On June 5, I began training for Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon with a good friend, Andrew Swistak. Andrew and I could both run a half marathon tomorrow, but on Nov. 16, I’ll run 13.1 miles blindfolded in honor of my little sister, Taylor, who suffers from Batten disease. If you’ve been following my blog for the past month, you know that I twisted my ankle the first time I ran in the dark and that I re-injured it hiking in the mountains of North Carolina eight days ago. The ligaments in my ankles are like old rubber bands, and my worst fear came true not more than 30 minutes after I told Andrew I wanted to give darkness a trial run.
But for eight days, I behaved. I swore off running, instead heading to my local YMCA to do free weights and crunches. I stuck a box of extra stroke symposium invitations under my desk at my hospital marketing and PR job, kicked off my shoes and propped up my bum ankle. I sported an ACE bandage, a fabulous summer accessory, and iced several times a day. And when I got home tonight, I said hello to my running shoes. “Oh, how I’ve missed you. Do you have room for a brace in there? We have some catching up to do.”
As I glanced at the clouds dotting the sky, checked the late-night forecast one last time and changed into my neon-colored running shirt, I thought about how my sister, Taylor, can’t beat the symptoms of Batten disease in eight days’ time. I thought about how I trashed my ankles playing soccer because of choices I made, not because of predetermined information in my genes. I thought about how I have wet spaghetti noodles for ankle ligaments, and yet I can still lace up the best hiking boots money can buy, dig my poles into the earth and hike 17 miles round-trip in a day, seeing some of God’s greatest wonders along the way. Taylor can’t hike, and she can’t see. Batten disease ripped my heart out the day I learned its name, but it’s stolen so much more from my sister.
Batten disease wants to steal Taylor’s life. But it hasn’t succeeded yet. Every day, my sister wakes up in her world of darkness, and she finds a reason to smile. I call that courage. Tonight, I’ll summon some of her strength when I wrap my injured ankle and set out into the darkness for blindfolded run number six. And for as long as I’ve got a leg to stand on, I’ll run for her.
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.