Yesterday, my running buddy, Audrey, celebrated her third birthday…in heaven. I received many encouraging messages and comments from friends and family, which carried me through the day. I’ve had a couple of friends ask about her, about how we came to be connected and what #irunforaudrey means. I figured I should take the time to write this out, for the benefit of others as well as myself.
Just about 3 years ago, I made the decision to run a marathon. I know, crazy, right? As I began doing more research on training plans and xx, I became aware of a program through Facebook called “I Run 4.” This program matches runners with a running buddy…someone who is unable to run for one reason or another. There is nothing formal to the program, except that both parties commit to posting on Facebook often in order to stay connected with and to encourage each other. Runners often send their buddies race medals, bibs, t-shirts, and other race bling.
I was immediately interested in participating in this program, mostly because of my love for special needs kiddos. I emailed the program and asked to be matched with a buddy and was informed that it was at least a 6 month waiting list to be matched. I waited all spring, all summer, and no word. I obsessively checked every waiting list to see how close I was to being number 1 on the list. As marathon day approached, I knew I wouldn’t be matched with a buddy in time, and was quite honestly bummed!
But I knew that I could run this marathon in my buddy’s honor, even though I didn’t know who it would be yet. On October 26, 2014, I ran that marathon for my as-of- yet unknown buddy. Wouldn’t you know, a couple of weeks after the marathon, in November 2014, I got the email I had been waiting for! I had been matched with Audrey Salinas. I knew nothing more than her name…and I had no idea how my life would change.
When I received the notification that I had been matched, I immediately contacted her mom, Crystal. I discovered that Audrey was 8 months old had been diagnosed (before birth) with Trisomy 18. Trisomy 18 is a complicated disease which is often fatal, even before birth. The developmental delays and medical complications result from an extra 18 th chromosome, similar to the extra 21 st chromosome that causes Trisomy 21, or Downs Syndrome. Unlike Downs Syndrome, those with Trisomy 18 often don’t survive past their first birthday.
She sent me a photo of Audrey….and I fell in love with this sweet girl immediately! She was tiny, even for an 8 month old, still wearing newborn clothes. She had a shock of dark hair and the biggest brown eyes I’ve ever seen on a baby girl. From that point on, my runs took on a whole new meaning. I wasn’t running for me anymore. I was running for this warrior princess, who, despite her strength and resilience, would likely never run herself. Over the months, I saw her grow, ever so slightly. She smiled more (oh my gosh that smile!!), started speech/occupational/physical therapy, and even had some teeth come in! She was making gains, despite frequent hospitalizations for blood transfusions and respiratory issues.
Last year, on her second birthday, Audrey was diagnosed with liver cancer…likely the result of various treatments she’s received to address the medical issues from Trisomy 18. This cancer was another blow to Audrey, who had already undergone countless blood transfusions, breathing treatments, etc. Surgery was not an option because of her frailty, so other options were pursued. By all accounts, she seemed to be holding her own throughout the spring and summer and into the fall.
However, on November 16, Crystal sent me a message, simply telling me that Audrey had passed away the day before. Her cancer had become very aggressive and untreatable, and efforts had been made to make Audrey as comfortable as possible. On the day she died, Audrey waited for her mom to come into her hospital room, and within minutes, she was gone.
I don’t know that I’ve allowed myself time to grieve the loss of my buddy. This may be because I feel guilty. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but one regret is that I didn’t make the time or find the money to get myself on a plane and fly to Texas. I thought I had more time. I was wrong. Nothing should have gotten in the way of me finding a way to hold that precious little girl in my arms and looking into her big, beautiful brown eyes. I failed her. I failed myself.
So yesterday, on her third birthday, I ran 3 miles for her. The tears flowed. I felt every emotion under the sun (well it was foggy, so maybe not). I was sad that she had died. I was angry that her short life was full of pain and illness and needles and doctors and hospital rooms. I was regretful that I hadn’t met her in person. I was relieved that she was no longer hurting. I feel worried for her mom and dad and sister. But by the end of the run, after I had cried my last tear, I felt grateful. I felt grateful for the fate that brought the two of us together. I felt determination to continue running in her honor, to dedicate each and every mile to her. Every lap in the pool and every spin of my bike….all for her. What an honor and a privilege to run for Audrey. Over the last 18 months, I’ve carried Audrey with me through the streets of Brunswick and Harpswell, to Lookout Point and Potts Point and Simpsons Point. She’s run across the swinging bridge with me hundreds of times. She’s been with me as I ran on the white sandy beaches of Mexico and through the five boroughs of New York City. She ran with me on the slushy streets of Quebec City and across the KeyBridge in Washington DC. She’s run on a live runway with me, slipped on the ice with me, and crossed several finish lines with me. She’s run in the humidity of summer, the damp and drizzly days of fall, the cold and beautiful snowy days of winter, and the messy, muddy days of spring. She’s even been swimming with me in Harpswell Sound and Casco Bay. She’s given me strength and breath and courage when I don’t think I can do it. She’s been the encouraging voice in my ear when I approach a tough hill….you can do it, you can do it. She’s been on my mind and in my heart every time I put on my running shoes and hit the road. Honestly, she’s on my mind and in my heart even when I’m not running…
The day that I heard the news of her death, I went to the swinging bridge-my thinking place (you’ve all seen the photos). It was a beautiful fall day-rusty colored leaves falling, a warm breeze blowing, bright blue skies, and puffy white clouds. I raised my face to the sun, closed my eyes, and had a vision of Audrey leaping from cloud to cloud. On strong legs. With capable lungs and a strong heart. Things she never had on Earth that she could have now.
Thank you for being my reason to run, Audrey. Thank you for reminding me to be strong, brave, and determined. Thank you for sharing your all-too short life with me from afar.
Run strong and run free and run far, sweet Audrey.
Audrey Guadalupe Salinas
March 1, 2014-November 15, 2016