BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There are dozens of people in Western New York who are dedicating their workouts to complete strangers in the hopes they’ll be some support and encouragement during tough times. The runners have joined the non-profit I Run 4.
Kelly Schiavulli became a member because of her three year old son Alexander. Every step Alexander takes is a blessing for his family.
“That’s my biggest fear with Alexander, we don’t know how long we have him,” Schiavulli.
At two and a half months old, Alexander was diagnosed with a number of heart conditions. He’s had three open heart surgeries and between the second and the third, they almost lost him.
“She’s like alright Kelly, I’m going to have you sit him up, tell him you love him, everything’s going to be okay,” described Schiavulli. “Within 30 seconds she say’s I’m going to have you lay him down, within three seconds he went blue, stopped breathing, code blue was called.”
The I Run 4 support system is there for her during those scary moments.
The group pairs athletes with children and adults who have a congenital disorders, special needs, or physical deformities.
The athletes dedicate their workouts to those who can’t and post words of encouragement for their buddies on the I Run 4 Facebook page at least three times a week.
“I can message his runner and she will text me back and say I’m thinking about you guys,” said Schiavulli.
It’s a support system for the triumphs and the tough times.
“If she’s like ‘I hope everything is going well’, someone else will be like ‘praying, what’s going on?’” said Schiavulli. “If I post and say ‘Hey pray for Alexander, he’s having an MRI today’, somebody like three days later will be like ‘How did it go?’ and it’s just nice knowing I have that.”
The network was started three years ago by Tim Boyle in North Dakota. Boyle started running after hit quit smoking two packs a day.
He dedicated his first 5K to Michael, a 52 year old man with Down syndrome, who told him “You can run for me anytime.”
Boyle launched the I Run 4 group in January 2013 to give others the same inspiration. Now, he said there are more than 38,000 members worldwide.
Lisa Hanavan joined in October. She logs at least 25 miles a week and each is dedicated to a five year old girl named Gracie who lives in Minnesota.
Hanavan was matched with Gracie through I Run 4 siblings group.
“They’re left in the shadows,” said Hanavan. “When her little brother goes to the hospital or goes to doctors’ appointments, Gracie will go to an aunt’s house or a grandmother’s house and instead of having her feel like she’s in the shadows she has someone, me, specifically for her, focusing on her so she still feels special.”
Hanavan sends Gracie her medals and every day texts or Facebook messages words of encouragement to Gracie and her mom.
Gracie sends back her own support.
“Race day they usually send me unsolicited message with a poster with a picture that Gracie drew, ya know ‘Run well’ or ‘You can do it’, little cute encouraging things that believe it or not help,” said Hanavan. “When you’re at that whatever mile and the voices in your head are screaming, your heart screams louder because of that sign you think of.”
Last month, Gracie cheered Hanavan on in person when they met at a 5K in Minnesota.
“To be able to see Gracie and PJ and her parents during the run, it didn’t feel like running it kind of felt just full of excitement,” said Hanavan. “I didn’t know what I was missing before I signed up.”
In Niagara Falls, Schiavulli has signed her other son Nicholas up for the siblings group, and she matched with a buddy as well.
“I post three days a week,” she said. “It’s not mostly about running for me, I’ve been walking a lot and she’s having a tough time of her own so it’s nice to know I’m that support system for her too.’
She hopes to meet her buddy Michelle in Georgia one day. In the meantime, she’s getting ready for a 5K to share with her buddy the encouragement I Run 4 has always given her.
To join as an athlete or a buddy, click here.