I am not the best story teller or blogger to that, but something amazing happened on Saturday and I wanted to share a little piece of it with whom ever may read this. I know I won’t be able to do it the justice it deserves but here it goes.
So the backstory first. My friends know I run annually with RODS (Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome). I raise money in the spring and then we race in January at Disney World. This was my 3rd year running with them and doing the Disney World Half Marathon. So while I do enjoy Disney, I think of each January as a business trip. I am there to run for RODS and raise awareness for the cause. I flew down on January 4th to give me plenty of time before the Half on January 7th. On the 4th I did the expo and on the 5th I did the parks. The 6th was my traditional rest day before waking up at 2am on Saturday to crush it.
So that gets us to Friday night. The Coats Family, Ben Okon and I all had a great dinner at Kona Cafe, which is one of my favorite dining spots in Disney. It is located at the Polynesian resort. Mattie Coats Gaskin and I were heading back to the hotel after dinner, while the rest of the crew headed back to Magic Kingdom. I had gotten an email earlier in the day that said Disney was monitoring the weather and would keep everyone posted. At about 6pm got the same email, but this time it said the next one would come at 7pm. So on the bus back to the hotel with Mattie it was past 7 and I hadn’t gotten an email. I ventured to the Facebook page and there was the message:
“In an abundance of caution, the Walt Disney World resort has canceled all running events on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017…”
At first, I was like oh well, at least they are looking out for our safety, but as I pretended to be a weather man, I became frustrated that they made the call so early and more disappointed I wasn’t going to get to do my Disney Run. So I took this frustration to the Resort outside bar and grabbed a beer with my friend Keith and his friend Larry. It was packed with many other disappointed runners. This is when the inspiration started.
Side note: I think the Coronado Springs Resort was also the headquarters for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) runners and they have a lot of runners and they wear purple. That is an important piece of info as this story moves forward.
So back to sitting outside drinking a beer. While we drank and commiserated, A small group of the LLS runners maybe 10 or so along with their support crew providing water and Powerade started running. As they started all of us whose initial thought was to drink (not actually run) cheered them on as they came around. While this group was the one everyone noticed first because they were a pack of purple with lights and support, there were other people running as well. One girl ran with her bib on. One couple ran, which I nicknamed Robbie and Carter because he was super tall and she had blond hair like my friends Robbie and Carter Pine, the opposite loop from everyone else. More and more people started adding on as the rain began and I headed back to my room still disappointed, to avoid getting soaked. As I tried to sleep that night you could hear people cheering on those who began running their 13.1.
As I awoke Saturday morning, my plans to use my free day in the park with Ben and the Coats family changed. As Ben was getting ready I told him I would meet them at Epcot a little later. I am going to run a little, even if it’s not 13.1. The night runners had impacted me and as I looked outside Saturday morning, people were running. I was here in Disney to run for RODS. If Disney is mailing me a medal, then I am going to earn that medal. So 8:30 AM I headed downstairs, RODS shirt on, bib pinned on, and set up my own private water stop with water, a banana, and my honey stinger chews. Then I set off for the Unofficial Disney World Half Marathon also know as the Inaugural Coronado Springs Half Marathon. As I started there were LLS water stops and they cheered everyone on. As I ran by different sections of the resort there were random people cheering everyone on. Runners were running both directions and supporting each other. Lots of groups of purple runners (The LLS peeps). This began to motivate me more, and I knew at the point that I had to do 13.1.
As I continued around lap after lap, more runners joined and more runners finished. More spectators joined throughout the course. One guy brought out bottled water and some music as he cheered for each runner calling them out by name (Names were on our bibs, so not that creepy). At Disney runners run in costume (not this guy), so the Mad Hatter and Alice ran past me. The resort lifeguards joined in on the fun and cheered runners on with signs and maracas. I even spotted some of my fellow RODS runners and we cheered each other on lap after lap. The resort eventually got wind of what was going on and brought out canisters of water to help fuel one of the impromptu water stations. As I finished up my 13.1, some volunteers made me a toilet paper finish line that I got to break through. I completed my half marathon and I ran for RODS while doing it.
Somewhere, along my course, I was getting pretty emotional because a day that could have been just a huge disappointment had just transformed into something incredible and unique. It was a day fueled by the goodness of people supporting people. Everyone could have just done their own thing on Saturday like I planned to do, but people ran and people cheered them on. It was something that just happened and people joined in on it. The inspiration that runners provided to each other can not be placed into words. As I signed on to Facebook later in the day, I saw it was not unique to the Coronado Springs Resort, but happening at all the resorts around Walt Disney World. I saw pictures of kids dressed up in Disney costumes and they were now a part of the run because they were “character stops” along the course. Everyone found some good in the canceling of the half marathon. In my opinion, it turned out for the better and provided a crazy, inspiring, unique experience. I wish I could have recorded all the smiles, cheers, support that everyone was giving each other. Thank you to everyone out there who made this half marathon special.
The air had an ‘electric IncludeAbility’ quality to it at Eagle High School in Eagle, Idaho on Wednesday, September 21st. Almost every student in the Special Education Department – twenty to be exact – came out as VIP players of the Women’s Varsity Soccer team. The students ran through a huge chute (lined with 24 Varsity girls, 22 JV girls and the opposing team of 20 girls), kicked a soccer ball past a goalie and end with a team cheer before getting together to eat pizza and cake and enjoy the soccer game. Twenty kids felt like they were included on this team; they were treated like teammates this evening! With the help of a generous donation from Tom Ferment & Cardone Industries as the Title Sponsor, we were able to get the VIP players team shirts, as well as the soccer team hooded sweatshirts. This involved over 70 students and we were fortunate that Pullover Prints donated printing costs for free so that we could stay on budget. IncludeAbility is the mission of RODS Jr. These kids from the Special Education classrooms don’t always feel included in school and especially on a Varsity Soccer team. Beyond this evening, when these soccer players see these 20 kids in school, there’s a connection, a high five or a hello. Being a RODS Jr. team, the Eagle High School Varsity Soccer players believe that what they do and how they treat others on and off of the field is important. Thank You, to coach Stephanie Fornander for leading this charge! A Domino’s pizza franchise owner generously provided a discount on pizza, coupons to all 20 students for a free pizza and he was so moved by the inclusion he witnessed that he donated $1000 to our RODS orphan. There were also a handful of EHS parents who came forward to write checks for our orphan. The team is well on their way to exceed their goal of raising $2,000 for our RODS orphan. All in all, it was a great night for our RODS orphan, twenty students from the Special Education classrooms, 50+ soccer players and many families who came out to watch the event. With IncludeAbility….anything is possible! Trace Dandrea VP Development of RODS & RODS Jr
Mike and Melanie’s RODS Story:
“We found out in May, 2015, that Melanie had a tumor near her brain stem. In November she had surgery to remove the tumor. Following the diagnosis and throughout her recovery, we continued to raise funds for RODS and train as much as we could. We made a commitment to this amazing organization and were determined to complete it.
On Thursday, January 7, 2016 we arrived in Orlando for the WDW Marathon Weekend Event. We were not as well trained as we like to be for a marathon, but we were hopeful that our past six years of running experience and prayer would get us to the finish line. On Friday, we attended the Pasta in the Park event with some of our fellow RODS athletes and executive team. Among those attending with us was a young man named Alex, who has Down syndrome. He is the son of one of the founders and is one of RODS biggest supporters. He was the life of the party. His dance skills drew the attention of the event announcer who interviewed Alex and gave a shout-out to RODS. The joy and energy that Alex brought to the room were reminders of what these special individuals have to offer the world and why it is so important to get them out of orphanages and into homes.
We were up and out the door early on Saturday to run the first race of the Goofy Challenge, the half-marathon. We were greeted at the RODS tent by the members of the executive team. Even at such an early hour, they were full of encouragement and enthusiasm. After receiving their well wishes we were off to the starting line. The run was tough, but sights like the castle and our RODS support crew made it worth the struggle.
After resting, we attended the RODS Racing banquet. This event was a great reminder of why we raise funds for this organization. We heard from Brady Murray, the founder and president of RODS. Brady has a son with Down syndrome and started the organization to help other families experience the same joy that his son brings to his life. His passion for the organization and the orphans that it helps is inspirational. We were also joined by James Lawrence, the Iron Cowboy. James joined the RODS team last summer after completing 50 Ironman’s in 50 states in 50 days. Yes, you read that correctly. It was impossible to avoid feeling inspired after listening to the story of his amazing accomplishment. As great as it was to hear from these two gentlemen, the highlight of the evening was meeting Vilija, a former RODS orphan, and her family. It meant so much to talk with her and her family and hear about her progress. She now has a dad, a mom, a brother, and a sister. She has gone from being non-verbal to reading. She is full of personality and kept us entertained all evening. It touched out hearts to know that our generous friends and family helped to bring this family together. Seeing how happy Vilija and her family are reminds us that our work isn’t finished until every one of these orphans has a home.
Bright and early on Sunday morning we lined up for the Disney World Marathon. It was an extremely humid Florida morning and we knew it would be a tough 26.2. Along the way, we met some new friends, heard cheers from some old ones, and took pictures with lots of characters. We (Melanie) had some moments of doubt, but remembering why we run got us through them. At mile 16 we got some encouragement from the RODS team and a gigantic hug from Alex. This gave us a boost and helped us finish the 26.2. At the finish line there were tears. We felt blessed that God brought us to the finish line of a marathon just eight weeks after Melanie’s brain surgery. We felt blessed that we got to do it side by side. We felt blessed that we know so many generous people. We felt blessed that we had the opportunity to support such an amazing organization.
RODS is not finished helping orphans and neither are we. We are planning to return in March, 2017 for the Star Wars event, with a couple of new RODS team members. Marshall and Miles, our children, are going to join us for the half-marathon. We are excited to share this experience with our boys and proud that they have hearts that want to serve others.”
A Narrative from Bob Boylan, RODS athlete:
What have I gained from being a RODS Runner?
First, an appreciation for the organization and the cause. The staff & volunteers work so hard to be advocates to help orphans across the globe find their forever families.
Second, running with RODS last year got me in the best shape of my life. In 2015 as I prepared myself for Dopey and began training, I was finally not overweight on the BMI scale. I completely cut out sodas and was not eating pizza every night. While, I am disappointed I have let this slide a little, because of my experience last year I know I can get back to it.
Third, an awesome team. All of the RODS athletes support each other mostly through Facebook, but come Disney time, we all get together. It is just an awesome experience to get to cheer your team mates on from around the country and then join them at least one a year.
Bob’s Story: In 2014 I knew I wanted to complete a Disney Race. I heard that they were sometimes hard to get into, but didn’t really believe it. Sure enough, I tried to sign up for the 2015 Half Marathon, but all the race spots sold out and I thought I missed my chance. Dedicated as a service geek, I currently work as a Director of fundraising for the United Way of Central Alabama, so I reviewed the charities. I figured I could raise a couple hundred dollars, run my race and be done. My chosen charity was RODS (Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome). I never heard of it, but it sounded like a good cause. I could help orphans with Down syndrome and get to run my first Disney race. I registered, raised my goal, and was quite pleased with myself.
As the race neared, I convinced my best friend George to come to Disney with me just to hang out. We did all the runDisney experiences from the expo to Pasta in the Park. I finally met some of my RODS peers at the Tent. The staff was great and genuine, and just made me really happy to be running for them. The half marathon was great, but the next chapter in my RODS journey was an important turning point for me. After the half marathon George jokingly said, if I enjoyed it enough, we should come back in 2016 and do the Dopey Challenge. Ha, me run a marathon, I thought.
George was serious. So I signed up with RODS again and recruited George as well. Once again, I raised my goal amount and then the only thing left was to train. However, as I learned more about RODS, it was becoming more than just helping a charity, but it became more like supporting family. It dawned on me, through the support of the RODS staff, that I was really one of the RODS “athletes.” Even though I was an out of shape runner who had a super slow pace (13min/mile), I was still important to RODS, and not just because I raised money but also because I was their advocate, because I was helping bring light to a cause I hadn’t even thought about before running Disney. In July of 2015, I began the 6 month training plan that would get me ready. Every day, on my right wrist was my RODS bracelet, always as a reminder of what’s truly important, and why I was training. There were days I just didn’t want to train, but I knew I had to for RODS. When I got shin splints in October, I knew I needed to find a solution for RODS (thank you KT tape). When I was sick in December and was nervous I wasn’t going to be fully trained; I knew I had to push myself for RODS, and really, for the orphans!
In January 2016, our Dopey adventure began. The RODS team was there supporting us the whole time. Saturday night they held a RODS Banquet and I think that is when it really hit me and it became clear. Hearing the Founder talk, Brady Murray, about starting RODS and the need for this type of organization was very inspirational. It dawned on me that I was doing much more than running and raising money, but truly, I am giving a chance to save orphans with Down syndrome, who otherwise would not have any chance of a life, while living in an orphanage or institution, because I am helping these orphans find their forever families, because RODS raised adoption grant funds. I am giving them the opportunity to be loved!! This powered me through the marathon the next day, but even more so, to help me become a stronger advocate for RODS. Currently, for the 2017 Disney WDW event, I have recruited my friends Keith, Mattie and Ginny to run with RODS. I am running the half marathon again and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for RODS!
OUR NEXT runDISNEY EVENTS:
For the final couple months of the year, we will feature charities that have ties to the running community. We hope that you will not only find a nonprofit to support through training and races, but also discover new ways to spread awareness of causes that matter most to you. If you work for a nonprofit, or have ties to an organization, please visit our Charity Spotlight page for more information on being featured.
The mission of Race for an Orphan with Down Syndrome(RODS) is to nurture a positive image of Down syndrome and to promote awareness for the adoption of orphans with Down syndrome by raising adoption grant funds, one child at a time, and by participating in organized, athletic races and awareness events.
Kelly Mokashi, executive director for RODS, says there are currently more than 200 athletes who participate in a wide variety of awareness and fundraising activities. Since the inception of RODS, athletes have raised $250,000 for adoption grant funds, with 14 home or in process of being adopted, and 3 currently fully funded with one more almost there.
In 2016, RODS is teaming with James Lawrence (better known as Iron Cowboy) to help spread awareness and raise $1 million. There are several ways you can get involved:
- Join the RODS Banquet at the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend
- Join the Tinker Bell Half Marathon team
- Join the RODS team. It’s free!
> A huge thanks to RODS Executive Director Kelly Mokashi for providing information for this post. For more information, visit rods.org.
> If you work for a nonprofit, or have ties to an organization, please visit our Charity Spotlight pagefor more information on being featured on the #RunChat blog. If you have previously submitted information, someone will be in touch with you soon!