Tutus Rock

By Laura Edwards

Taylor ballerinaBefore Batten disease stole her vision, Taylor ruled the stage. My little sister, a princess to the core, wore sparkly pink tutus and tights morning, noon and night.

As the years went on, the monster in her genes robbed her of basic gifts, like motor coordination, speech and sight. But at the start of her fifth grade year, Taylor traded her ballet flats for running shoes and joined her school’s Girls on the Run team. Though blind, she ran two 5K races with the help of a sighted guide that year.

That’s why I ran Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded in November 2013. And that’s why, a few weeks later, I ran the Huntersville Half Marathon in a purple tutu. I may have looked ridiculous, but let’s be honest – few people look great when they run. Considering that it rained for the majority of the race, and the tutu didn’t possess moisture-wicking properties, I may have given up a few minutes on my time. But despite the sopping wet tutu, I beat my previous PR by 10 minutes and most of the people in my age group, too. I may have looked like a drowned ostrich, but ostriches are pretty fast.

marathon tutuThe folks at SELF Magazine made headlines today, and not the good kind. A San Diego runner fighting brain cancer was used and abused by the magazine, essentially tricked into providing a photo of herself racing in a tutu for a column that made fun of the fitness fashion trend. The runner, Monika Allen, made the tutu herself; her company, Glam Runner, makes tutus and donates the proceeds to Girls on the Run, the organization that helped give my sister some of the happiest damn memories of her life.

It was a low blow, and the “apology” was pathetic. Tutus aren’t really my speed. I ran a half marathon in an exceptionally loud tutu not for myself, but for my little sister. She’s a princess at heart who used to run 5K races but can’t anymore, because she has a crappy brain disease that made her go blind, stole her ability to run and a whole bunch of other things and will eventually kill her.

Note to SELF: you never know what battle someone else is facing. So don’t judge.

The Greatest Race

By Laura Edwards

Thanks to my friends at Run For Your Life, who hooked me up with a free pair of purple Saucony Triumphs and some other swag for putting together one of the biggest – and most awesome – teams at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Marathon. I also snagged a pair of limited edition, stereo-Bluetooth earphones from yurbuds.

running gear

I don’t think anyone’s ever made a shoe quite like the Brooks Glycerin (the only shoe I’ve worn in a race for three-plus years), but I’m willing to branch out in the name of purple and variety. And the earphones are just cool.

I’m already filling my race calendar for the coming year, and though I’ll never be able to match the epic journey of my blindfolded run for my sister at last month’s Thunder Road Half Marathon, I couldn’t be more excited about running for Taylor and the fight against rare diseases in 2014. 

Less than a week after I kick off my sixth year of running for Taylor with the Charlotte 10 Miler, Taylor’s Tale and other organizations from more than 70 countries will recognize Rare Disease Day. On Feb. 28, 2014, the seventh annual Rare Disease Day will provide a platform for patients, patient representatives and others to raise awareness about rare diseases and the huge impact they have on patients’ lives. Since its founding in 2008, Rare Disease Day has contributed to the development of national plans and policies in many countries, including the United States. Last year, Taylor’s Tale sent two board members, including my mom, Sharon King, to Washington to attend sessions, visit with legislators and advocate on behalf of the 30 million Americans who suffer from a rare disease.

Capitol building

As my mom and her travel buddy, Debbie Carney, forged relationships with key decision makers and gained valuable knowledge, the rest of the Taylor’s Tale team joined with Dr. Steve Gray of the UNC Gene Therapy Center to announce co-funding for a two-year research project that, if successful, could lead to a clinical trial for children with two forms of Batten disease. Ten months later, Dr. Gray’s work is on track, and our team is focused on securing additional funding to help move the project past the first two years and toward our goal of a treatment.

group at Rare Disease Day event

My husband and I are hosting Christmas this week. This weekend, we did some December “spring cleaning” to get our house in shape for the holidays. I pulled all of my race medals down from the plastic hook on the office closet door, where I’d thrown them up in a haphazard fashion. I counted seven from 2013:

race medals

As I spread them out on the carpet, I relived each race, from a rain-soaked Charlotte 10 Miler in February to a rain-soaked Huntersville Half Marathon last weekend. I realized I set a new personal record (PR) in every race except the one I ran blindfolded. And I felt Taylor’s absence at every single one. As I sat alone on the floor and ran my fingertips over those medals, feeling the raised details of each one as a blind person would, I thought about how much my sister has declined this year.

I got faster in 2013 – a lot faster. I owe it to a good friend who ran my first race with me and helped me – a born sprinter broken by soccer – believe I could be a distance runner; to the shoes that were made for my balky ankles and feet; and to the doctor who convinced me that lower mileage and cross training might actually make me better on race day. But more than anything, I owe it to my sister, who gives me wings when my lungs burn and my body wants to quit. More than anyone else, my sister, who can no longer walk without assistance, taught me how to fly.

I have big plans for 2014, both on and off the race course. I intend to keep setting PRs. But at the end of the day, my medals are just worthless chunks of metal.

Dr. Gray and others are racing to save kids like Taylor and the millions of people fighting a rare disease.

Theirs is the greatest race of all.

The Magic Tutu

By Laura Edwards


I don’t normally run long races back-to-back, and after pouring all of my physical and emotional energy into running Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded for the fight against Batten disease on Nov. 16, I planned on taking some time off before starting my 2014 race calendar with a 10-miler in February. But a couple of months ago, I won a free entry to the Huntersville Half Marathon from Théoden Janes, the Charlotte Observer’s pop culture writer. The race takes place just four weeks after Thunder Road, but when I won the entry, I thought, why not? It’d be a nice cool-down; a no-pressure way to end a great year for running.

I took the no-pressure attitude to the extreme. I dropped my training mileage to the bare minimum (12 miles/week). I never looked at the course map; I didn’t know a thing about the grade/elevation, turns or, well, anything. I ate junk food the week of the race. I stayed out late for a company Christmas party on Thursday night and got less than five hours of sleep on Friday night.

And then there was the tutu.

When I approached the Taylor’s Tale cheer station located at the final turn on the Thunder Road course with my sighted guide and the gene therapy expert from UNC in November, I heard the whoops and screams of about 100 cheerleaders, including 70-plus teenagers from Playing from Others, an incredible organization that is supporting Taylor’s Tale this year. After crossing the finish line a short time later, I learned that those teens, in a spontaneous, joint burst of inspiration, took off after us in their purple tutus, t-shirts, sparkle and glitter to surround us in the finish area, like a scene from a Disney movie.

When I had lunch with some of our friends from Playing for Others a couple of weeks ago, one of them, Madison Lynch, still had her tutu in her car. In a moment of enthusiasm/insanity, I promised them all I’d wear the tutu in the Huntersville Half Marathon for Taylor.

And then there was the rain.

I watched the forecast all this past week, and it only got worse. By Friday, the forecast looked ominous: 40 degrees at the start of the race, with a 100 percent chance of rain. I told one of my friends at the office that I’d probably look – and feel – like a drowned ostrich in that tutu.

But I don’t go back on my word. So at 6:30 yesterday morning, I put on my Coldgear tights and top-of-the-line Feetures socks, a base layer shirt and Team Taylor’s Tale shirt, the 4TAYLOR sleeves given to me by my sighted guide and his wife, and a hat to keep the rain out of my eyes. Last of all, I laced up the Brooks shoes that are overdue to be replaced yet carried me to the greatest sports moment of my life at Thunder Road four weeks earlier, and pushed them through a purple tutu that is most definitely not moisture-wicking, water-repellent or aerodynamic.

That tutu wasn’t designed for running, but it was a rock star at building awareness for Batten disease. During the race, I lost count of all of the water station volunteers and spectators who yelled, “Love the tutu!” or something similar when I ran by them. “Visit taylorstale.org to learn why I’m wearing it!” I yelled back. One mother watching the race with her daughter actually nodded and started typing something into her phone almost instantaneously. It felt good to imagine – to hope – she went to our site.

Most of the course snaked through neighborhoods decorated for Christmas, a change from the Thunder Road course that starts and finishes in center city Charlotte. It drizzled for most of the 13.1 miles, and for a short period, the rain poured from the front brim of my hat. But my legs felt strong, and I powered through the rolling hills. I got an extra burst of energy when I passed the 1:50 pace group and realized I didn’t feel winded at all (my personal record, or PR, for the half was 1:57).

Even with the rain, the end came too quickly. When I approached the 13-mile marker, I kicked it into high gear for my customary sprint to the finish line. I wish someone had a video of me sprinting to the finish in that tutu! And when I ran across the timing mats, the clock read 1:47:30:73. I’d beaten my previous PR by 10 minutes. In the rain. On junk food. On no sleep. On a course I didn’t know anything about. In a tutu.

I didn’t think the tutu would survive the day, but it’s not going anywhere. It will forever be known as the magic tutu. Because I’m one of those people who refuses to throw away the shoes that carried me to a great finish, even if I can stick my fingers through the soles.

I don’t know if it’s really a magic tutu. But I do know this: every time my muscles scream and my lungs burn, every time I want to walk to the top of a hill, I think about my sister; I think about how she ran the Thunder Road 5K from start to finish, and I think about how she faces the world’s worst disease with courage and grace. I think about those things, and the pain in my legs melts away, and my lungs fill with air, and I feel as if I could sprint to the top of the world’s steepest hill.

I know that yesterday, I ran a half marathon 44 minutes faster than I ran my first half marathon in 2009, and that I’ve gotten faster each year. I also know that as I’ve gotten faster on the wings of my sister’s courage, my sister has gotten sicker. I know that I will never, ever stop running for her. I know that I must never stop fighting until we cross the ultimate finish line for kids like Taylor.