Back in the Dark

By Laura Edwards

I find that having an almost naive belief that most everything is possible fuels a mindset that can accelerate movement from the impossible to possible. ~Bradley Davis

start of blind runNearly seven months have passed since I last ran without the gift of sight. Special forces were at work the day I covered 13.1 miles in the dark at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon. They were, and will always be, the most important miles of my life.

But while there won’t be another Thunder Road – at least not like that – some small part of me always knew the blindfold hadn’t served its last mission. Today is National Running Day. On this day last year, I took my first steps as a blind runner. Twelve months later, we’re closer to our goal, but Batten disease continues to steal the lives of kids whose voices I’ve heard and hands I’ve held. It’s winning the battle for my sister. That’s why tonight, I met my friend and guide, Andrew Swistak. I pulled down the blindfold, took one end of a short bungee cord and ran into darkness.

For days, I’ve wondered if blind running would be anything like riding a bike. After all this time, would it be like starting from scratch? Would I run into Andrew’s path or sprain my ankle on a manhole cover or speed bump – simple irregularities the sighted world doesn’t notice, but dangerous obstacles to people like my sister?

blind run on trackIt’s not quite like riding a bike, but we fell into an easy rhythm and even had a conversation as we ran. We didn’t take any chances, stopping to walk over the curb that claimed my ankle on this day last year. We headed for the middle school track where I first squeezed my eyes shut and ran forward on a wing and a prayer. There, Andrew took both ends of the bungee cord, and I ran untethered, as I did several times during the race. On the straightaways, we gathered speed, reaching a low to mid-7:00/mile pace. I remember thinking how important it was to have Andrew as my eyes when he gave me the signal to turn. I felt so light – so free – in those moments of running untethered that I would have gone on forever.

We stopped when we reached the 3.1-mile mark, appropriate considering that the 5K was Taylor’s distance. Tonight wasn’t a race, but I still asked Andrew about our splits and overall time. We ran it in 26:50, good for about an 8:38/mile pace despite the stops and walks for safety.

Even throughout our training runs last year, I always had to remind myself that it wasn’t about speed. It was about getting the story out there; it was about finishing the race; it was about something bigger than either of us.

But while none of my runs – blind or sighted – are really about speed – the fight against Batten disease is. Because with every day and week and month, with every year that passes, we have to say goodbye to more kids. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my sister. I’ll never be ready to say goodbye to her. I know that a 6:00/mile won’t get us anywhere more quickly than an 8:00/mile. If I don’t get a great time in my next race, I’ll be okay with that. But I’m not going to let Batten disease kick my ass in the race that matters.

National Running Day, a Nod to the Past, and a Glimpse of the Future

By Laura Edwards

blindfolded run 1National Running Day, held annually on the first Wednesday in June, is a national celebration of running. Since 2009, runners everywhere have marked the day by celebrating their passion for the sport.

In the final hours of National Running Day last year, I jogged to a middle school track under an inky, starless sky. There, on the asphalt oval worn smooth by the pounding of thousands of adolescent-sized shoes, I took one end of a short bungee cord in the palm of my hand and squeezed my eyes shut; led by the voice of my friend and guide, Andrew Swistak, I began my initiation as a blind runner.

I ran in darkness eighteen times prior to taking on the biggest race of my life, Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon, on November 16, 2013. Nothing about my training or the race ever came easily, but I said then, and still feel today, that the near-two hours I spent on that course embodied the most incredible experience of my entire life, something that can never be repeated or recaptured.

Shortly after the race ended, everyone asked, “What next?” We accomplished almost everything we set out to do. We raised money for the fight against Batten disease. We had one of the largest teams at Charlotte’s biggest race. We achieved local, state and national media coverage including the cover story in North Carolina’s Endurance Magazine and a nod in Runner’s World magazine. In fact, as I reflected on the race in the hours and days after I hurdled the timing mats at the finish line and buried my face in my mom’s shoulder to cry, I realized that I had just one regret: my sister, Taylor – the inspiration for it all – had declined so much during my months of learning to run 13.1 miles without the gift of sight that she wasn’t well enough to come to the finish line.

And so, as the monster called Batten disease continues to rob bits and pieces of my sister and the lives of children like her, whose hearts hold great love and whose lives once held great possibility, I continue to fight. When people asked me when I’d run another race blindfolded, I said there wouldn’t be another blindfolded race. I can’t reproduce the singular magic of what happened that day, and I won’t try.

But this Wednesday, to celebrate National Running Day and my sister’s courage that still shines like the bright beacon in a storm, I’ll don the blindfold one more time; Andrew will lead me as I run into darkness, and the future.

I’m inviting you and your friends and family – runners and non-runners – to run for Taylor, too. Run a mile or two or 20; run fast or slow; run wherever you’d like; the how and the where aren’t important. Just remember that once upon a time, my blind sister looked Batten disease in the eye, said, “You can’t stop me,” and ran a 5K race. Twice. That’s how my sister lives her life. That’s how I try to live mine.

As for the future…I may be running Thunder Road with my own two eyes this fall, but I have some pretty special things in store. Check back later this week to learn about my next challenge. This fight’s not over. Not even close.

If you run for Taylor on National Running Day, I want to hear about it! Leave a comment here, or share your story with Taylor’s Tale on Facebook or Twitter.

How to Fly

By Laura Edwards

I’ve been an athlete for 20-plus years and still have blue ribbons won for the 50-yard dash at my elementary school’s field day (my house may look spotless at first glance, but behind the closet doors, I’m really a packrat). But I didn’t enter my first road race until the year I turned 24, a few months after Taylor’s Batten disease diagnosis.

As has been my track record of late, I did (almost) everything wrong leading up to this morning’s Charlotte 10 Miler. I strained my calf on a long run on the first Sunday in March, and the injury put me out of commission for almost two weeks. I eased back into running (the only thing I did right), and my longest run leading up to the race was a whopping three miles at a 10:00/mile pace. I got a nasty head cold this week and popped Mucinex D like candy all weekend. I went to bed after 1 a.m. the night before the race and grabbed a solid four hours of sleep before my alarm sounded this morning.

But when I got to the race parking lot, I felt good. The weather couldn’t have been better. The forecast called for rain by mid-morning, but at that early hour, the sky was streaked with fire as the sun stretched and yawned low in the sky. I followed my friend Andrew’s advice to take a few warmup laps in an attempt to break my string of slow starts.

I shot out of the starting area, and for the first mile, I kept up with the race leaders. I felt bad when Théoden Janes, the Charlotte Observer’s pop culture reporter who also writes about running and has a popular Facebook page called Run with Théoden, passed me, but then I reminded myself that he qualified for Boston and has a personal running coach. I kept a steady pace; after three miles, I realized I’d just broken my PR for the 5K distance – and I still had a lot of gas left in the tank.

Andrew, who guided me to the finish line when I ran Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded for Taylor in November, was waiting with a cup of water and a dose of encouragement at the mile four water stop. I coasted through and kept going, my pace still holding steady.

It wasn’t until mile eight that I lost time. I entered a neighborhood with two consecutive hills that, today at least, made the Tar Heel 10 Miler’s famous Laurel Hill feel like a molehill. My legs and my lungs burned. As I rounded the first corner and came to the second hill, I said aloud, “You. Will. Not. Walk.” I envisioned my sister, at home, fighting with every bone in her body. And I didn’t walk.

Charlotte 10 Miler finish

Andrew found me on the last mile. He reminded me how close I was to breaking my PR, but I already knew. I smiled at my friend and guide, and I kept running.

That’s when my little sister jogged up beside me on legs that, once upon a time, ran two 5Ks. She turned to me and said, in a voice lost to Batten disease, “You remember how to fly.”

Less than half a mile later, I sprinted into the final stretch and across the finish line for my best-ever 10-miler time by two full minutes: 1:17:49 (7:46/mile pace), good for 60th overall and second in my age group. Robbed of my regular aerobic capacity by all of the junk in my system from the head cold, I gasped for air as I bent to my knees just past the finish line. My husband and my dad, there to watch me finish, asked if I was okay.

“I’m okay,” I said. “I’ve just never run that fast before.”

As I limped out of the finish area with my first race medal of 2014 around my neck, I thought for a second, maybe that’s as fast as I can go.

end of Charlotte 10 Miler

But I know it’s not. And I know that when I lace up my shoes for the next race in less than a month, I’ll try to beat myself again.

Some days, when our fight against Batten disease gets really tough, I think that maybe we’ll get to a point where we’ve done all we can do.

But deep in my soul, I know that point doesn’t exist.

Because regardless of how our story ends, there will ALWAYS be another Taylor. There will always be another family like ours. So no matter how many hills I have to climb, no matter how much my muscles ache and my lungs burn, and even if I have to finish this race alone, I’ll be damned if I’m going to come this far only to stop short of the finish line.

What’s Next?

By Laura Edwards

Thunder Road finish framed

I (almost) never buy race photos. They catch me at my worst moments. When I look at the proofs, I think, “When did I make THAT face?”

But I not only bought this one-I blew it up to 16″ x 20″ and paid to have it matted and framed. It captured a moment I’ll never forget and tells a story in a way no words ever could.

I’m blindfolded, but I’m not tethered to Andrew Swistak, my friend and guide. He’s finishing his own race, but he’s also watching the ground to make sure I don’t fall.

Steve Gray, my friend whose work at the UNC Gene Therapy Center could lead to a better future for kids like my sister, is tailing us and snapping another photo I’ll treasure forever.

And, best of all: can you find the crowd of purple-clad teens running down the 5k side on the left? They’re not racing-they’re chasing us. When I removed my blindfold after two hours in the dark and melted into my mom’s arms, they surrounded us in the finish area.

We had our Hollywood ending to five months of a lot of hard work and one dream – a big dream in its own right that, at the end of the day, is just another chapter of a long story in our very personal fight against Batten disease and the bigger fight for 350 million people suffering from a rare disease.

It would have been perfect if only my little sister had been well enough to come to the race that morning to share it with us. Just as the finish line picture tells a story, her absence from the hundreds of photos taken at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon tells another story of the cruel reality of a disease with no known cure; a disease that marches on in a body that doesn’t have the tools to fight it, no matter how strong or brave the soul inside may be.

Today, a friend asked me if I think I’ll ever run Thunder Road, or any race, blindfolded again. Without hesitating, I said no. It’s not that I dread the thought of it or doubt my ability to do it, the willingness of Andrew or someone else to guide me or even the potential of a second run to have a positive impact. It’s none of those things.

I can’t explain it, but there was something magical about what happened at Thunder Road on November 16, 2013. I felt it when I ran beneath the canopy of trees on Charlotte’s Queens Road West, untethered yet never so sure of my surroundings. I felt it when we approached the corner crammed with Taylor’s Tale supporters less than a quarter of a mile from the end. I felt it as Andrew and I approached the finish line on the final stretch. I’d never felt that way in my life, and I’ll never get that feeling from a race again. But for as long as I live, I know that I’ll only have to remember those moments, and I’ll be transported back to the day my little sister, blind and suffering from a fatal disease, gave me the courage to run 13.1 miles in the dark.

There won’t be another experience like Thunder Road. But I’m not done fighting this fight, in running shoes or otherwise. Far from it.

Do you have an idea for my next chapter in the fight against rare disease? Let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, I’m gearing up for next weekend’s Charlotte 10 Miler (rescheduled after flooding on the greenway in February), my first race of 2014. I won’t be in a blindfold, but I’ll be dressed in purple for Taylor. 

Running for Taylor: Guest Post for Deb Runs

By Laura Edwards

In August, I connected with Debbie at Deb Runs. A wife, mom, runner and personal trainer, she leads a running group called the Cruisers. Her posts are entertaining and inspiring! If you have a chance, please check out Debbie’s blog. 

My sister’s story had an impact on Debbie, and she wrote about our journey on her blog after going on a 6.2-mile run in honor of Taylor’s 15th birthday. She followed my training for the Thunder Road Half Marathon, and earlier this fall, she asked if I’d be interested in writing a guest post for her blog after the race. Of course, I said yes! Following is the post I wrote that Debbie published on her blog earlier today.

In 2006, my then 7-year-old sister, Taylor, was diagnosed with a rare, brain-based disorder called Batten disease. Over time, kids with Batten disease lose their vision, cognitive skills, speech and other basic functions, like swallowing and walking. There is no known cure or effective treatment, and the disease is always fatal.

Two years after Taylor’s diagnosis, my sister, already blind and suffering from other effects of Batten disease, signed up for Girls on the Run at her school. An older student named Mary-Kate served as her sighted guide. Mary-Kate and Taylor each held one end of a jump rope so that Taylor could run like the other girls.

Taylor, Mary-Kate and their Girls on the Run team ran their first real 5K at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon on a frosty day near the end of 2008. Mary-Kate told us Taylor stumbled and fell a few times, but each time, she pulled herself up and insisted on finishing the race. The pair reached the finish line in just under an hour.

Taylor's 5K finishTo this day, watching my blind sister cross the finish line at Thunder Road remains one of the most moving things I’ve ever witnessed. I played soccer for 20 years and always ran to stay in shape. But running took on a new meaning for me that day at Thunder Road, and that following spring, I started running races for Taylor.  I ran my very first half marathon at Thunder Road, at the site of her incredible feat, in late 2009.

It’s been nearly five years since I watched my sister and Mary-Kate cross the finish line at Thunder Road, and though my sister remains as brave as ever, she’s no longer able to run. To honor her courage on the racecourse and support Taylor’s Tale, the non-profit organization I co-founded, I decided to run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded.

The race was scheduled for Nov. 16. On June 5 – National Running Day – I laced up my Brooks shoes and jogged to the home of Andrew Swistak, my friend and sighted guide for Thunder Road and a staff member at the school Taylor attended during that magical time with Girls on the Run. I experienced dizziness for my first few minutes as a blind runner, and I sprained my ankle when I got cocky and tried jumping a curb. But I didn’t fall, and by the end of the run, I knew we could cross the finish line on race day, just as Taylor did.

In total, Andrew and I trained together less than 20 times over a five-month span. I also cut down on my mileage in general, knowing that finishing the race and supporting the fight against Batten disease– not finishing with a great time – were our primary goals. Along the way, we managed to pick up extensive media coverage for our cause, including multiple TV stories, local print stories, online coverage and the cover story of a statewide magazine.

Finally, race day arrived. I headed uptown with Andrew and Dr. Steve Gray, the University of North Carolina gene therapy expert whose research Taylor’s Tale is co-funding; Steve would run the half marathon with us. My mom, president of Taylor’s Tale, and my husband, John, rode along; they’d run the 5K and help Taylor’s Tale have one of the largest teams at Charlotte’s largest road race, with 57 official members and a huge cheering station at the race’s final turn.

Just before the race began, I did one final TV interview and took a few pictures for another magazine. Then, we were off! We started with the early starters group, 30 minutes ahead of the official start, for safety reasons. The pace car forced us to run more slowly than we would have liked, so we lost time over the first two miles. After what felt like an eternity, he cut us loose, and we found our stride.

For most of the race, I ran “tethered” to Andrew by a two-foot bungee cord for safety. But at times, when he felt that it was safe to do so, he took the cord and allowed me to run untethered. At one point, we ran down the center of one of Charlotte’s most beautiful streets, a four-lane road covered by a canopy of huge, old trees and lined with stately homes. I ran untethered for what felt like ages, and during that stretch, I felt as if Taylor was with me, lighting my way.

solo runDespite our slow start, the end came in less than two hours – almost too soon. As we approached the Taylor’s Tale cheering station at the race’s final turn, Andrew again took the bungee cord, and I made a 90-degree turn on his verbal direction alone. Close to 100 people clad in Taylor’s Tale purple and glitter, including 70 teenagers from a wonderful partner organization called Playing for Others, chanted my name as we ran past the station. And as we made for the last stretch and I reached for that last burst of energy, I knew I wanted to cross the finish line untethered.

the finish line
finish line 2There were no other runners around Andrew, Steve and me as we approached the finish line – something I didn’t learn until later, when I saw Steve’s photos. And during that last stretch, time stood still. When we got close to the timing mats, I picked up speed; I always sprint to the finish line in my races. And amidst the cheering, I heard Andrew yell, “Jump!” and then, “Jump!” for the second mat. And then, at 1:59:58, he pulled me to a stop, and I lifted the blindfold, and the soft light of the overcast day came pouring in, and I saw my mom and melted into her, both of us crying. I don’t know how long we stood there in that position, but when I opened my eyes, I realized we were engulfed by those 70 teenagers from our cheering station; they’d taken off after us when we made our final turn and surrounded us in the finish area. It looked like a scene from the end of a Disney movie, and I half expected them to carry us out of there.

Mom and Laura at finish line

Photo credit: Well-Run Media+Marketing, LLC

As the world and reality came rushing back to me, it hit me that the only thing missing from the finish line was my sister. Taylor – my reason for running – wasn’t well enough to come to the race. But even if she could have made it, she’s blind, so she wouldn’t have been able to see how we turned Charlotte into a sea of purple and love for her.

Taylor with medalTeam Taylor’s Tale helped make this year’s Thunder Road race a day that will have an incredible impact on the fight against Batten disease and other rare and genetic diseases, and it will forever live on in our hearts. We haven’t crossed the ultimate finish line yet, because we don’t have an answer for kids like my sister. But I believe we can write the happy ending to Taylor’s Tale, and I’ll never stop running – or fighting – until we do.

You can donate to help save kids like Taylor here. Taylor’s Tale is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and all gifts are 100 percent tax-deductible. Our website makes it easy to give and provides other ways you can get involved in the fight against rare and genetic diseases.

Stay in touch and spread the word by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter and Pinterest and following my blog. Learn more about Taylor’s Tale at


Have you ever tried to close your eyes briefly while walking or running outside to experience the sounds and smells around you?

Do you have any questions about Taylor’s Tale or Batten disease?

Do you know anyone fighting a rare disease (rare diseases affect one in 10 Americans!)?

Some Place I Can’t Describe

By Laura Edwards

After months of training, planning and anticipation, it arrived: Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon, and my planned attempt to run 13.1 miles blindfolded to honor my little sister, Taylor, and support the fight against Batten disease.

On Friday, my colleagues at a creative marketing communications agency threw a purple-drenched pep rally, complete with the theme song from “Rocky,” a gift to Taylor’s Tale and an appearance by my husband, John (who schemed with them to plan the surprise).

At the race expo, I traded hugs with my former colleagues at the healthcare organization sponsoring the race and runners wearing purple for Taylor’s Tale on race day.

Friday night, Dr. Steve Gray, a UNC Gene Therapy Center expert whose lab’s Batten disease research is co-funded by Taylor’s Tale, arrived in Charlotte for the race.

pre-race dinner

Finally, race day arrived. John, Steve, my mom and I picked up Andrew Swistak, my sighted guide, and arrived in uptown Charlotte before sunrise. I did an interview with News 14 Carolina and took a couple of photos for Society Magazine.

News 14 interview

Andrew, Steve and I headed to the start line just as the morning’s first sunlight painted the tops of the skyscrapers. And at 7:15, I took one end of a green bungee cord, pulled down the blindfold bearing my sister’s name and ran into darkness.

start line

We got off to a slow start for the first few miles due to the policeman driving the pace car and charged with keeping the early starters at bay. We even took a wrong turn at one point when the pace car couldn’t keep up with us and had to wait at a busy intersection for the light to change before we could cross. But Andrew and Steve took it all in stride; a few miles in, the course opened up for us, and we picked up the pace.

Auditory cues mean so much more, and are so much more acute, when you can’t see. I loved hearing the reactions of people lining the streets to cheer on runners. First, they cheered for us as they’d cheer for any runner they didn’t know. Then, they’d notice something different about us and go silent before crescendoing into a loud roar. It was incredible to experience, and it gave me an extra kick. Several times along the course, we passed people who knew me or knew our story. I didn’t recognize all of them, but along one quiet neighborhood street, my good friend, Amy, surprised us. I recognized her voice as soon as she called my name. So much of human emotion is expressed in the eyes, and a thick blindfold concealed mine, but I hope she knew how much it meant to me to hear a familiar voice at that very moment.

A few weeks ago, during my longest blindfolded training run with Andrew, I ran untethered for a short period. During the race on Saturday, Andrew cut me loose a few times. Around mile 10, I ran without my guide for what felt like an eternity. I never felt closer to Taylor than during that stretch. I imagined her next to me, healthy, her legs in sync with mine, her voice dancing on the wind, her eyes drinking in the earth.

solo run

Just a short time later, we approached the Taylor’s Tale cheer station near the final stretch. Once more, Andrew took the bungee, and I ran past a screaming, adoring crowd. Their voices melted the cramps in my legs and filled my heart with love. In front of the station, I made a 90-degree turn on Andrew’s spoken direction alone, and we headed to the finish line. As we did, 70 teenagers clad in purple tutus, pompoms, sparkle and glitter took off after us. And as I hurdled over the first timing mat, then the second, and Andrew pulled me to a stop, and I lifted my blindfold and let the light come pouring in, I melted in the arms of my mom, who stood waiting for me at the finish line, crying, and the kids surrounded us, closing us off from the outside world, and suddenly, even though I had a medal around my neck and a timing chip on my shoe, I wasn’t at a race any longer, and I didn’t care that I’d just run a half marathon blindfolded. I was somewhere else, some place I can’t describe or ever return to again except in my dreams.

Mom and Laura at finish line

I ran 13.1 miles in the dark, but I didn’t take a single step alone.

We built Taylor’s Tale from the ashes of a tragedy that tried to burn my family to the ground. And Batten disease is the saddest thing I’ve ever known.

But Taylor’s Tale is not a sad story. Taylor’s Tale is a story of love and hope. And as I ran the final steps of Thunder Road, flanked by living angels and guided only by Andrew’s voice and Taylor’s courage, I knew:

Batten disease may have cast a dark shadow on our world, but I was running to the light.

I believed.

And I felt free.

the finish line

 Note: I ran the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded not only to honor Taylor’s courage and raise awareness of rare diseases, but also to support Dr. Steve Gray’s gene therapy research co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

The Finish Line

By Laura Edwards

In less than 36 hours, I’ll cross the finish line of Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon, completing the biggest road race of my life. I’ll take off my blindfold and let the light come pouring in.

We won’t have an answer for kids like Taylor by Saturday afternoon. But I hope that my run, and the runs of all 50-plus people who will put on a purple shirt for Team Taylor’s Tale at Thunder Road, will help us get closer to the finish line in the race that really matters.

Thanks to all those who will help us turn Thunder Road purple for Taylor on race day.

Thanks to all of our supporters who will rock the cheer station at the final stretch and give ALL runners the boost they need to get to the finish.

Thanks to Dr. Steve Gray for dedicating his life to finding treatments that could save people like my sister. He has the talent and the passion to lead us into the light. 

Thanks to my guide, Andrew, who helped me find my way in the dark.

Thanks to my family, who always believed in me.

Thanks to my sister, whose bravery inspires me every moment of every day.

It IS possible to find beauty in the midst of a tragedy. Focus on what’s good, appreciate the support of others, work hard, keep your eye on the finish line, and never, EVER stop believing.


I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

Join the Taylor’s Tale team and help us turn Thunder Road purple for Taylor! Online registration is closed, but you can still register at the race expo on Friday, Nov. 15. Wear purple and run for us to help raise awareness on race day. If you’d rather cheer, click here for details about the official Taylor’s Tale cheer station on the course!  Contact me with any Thunder Road-related questions.

The Reason

By Laura Edwards

The Thunder Road Half Marathon is less than a week from today. When I closed my eyes and took my first steps as a blind runner on a middle school track on June 5, I only hoped that I would cross the finish line standing on Nov. 16. But now, with 15 blind runs under my belt, including a 10-mile run just seven minutes shy of my sighted personal record for that distance, I feel confident that Andrew and I will run a great race for Taylor and the millions of people fighting a rare disease.

With Thunder Road just days away, my attention has shifted away from training for the race to considering last-minute logistics, such as:

  • We have more than 40 people running for Taylor’s Tale, giving us one of the largest teams at Charlotte’s largest road race; somehow, we have to get purple Nike Dri-FIT shirts to our runners between Tuesday (when they come back from the printer) and Friday.
  • We’ve received local, statewide and even national media interest in our story; juggling interviews, especially for TV, with a full-time job can be like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of missing pieces.
  • The race begins and ends in uptown Charlotte; this morning, I squinted over my cup of decaf coffee at the parking map posted on the race website and tried to find the corner near the finish line where our cheer station will be located.

As much as I want our supporters to have convenient parking, I’m most concerned about my dad, who will be with Taylor on the morning of the race.  I’ve often dreamed about what I will do when Andrew and I cross that finish line. I can’t even begin to imagine how I will feel.

I called my first post about this race “Run to the Light.” After 13.1 miles in the dark on Saturday, I’ll take off my blindfold; I hope my little sister is the first person I see. But last night, for the first time, I grew concerned about finding parking close enough to the finish line that my sister can make it there.

In the five months since Andrew and I began training for Thunder Road, Taylor has slipped deeper into the dark chasm of Batten disease. She struggles to walk, even with a walker. She suffers from myoclonic jerks. Batten disease has silenced a once beautiful singing voice. I don’t remember the last time my sister talked to me. I wish I’d known it was the last time. I would have savored it, or recorded it, or made a note of the date.

Taylor's 5K finishFive years ago, my sister ran her own triumphant race at Thunder Road. She ran tethered by a bungee cord to a sighted guide, just as I will do on Nov. 16. She stumbled and fell a few times, but she pulled herself to her feet, brushed herself off and said she could keep going. And she RAN across that finish line.

But that was five years ago. I know a lot about Batten disease. I may have majored in English, but I can describe the science of Batten disease in cold, technical terms. And I know this to be true:

My sister is dying.

I talked with a writer at a national magazine for a possible story yesterday morning. She asked me if I believe that this run, or the efforts of Taylor’s Tale, can save my sister.

I believe in Dr. Steve Gray, who will run alongside Andrew and me on Saturday. I believe that Steve and the team at the UNC Gene Therapy Center can save the lives of kids like Taylor. But as much as I believe in Steve and a handful of other talented scientists around the world working on Batten disease, I don’t know the answer to that writer’s question.

horseback riding

I do know this, though:

There will ALWAYS be another Taylor if we do nothing. Children and families shouldn’t have to endure a tragic disease with no known cure. And I believe we WILL beat Batten disease.

For me, Taylor’s courage as a runner will always live on as a symbol of her never-give-up attitude in her fight against Batten disease. Blindness kicked her and knocked her down when she ran that 5K at Thunder Road in 2008, but she pulled herself up and kept going. I won’t give up in MY fight on behalf of people like her until the day we cross the ultimate finish line.

Taylor didn’t stop running until her body gave out on her…and neither will I.

I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

Join the Taylor’s Tale team and help us turn Thunder Road purple for Taylor! Click here to register for the marathon, half marathon or 5K by TONIGHT at 11:59 p.m. ET. On the second page of registration, under “Event Groups/Teams,” select “Taylor’s Tale” from the list under “Choose an Existing Group.” If you miss this online registration deadline, you can also register at the race expo on Friday, Nov. 15. Wear purple and run for us to help raise awareness on race day. If you’d rather cheer, click here for details about the official Taylor’s Tale cheer station on the course!  Contact me with any Thunder Road-related questions.

Thunder Road: The Details

By Laura Edwards

blindfold WCNC storyI hatched the crazy idea to run a half marathon blindfolded for my little sister all the way back in the spring, and I ran blind for the first time five months ago. I’ve never spent this much time training for any race, and I can’t believe the big day is almost here. But in just nine days, I’ll put on a blindfold and run the most important 13.1 miles of my life to honor Taylor’s courage and support the fight against rare and genetic diseases. A lot of you will be part of the effort on race day – as a runner, cheerleader or supporter from afar. With some help from the Taylor’s Tale team and our friends at Run For Your Life, I’ve been tying up loose ends behind the scenes between training runs, media coordination and regular life stuff, like work and sleep. Check back throughout the next week for last-minute details, but the following should provide most of the information you need to be part of the effort on Nov. 16:

If you’re running:

  • You have until Sunday, Nov. 10 at 11:59:59 ET to register online here. If you miss the deadline, you’ll have to register at the race expo on Friday, Nov. 15. There is no race day registration. IMPORTANT: on the second page of online registration, under the option that says “Event Groups/Teams,” select “Taylor’s Tale” as your team. Note: if you already registered and did not select Taylor’s Tale, contact me using this form.
  • Thanks to the generosity of two donors, we will have the ability to provide Nike Dri-FIT shirts in Taylor’s Tale purple to the first 40 runners who register to run for Taylor’s Tale. If you have officially registered to run, please contact me using this form with your preferred shirt size (men’s sizes only) and the best way to get in touch with you on Friday, Nov. 15. We will establish a pickup location for the shirts. If you cannot coordinate a pickup or are not one of the first 40 runners, please try to wear something purple and help us “turn Charlotte purple” for Taylor on race day.
  • If you are running the half marathon, you are invited to join my guide (Andrew Swistak), Dr. Steven Gray of the UNC Gene Therapy Center and me. I will receive an early start time (7:15 a.m.) for safety; the official start time is 7:45. Our estimated pace is 9:00/mile, and we expect to be alone on the course for approximately eight miles before the leaders catch us. If you start early, you will not be eligible for awards.
  • If you are running the half marathon, the crowd at the official Taylor’s Tale cheer station will give you one last boost of energy on the final mile, near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and S. McDowell Street. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for a bunch of people wearing purple and jangling cowbells!
  • Optional: remember why you run! Shirts will be screen printed with “Team Taylor’s Tale” and our website on the back. Save a few breaths to tell fellow runners and spectators about Taylor’s courage and our fight against rare diseases.

If you’re cheering: 

  • Taylor’s Tale will have an official cheer station sponsored by Michelob Ultra. It will be located on mile 12 of the half marathon course near the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and S. McDowell Street. This is a prime location about one-third of a mile from the finish line. View a course map here.
  • Supporters will receive free Michelob Ultra and cowbells.
  • Arrive by 8:30 to get settled and ensure that you don’t miss Andrew, Steve and me as we run by en route to the finish line!
  • IMPORTANT: Runners will vote on the best cheer station, and the winning station will receive $1,000 to donate to charity! You can help us win $1,000 for Taylor’s Tale and the fight against Batten disease. To learn more about the contest, click here.

If you can’t make it to Thunder Road: 

  • Running a race blindfolded to commemorate the five-year anniversary of Taylor’s first 5K is the best way I know to honor her determination in the face of the world’s most tragic disease. But being part of finding the treatment that saves people like Taylor would be the ultimate way to honor my sister and others like her. Even if you can’t make it to Thunder Road, you can be part of the fight to save lives.
  • I’m running Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon to support gene therapy research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). We announced funding for this important work on Rare Disease Day this year (Feb. 28) along with a coalition of other non-profit organizations, all founded by families fighting Batten disease. This work holds incredible promise for not only Batten disease, but many other devastating illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). If funding continues, we could have a clinical trial for kids like Taylor in just a few short years.
  • To make a gift and help keep the dream alive at UNC, click here. You can make a gift online or by mail. Taylor’s Tale is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, and gifts are 100 percent tax-deductible.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned for last-minute details. I hope you can join us on the road!