to? Keep up the good work! @ccjens”

The tears instantly welled in my eyes as I read the message.  No, I had never run with my mom.  I had never even thought about it, despite the fact that I know who @ccjens is, and despite the fact that I had friends that pushed other disabled MS patients via his non-profit myTeam Triumph – Wisconsin (mTT), and despite the fact that I know the Team Hoyt story pretty well.  Knowing all this how had I never come to this conclusion myself?!

Nonetheless here Christian was offering me an opportunity to do something that I love with my mom while

giving her the experience of a lifetime.  I took it.  A few months later the logistics has been laid out.  I would use an adult disability stroller provided by Christian and mTT to push mom 13.1 miles during the Brewers Mini Marathon race.

Mom's smile couldn't get any bigger!
The weeks leading up to the event I was pretty emotional about mom’s first race, but the morning of I was more focused on mom, her comfort, and getting to the starting line.  The weight of what mom and I would experience together came suddenly like the morning storm when Christian gathered us together to pray as a group.  My stomach got butterflies and my throat constricted.  I tried not to sob out loud as the sudden tears streamed down my face.  Mom was going to feel the thrill of participating in a running race!  I couldn’t have felt more grateful in that moment before we headed to the starting line.

Christian’s hard work before the race allowed us a front spot at the starting line.  Through his experience he’s found it’s easier for other runners to maneuver around us rather then the other way around.  While the elite half marathon runners got in their zone, Bernie Brewer came over to wish us good luck!

The crowd cheered and the race marshal counted down the start clock…3!…2!…1!…GO! Mom and I were off and running in our first race together!

Captain Adam & Captain Jill with their angels &
Bernie Brewer!
In my excitement of the event and position at the start of the race I ran a quick first two miles with mom in front.  Christian and I had planned to meet up the week prior so I could practice pushing the stroller, but rain caused us to cancel.  Race morning was the first time I had ever pushed anything in front of me while running and it didn’t take long for me to feel the weight of both my mom and the durable stroller.  My shoulders and triceps started to burn and even the most slight incline set my quads on fire.  I quickly realized just how physically difficult this half marathon would be for me!  All the while though, mom and I smiled.

The physical difficulty of the event was drastically counterbalanced by the emotional support mom and I received while running.  Runners cheered “Go Jill!” as they passed and parents slowed to say “Thank you” & “Keep it up” while wiping away tears.  Up and over bridges while taking in the Milwaukee skyline, down through Miller Valley while mom gave a high-five to all the Racing Sausages, mom and I ran down the miles.

Mile 2 of 13.1!
We carried on conversation when I could manage the breath and I kept touching her hat to make sure she was enjoying the run, “Are you sleeping, Mom?” I asked her half way through.  “Nope, I’m watching all of the runners.  Are YOU sleeping, Ashley?!?”. I laughed! No need to wonder where I get my sarcasm from.

The last few miles were biting hard and my tired legs had taken just about enough as we turned against the wind and up a slight incline towards Miller Park.  I keep pushing through the pain and through the last mile.  With a quarter mile to go we entered the baseball field at Miller Park.  I shouted to mom over the runners and the crowd, “Mom, everyone is here cheering for you!!!” and with that she shot her hand straight up from the stroller and started to cheer and wave back. I pulled my hat down and tried not to cry uncontrollably.

Mom & I runnin through Miller Park
Out of the stadium and back on to the road we had just a half mile left before the finish…but it was all up hill.  I reached for whatever strength I had left.  I knew the hill would be tough, but I would not allow for mom’s big finish to be anything less than a run.  The announcer saw us coming up and quickly he read out mom’s name, “Here comes Jill into the finish! Let’s give them a BIG cheer!!!”.  Mom put her hand up again and kept waving as the crowd cheered us into the finish!

Mom and I crossed the finish line and I immediately knelt down to give her a hug.  We cried and hugged as we shared the moment.  With tears still fresh in her eyes my mom said, “That was SO cool! Thank you, thank you! I love you so much!”.  I gave her another big hug and said, “Mom, I love you so much too! Now let’s go get your Finishers Medal!!!”.

Mom & I proudly showing our Finisher's Medals
As a runner that races often the experiences at times will come and go.  Sometimes it’s your time that dictates your accomplishment, sometimes is the race, the event, the location, the crowd, and even the weather.  Races come and go.  The Brewers Mini Marathon gave us a fresh experience to enjoy, and as a runner I cried not because it was my mom and not because she couldn’t run, but because the joy she felt from others cheering for her was immeasurable.  She wasn’t on the sidelines anymore watching the runners go by.  She didn’t have multiple sclerosis keeping her safely seated in the stands.  She was the runner.  Never before had she felt the thrill.  Never before had she smiled so big.

[Mom and I set a goal to fundraise $13,100 to help cure MS through this event.  If you would like to donate to our goal, please stop by our fundraising site  Also, a HUGE THANK YOU to Christian Jensen & myTeam Triumph for working with us to make this event a success!!!  Christian, you are an amazing person!!!]

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