My “Virtual” 5k and Some Thoughts on Running Alone
5/29/2014 8:46 AM
By Michelle Browning Coughlin, JD, MSW
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone.
-Rodgers and Hammerstein
As part of my 37-37-37 challenge, I was honored to be invited to “virtually” participate in a 5k being held in another state to benefit congenital heart defects research and support. Running “virtually” meant that on the day of the race, I headed out to a local park wearing my race t-shirt, turned on my running app, and ran a 5K by myself. There was no “On Your Mark, Get Set, Go,” no cheering fans on the side of the road, and no loudspeaker announcements congratulating winners at the end of the race. It was just me, running alone.
And yet, every step of the way, I knew that—at least figuratively—so many people were running beside me.
As I ran, I thought of the mom who organized the race that day, who has been a tireless advocate for her own daughter, born with a CHD called Taussig-Bing. While she was also literally running that morning back in Missouri, her more important “race” was the one she had been running for the past six years, advocating for a new law in Missouri requiring that all newborns undergo CHD screening. She won that race, with Chloe’s Law taking effect on January 1, 2014.
I was reminded also, as I ran, of two of my childhood friends, each of whom has a child with CHD. One of those friends lost her sweet daughter only a few weeks into life, and she found the unbelievable strength to share her story and now fundraises for additional CHD research.
Another friend’s adorable young son, born with an aortic stenosis, is literally a poster child for CHD awareness—life-size cutouts of him can be found all over in the city where he lives—as part of his and his family’s tireless advocacy for CHD awareness and research funding.
I thought of my dear college friend, whose brother was born with multiple CHDs. He stands by his brother’s side as he watches him courageously take on the challenges that his CHDs have presented, knowing that a heart transplant is likely to be required.
And, I thought of the many other CHD stories that I have heard from friends and strangers alike whenever someone learns about my CHD diagnosis.
Going through a CHD diagnosis, and all of the medical and personal experiences that go along with that diagnosis, can be an experience that makes you feel very alone. There is comfort in knowing, however, that a large and interconnected group of people are out there, and that they are all at various points along the race course that is CHD. The ability to connect with others through ACHA is critically important—for the support, for the research provided, for the knowledge of how to better advocate for your own health.
So, each of us—whether we are the person with the CHD, a family member, or a friend—can take some comfort in knowing that we are all part of a community that is bigger than any of us individually. And we can remember, in the great words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, that if we keep hope in our hearts, we will never walk (or run) alone.
Michelle Browning Coughlin is a 38-year-old mother of two wonderful little girls, wife of a very handsome school teacher, and an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky. Michelle was diagnosed with a coarctation of the aorta at 37, after years of struggling with undiagnosed medical issues. Michelle relied heavily on ACHA following her diagnosis, and underwent a coarctation repair in January 2013. One year later, Michelle and her husband are embarking on an adventure to run 37 road races (one for each year it took for her to get a diagnosis) in 37 months, in order to raise awareness for CHD and to raise money for ACHA.