Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Her Name Was Sara

Have you ever done something that you thought would help change the life of others and you realize it has changed your life? Well, that is what happened to me one August afternoon.

I wanted to run the Marine Corps Marathon earlier this year but had missed registering before it was sold out. I looked to find a way to run the race and noticed an advertisement to run it while raising funds for a special needs respite center in McLean, VA called “Jill’s House.” In order to get a race slot I needed to commit to raising one thousand dollars. This would be the first time I had ever participated in fundraising to run a race and one thousand dollars seemed a little extreme. But, I knew the money was going to a good cause so I decided to register for the race.

Although I have never walked the daily life of having a special needs child, I was exposed to my stepson who is a high-functioning autistic. As I began training for the marathon I would sometimes think about his special needs and the needs of other similar children that I knew. I would consider the fact that I was out there running for them – some who would never be able to take a step in their entire life. What a privilege and honor it was for me to run for them. It made the longer runs seem more bearable remembering that fact.

With only a few months left until race day I realized I needed to get serious about my fundraising. I felt uncomfortable just asking people for money but I knew that I would reach at least part of my goal by doing that because people are willing to give to worthy causes. As a photographer I decided to hold a fundraising photography session. I felt it was something a little “out of the box” and people could not only contribute to Jill’s House at the photo session but could then have a memorable photo of their family.

I decided to hold the photo session at a location in which I was very familiar. Not only had I visited this location many times but the trail I use for my marathon training ran right through the area. So, as I took photos of the families I would see a runner go by and was reminded many times why I was doing this. I was there to raise money so that Jill’s House could help serve my community by giving relief – a respite – to the families of children with special needs. I was running because so many of them couldn’t.

Then…there she was…Sara.

Sara could run. Boy, how she could run.

Sara was there on that day to have her photo taken with her family. What a lovely and patient family they were. Sara’s special need is autism and on this particular day sitting still was a bit of a task she didn’t want to be concerned with. If I’m being honest, I saw a little bit of myself in Sara that day. I sometimes find it hard to just sit and be still. I was so excited to take pictures that day but getting a typical family photo was going to be a little on the difficult side this time. So, I just started snapping my camera and what I ended up with wasn’t some staged shot where everyone is looking at the camera smiling but I got photos of real life – a family living by faith knowing that they were all put on this earth for a reason.

The photo session was only fifteen minutes but the family had been running around with Sara trying to protect her and keep her safe the majority of the time. The mom looked at me and said: “Now you can understand why we need this respite center so much.” I never really understood. I didn’t really “get it” but, now I do. Parents with special needs are typically under a lot of stress on a daily basis. They need this respite center. They need some alone time with their spouses and other children. They need a break.

At the end of the day I sat and reflected on the photo session and thought about Sara so many times. I thought about how much she loved to run and, quite honestly, I will probably think about her on many of my future runs. I’m running this race for Jill’s House but on a personal level I’m running this race for children just like Sara and a family just like hers.

Special note to those of you that race: If you feel you need something new or different to encourage or motivate you on a particular race I highly suggest participating in a fundraising group and really go out there and get involved in the program. I think you will be glad that you did.

A BIG THANK YOU to all of you who have donated to support my Race for Jill's House!

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