You may not have known anyone running in the Chicago Marathon on behalf of The ChadTough Foundation, but if you saw any of the photos and testimonials from the day, you could feel the emotion.
More than 30 individuals ran on the ChadTough Marathon team, specifically honoring Chad Carr, Tommy Ruddy, and Emma Buron – three children from Michigan who passed away after battling Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
Each person came into the commitment with his or her own story – a personal connection with the Carr family, a passion for the cause, a loved one lost.
“For me, it was a tangible way to personally take a stand against DIPG,” said Denise Dean. “So often as I followed along with Chad’s — and then Tommy’s, and Emma’s — fight with DIPG, I found myself wishing I could do something, anything to help.
“Besides praying, which I did every single day (still do), there was not much that I had to offer. The marathon gave me the chance to fundraise for this foundation that I care so much about while telling anyone who would listen about these three amazing little people.”
Blue Jay Blessings
Audra Esper’s son, Ty, was born the day Chad passed away, after she and her husband had tried for a long time to conceive.
“He now has bright blonde hair and blue eyes,” she said. “How did that happen?!”
Audra’s fundraising process (each participant commits to raising $2,500 for the foundation) carried its own impact. She chose to start a photography and videography business in her area in which all proceeds went to ChadTough.
“I did Christmas card photo shoots for families, headshots, video slideshows for birthday parties, etc.,” she wrote. “The two most powerful projects I completed during this time, however, were two separate ‘celebration of life’ video slideshows for funerals.
“Both for women -full of spunk and strength – both of whom had led full, beautiful, and long lives. And both had lost their battles to different types of cancer.”
Both of these women — Judy Baker and Bobbie Roberts — advocated for their respective cancers as they fought them and requested funerals that were “not sad.” Audra put her heart into the slideshows and attended both funerals, seeing the comfort her projects brought.
“I thought so much about families that lose a child to DIPG,” she said. “There is no comfort. There is no solace to be taken that they led a full and long life full of passion and adventure.
“That pushed me a lot during training. Someone once told me that, when you see a Blue Jay, it means that it’s someone who has passed away coming back to give you encouragement. Training for a full marathon in the dead heat of summer in Miami is zero fun, but I started noticing that Blue Jays would show up on my run at times when I felt like quitting.
“I believe they were Chad, Judy and Bobbie coming to cheer me on.”
A Clear Commitment
All three families attended the Chicago Marathon to cheer on the participants: Jason and Tammi Carr, Tom and Amanda Ruddy, and Vanessa Buron, who was there to support her husband, Ken, who ran in the marathon for their daughter, Emma.
For those there to offer support, the experience was incredibly emotional.
“These people train for so long and are putting in such a physical commitment to go along with their emotional support,” said Tammi Carr.
“It was overwhelming on so many levels. We watched people we met for the first time running 26.2 miles for our baby. Then we saw others who lived Chad’s journey with us doing the same thing.
“Regardless of the individual circumstance, it meant so, so much.”
Ken and Vanessa Buron lost their daughter, Emma, to DIPG on Mother’s Day 2017. Ken trained for the marathon and suffered an injury toward the end. He trained through it and competed through it the day of the race.
Tom and Amanda Ruddy lost their son, Tommy, to DIPG on November 3, 2016. They had six people running on their behalf, including a high school classmate of Amanda’s she hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years, and a neighbor who knew Tommy and ran with a small wooden cross of his.
“It was an incredibly emotional experience,” said Amanda. “To see these people give so much of themselves for Tommy and our family was beyond touching. We are so thankful for each and everyone one of them.”
More Than A Race
Ask anyone who ran for ChadTough on October 8, and they will tell you it was more than a race. The training process, the fundraising, and then the competition all carried a greater meaning.
“Though I didn’t have a personal connection to ChadTough before joining the marathon team, following Chad’s story and the foundation’s mission always left me with a desire to help the cause,” said Erica Crawford. “Running for recreation became running for a purpose as I trained for Chicago and began fundraising.
“Marathon training is not easy, though. During tough workouts or early mornings, I kept thinking about how my challenges are nothing like what children with DIPG and their families face. I heard similar sentiments from other team members over and over. The collective commitment to the mission of ChadTough was immensely encouraging.”
Insights From the Runners
“Running a marathon is a competition between you and the voice in your head that wants to quit. When I didn’t want to run anymore, I simply thought of all the things that Chad did that I’m sure he didn’t want to do. Daily radiation and mile 19 both take mental strength to complete. Thankful for Chad’s example, which helped me finish when I felt that times were tough.” – Katie Nadig
“Being part of the first ever ChadTough marathon team is an experience I will never forget! I had no intention on running two marathons in 2017 — I had already qualified and planned on running Boston in April. But when I was approached about being part of this team,
“I knew deep down that no matter what I needed to do to train for two marathons, it would never be nearly as challenging as what Chad faced during his fight against DIPG and what his wonderful family endures daily without him on this earth!” – April Bertin
“After a move this summer from Michigan to New York, I began to train for Chicago, only to fall to injury I was so worried that I could not honor my commitment to the ChadTough Foundation and to my Donors. Let me tell you, I prayed every time I went out for a run. I talked to Chad a lot out there. I prayed to Chad and for all the children fighting this fight. I had weeks of PT and massage therapy.
“Two weeks prior to the race I managed 14 miles pain free. I knew I could do this. In the end, all things considered, I had a great race. A dear friend of mine who is also a ChadTough Champion said to me, “You had an angel on your shoulder.” And indeed I did. Likely quite a few angels. This experience has been life-changing.” – Nancy Munson
“This marathon has changed my life! I can and will continue to serve this greater purpose. I trained with Chad in my heart and mind and I know that he was running by my side. He guided and led our team to a safe and successful journey! I finished the marathon with a smile on my face and a prayer in my heart that families will find successful treatments and a cure for their children with DIPG.” – Matt Barnes
“Before this year’s Chicago Marathon, I certainly would have never called myself a ‘runner. Sure, I had participated in some fun 5k’s over the years and even completed one half marathon (barely!) back in 2009.
“Now, my only ‘running’ routine came in the form of chasing my two-year-olds around the house. Then I saw the Facebook post about joining the ChadTough Marathon Team. I was so inspired by all those who signed up that I donated to one of the runner’s fundraisers. And then I began thinking … Why not ME?!
“I weighed the pros and the cons: bad knees, no running ability, twin two-year-olds at home, limited training time. Could I even run 26 miles?! But the one pro I came up with trumped all the cons: raising funds and awareness for DIPG.” – Tiffanie Winnie
Thank you, Team ChadTough!
Melanie Van Antwerp
Michelle Smulders Van de Braak