It's all very organized and very unlike me typically.
This past weekend, was my race in Fairfield and I have known about that particular race for a few months now. I had a person picked out to run that race for. I had it all marked down on my spread sheet. But I never announced the race or the person that I was going to run for that day. I have no idea why I skipped that part of my process. I just did.
The night before my race, I was in my bedroom putting all my gear together for the next morning. I pulled out the shirt that I was planning to wear the next day and for no reason in particular I sat there and thought, "I need to save this one for another day. This isn't the person that I need to run for tomorrow. I'm going to run for Avielle tomorrow." Honestly. I swear it was as simple as that.
When I arrived at the race on Saturday, my friend Beth asked me why I had chosen Avielle for that day. I remember feeling guilty when I told her, "I honestly didn't have a reason this time. I just did." Beth knows that I try very hard to match up the people that I run for to a certain race if I can. (For example, I ran the Sham Rock and Roll for Ana because of her families love and involvement in music.) I felt bad that I didn't have a reason. It was such a last minute change and it almost felt like a disservice to Avielle.
Little did I know.
So, the race was over and I was cranky because the water table was farther away from the finish line than I would have liked it to be. (I can be a big baby sometimes) I found my water and I was cooling down a good distance away from the race crowd. I looked to my left and I saw a few people taking photo's near by me. I recognized them immediately. It was the Wheeler family who had lost Benjamin on December 14th. I hold a very deep respect for the Wheelers because of everything that they have done in the wake of December 14th. They are incredibly well spoken and brilliant advocates for change and we are lucky to have them as a mouth piece for our town. At first, I hesitated. I didn't want to bother them during their family time or in that moment, but I felt compelled to approach them. They were amazingly sweet and kind to me as we chatted and I was so happy that I was able to meet them and tell them in person how extraordinary I think they are. I told them briefly about my project and that I would love to be in contact with them if they had another race that they were planning on running so that I could run for their Ben on that day. It was at that moment that Mrs. Wheeler looked down at my shirt and saw that I was running for Avielle. "Oh!" She said. "You're running for Avi! Look!" And she turned around to show me that she had a picture of Ben and Avielle on the back of her shirt. It was then that Mr. Wheeler turned back to me and said, "Avielle's parents are here today. Would you like to meet them?"
I was in shock. Here is the reason I made the last minute change without knowing why. Avielle was pulling some strings that day.
Mr. Wheeler got in touch with the Richman's and before I knew it, I was face to face with the family that I was trying to honor that day. I can't explain this feeling well enough. All I have ever wanted from this project was to show the families that we will never forget their children. That people are always thinking of them. That we will do everything we can to help and to make this world a more caring place. Being in that moment with these amazing people is something that I will never forget.
The very first thing Mrs. Richman said to me was, "Can I please give you a hug?" And all I could say back was, "Are you kidding? Can I please hug you???" This is sort of a dream come true for me. One of the reasons that I started this project was because I felt so helpless. I often said that I wish I could just hug these people. Be there for them in some way. And here I am, hugging a mother that was forced to say goodbye too soon. I wish I could have hugged her forever without being a complete creeper.
I quickly told the Richman's about how I was supposed to run for someone else that day and my abrupt change of plans that I didn't quite understand. "Avielle was helping us out today I think," Mrs. Richman said with a smile.
Mr. Richman pulled a pin off his shirt and put it in my hand. It was a pin for the foundation that he and Mrs. Richman have constructed in Avielle's honor. Mr. and Mrs. Richman are both scientists and they are now devoting their time to preventing violence by studying brain health and expanding education on mental illness. And you'd be hard pressed to find two more sweet and amazing people in this world. Please take a moment to visit their website to learn more about the incredible work that they are doing:
Dear Avielle, thank you for connecting me with your amazing parents. It was an experience I will never forget and I hope that I helped a small corner of the heart find its way to healing by running in your honor. We all miss you every day. We will all carry you with us for the rest of our lives.
Here is the string puller herself, the gorgeous Avielle Richman with a smile that goes on for days. The 15th angel I have now run for.
Full race album available at the facebook page 26 in 2013 for Sandy Hook:
An experience I will never forget. Me and the Richman's on race day.