Run the Creek for Batten Disease

By Laura Edwards

Spring race season is here; I’m diving in headfirst, with four races (two of them out-of-state) in the next eight weeks. Next Saturday, March 21, I’ll be at Charlotte’s Run the Creek 5K to run in honor of my sister Taylor as well as Brandon and Jeremy Hawkins, local kids and brothers both battling Batten disease.

We connected with the Hawkins family shortly after Taylor’s diagnosis in the summer of 2006; in fact, Brandon and Taylor went to the same astute pediatric neurologist. continue reading →

My Turn to Coach

By Laura Edwards

Run the Creek 5KMy mom, Sharon King, walks to stay in shape. She’s not a runner and says she’ll never be a runner.

Last year, we walked the Run the Creek 5K together in support of the Batten Disease Support & Research Association. When the finish line came into view, without warning, Mom gave me a gentle push and goaded me into a two-woman race. Then, she broke into a sprint and cackled as she crossed the finish line a split second ahead of her runner daughter.

Mom hasn’t let me forget that she beat me that day. But she’s never run a 5K from start to finish – something my sister Taylor, who’s blind and suffers from Batten disease, did twice.

On Nov. 16, I’ll run Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor the five-year anniversary of Taylor’s first 5K. And about 30 minutes after my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak, and I each grasp an end of a three-foot bungee cord and I pull the blindfold over my eyes to begin my first-ever blindfolded half marathon, Mom will join a mass of people for the start of the event’s 5K.

Mom says she’s not ready to run that 5K today. But Andrew’s done a great job coaching me to run in a dark world, and now it’s my turn to coach. Over the next four months, I’ll alternate between meeting Andrew for blindfolded runs on the Charlotte streets and meeting Mom at the Y for 5K training. We’ll start by alternating between running two minutes, then walking two minutes. We’ll work up to a mile, then two, then three.

By race day, Mom will be a force on that 3.1-mile race course. She may not believe in her ability to run a 5K from start to finish, but I do. Because she told me today that she’ll run it for Taylor. And I’ve never known my mom to fail at anything she said she would do.

The Thunder Road Marathon, Thunder Road Half Marathon and 5K have plenty of room for other Taylor’s Tale supporters. If you’re interested in running to honor Taylor and support Taylor’s Tale, the 501(c)3 non-profit organization we founded to fight Batten disease and other rare diseases, please contact us.

The Ghost of Laurel Hill

By Laura Edwards

photo (7)Yesterday morning, I woke with the sun to run the Tar Heel 10 Miler in my little sister’s honor for the fourth consecutive year.

I’ve already collected four race medals for Taylor in 2013, but this one is special. The Tar Heel 10 Miler was just the second competitive race I ever entered; I paid the entry fee for the April 2010 edition not long after watching my sister – blind and suffering from a rare, fatal brain disease – jog across the finish line of Charlotte’s Jingle Jog and Girls on the Run 5Ks on one end of a running buddy’s guiding rope and the wings of her own courage.

The Girls on the Run 5K, staged on a sun-drenched, happy day in May 2009, was Taylor’s second race. It was also her last.

Batten disease has stolen so much from Taylor since it crept into her life that the word “unfair” doesn’t begin to do the job. The ability to run is a precious gift that too many of us take for granted, but my sister has lost many more valuable things.

I wish I could make Batten disease go away. I wish I could work magic – go back in time and give Taylor two good copies of the gene that causes Batten disease or even one good copy (which would make her a healthy carrier, like me). But I can’t.

So I share her story in my own words – both spoken and written. I help support the people who have the knowledge to find answers for children like her – people like Steven Gray, PhD of UNC’s Gene Therapy Center, to which Taylor’s Tale awarded a two-year grant earlier this year.

And I run.

On Saturday morning, I followed the brick sidewalks to the football stadium nestled in the trees on the same campus where Dr. Gray works his magic for children like my sister and where I earned my undergraduate degree. I lined up on the track at field level with 3,253 other runners. When the gun sounded at 7:30, I found an opening in the crowd and sprinted through the stadium tunnel and into my 10-mile mind game.

The Tar Heel 10 Miler, set mostly on the gorgeous UNC campus, has some tough sections, but none come close to Laurel Hill, the 200-foot vertical gain over the course of about one mile at the 8.5-mile mark. It’s so difficult that the race organizers place separate timing mats at the bottom and top and hand out special awards just for the hill, and many self-respecting athletes speed-walk it. I’ve never walked, but I’ve come close.

end of tar heel 2013 I went into Saturday’s race riding a streak of four straight personal records (PRs) for the half marathon, 10 miler, 5K and 10K that started at the Thunder Road Half Marathon in Charlotte last November. Even though I’d beaten my previous 10 miler record by two minutes just two months earlier at a race in Charlotte, I was determined to beat it again.

But when I reached the first Laurel Hill timing mat, things didn’t look good. My quadriceps burned, and worse – I felt winded. I never get winded. I was riding a 7:45/mile pace through the first 8.5 miles, and it’d taken a lot out of me.

As I started the climb, a voice in my head told me it wasn’t my day. I shouldn’t have eaten the sweet potato fries at Top of the Hill the previous night. I shouldn’t have stayed up till midnight watching the Boston Marathon bombing coverage. As I wheezed my way up those 200 vertical feet, I told myself that WHEN I cross the finish line isn’t important to Taylor (which is true). As my Garmin watch beeped its “Behind Pace” beep, again and again…I began to write my post-Tar Heel 10 Miler blog post in my head. I called it, “I Lost My PR and Found My Truth on Laurel Hill.” I talked to myself over my wheezing. “You can do this,” I breathed. “Forget the stupid PR. Just RUN.”

But then, something happened. My quads loosened. The tightness in my chest melted away. The houses perched at the top of Laurel Hill came into view.

For most of the race, I used my Garmin as my guide. I ran for Taylor, but I ran more for myself.

The moment I understood that is when I left the Ghost of Laurel Hill behind.

It seemed like just moments later that the stadium reappeared. I sprinted into the tunnel, down the track and across the finish line.

When I did, the clock read 1:20:48.

I beat my PR for 10 miles by almost two full minutes and ran the Tar Heel 10 Miler four minutes faster than ever before. I finished in the top 16 percent of 3,253 runners. And when I crossed that finish line, I felt as if I could fly.

Almost like I had wings.


By Laura Edwards

end of raceBefore Batten disease robbed my little sister of her ability to run, she joined the Girls on the Run team at her school. With the help of a sighted running buddy, she jogged across the finish line of two local 5Ks.

Taylor ran her last race almost four years ago. Around that same time, I ran my first race in her honor.

My sister can’t run anymore, but I’ve logged thousands of miles for her.

In the past five months, I’ve run four races for Taylor – all different distances – and set four new personal records (PRs). Even after making the first page of results and placing second in my division at Charlotte RaceFest on Saturday, I already had my next race on my mind.

I get stuck on my times, because I’m a perfectionist. I like to challenge myself, both mentally and physically. Whereas some runners hate hills, I say, bring them on. They help me keep things in perspective; my sister’s battle against Batten disease is tougher than any hill I’ll ever face, even if I had two broken legs.

But the senseless acts of hatred that took place at the Boston Marathon this afternoon reminded me that it’s not all about when you cross the finish line.

It’s also about the people you love who staked out a spot along the course to wave handmade signs – the people who will give you a hug at the end, no matter how sweaty you are.

It’s about being healthy enough to finish a race – first or last.

It’s about having this day to stage a race, any race – because each day we receive is a gift from God.

My heart goes out to all those affected by the tragedy in Boston today.

And for as long as my legs will carry me, I’ll keep on running for Taylor.

The Burden of Believing

By Laura Edwards

ourboys 5KI don’t believe in doing things halfway – least of all when it comes to fighting Batten disease. I get that from my mom.

I used to run 30 miles a week. I ran a minimum of six days out of every week. When races rolled around, my body ached. I averaged a 9:00 mile or slower for long races, but I really had to dig deep for that. I knew I could run faster, but my body wouldn’t respond.

Last fall, I decided to cut back on my mileage. I went to 20 miles a week. A couple of days each week, I traded my runs for walks or weights. I dropped the 10-mile runs. I decided to trust my body. I hoped that if I could keep up a training run for seven or eight miles, I could bring it on race day for 10 or 13.1.

Some people might have said I was “slacking off,” but you know what? My body stopped aching – and I got FASTER. I set a new personal record for 13.1 miles at the Thunder Road Marathon in November. In February, I set a personal record for 10 miles at the Charlotte 10 Miler. In March, I set another record for 3.1 miles at the Run the Creek 5K. My training runs got faster, too. I used to average 10:00 miles for those. Earlier this week, I ran a mile in 5:45. And I didn’t even do that on fresh legs – I’d already run five miles.

The point is that the fight against Batten disease deserves our best, but sometimes, “giving our best” means taking care of ourselves and reserving our energy so that we’ll be fresh when we have to climb the toughest hills. For a long time, I’ve said that this is a journey – not a sprint. I know that there’s only so much we can do with the cards we were dealt. I know that our situation sucks and that nothing that happens in any other facet of my life – regardless of how wonderful it may be – will REPLACE what we have lost and will lose. But I’m not any good to anyone when I’m in my darkest place. I’m not useful when I’m fighting writer’s block at 2 a.m. or yelling at my laptop because the Taylor’s Tale website has a glitch due to some technical issue out of my control. I’m not good to anyone when I’m losing my mind over someone else’s bonehead moves or heartless actions or words. When I find myself in my darkest place, it’s time to hit pause. Sometimes I remember to press the button; other times, I forget. I forgot more often than not over the past six-plus years, and I can’t get that time back. But my memory is improving, and my life – and my net impact on this fight – will get better as a result.

Laura, Mom and Taylor

I LOVE my sister more than anything, and I HATE Batten disease more than anything. I want to eradicate Batten disease, but if Taylor could tell us what she wants and feels, I think she would tell us that she doesn’t want us to eradicate our friendships, marriages, careers and lifelong dreams in the process. She would tell us that we can fight Batten disease and have those things, too. She would tell us that she wants us to be happy. Not “happy” like we were before Batten disease entered our lives or as if we’ve moved on – but “happy” as in we’re going to recognize the things we still have that are good and keep it from robbing us of everything we’ve ever known.

I believe that we CAN win this battle. I just don’t want us to lose everything else that makes us who we are along the way. Razing all the cities in your own kingdom is no way to win a war. If you kill all the bad guys but have to go home to smoldering ruins, what’s the point?

I can’t let Batten disease steal my sister AND everyone who loves her.

3.1 for Garrett’s Wings

By Laura Edwards

Runners: if you’re looking for a race to run next Saturday, March 20, please consider running in the Run the Creek 5K to support Garrett’s Wings, a charity founded by a Charlotte-area couple who lost their young son, Garrett, to infantile Batten disease in December 2007. The race course features beautiful rolling hills and is appropriate for runners of all skill levels. To register, click here.

Garrett’s Wings provides comfort and non-medical care for terminally ill children and their families as well as support for infantile Batten disease research. To learn more, visit their website.