It was difficult for Tammi Carr not to be taken by the blonde little boy who looked so much like Chad. Tommy Ruddy, diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) on August 12, 2016, had the same bright blonde hair and infectious smile.

Upon hearing of Tommy’s diagnosis, Tammi had forwarded her phone number to Tommy’s mom, Amanda, and their relationship grew.

“I can’t explain it, there was just a connection between us,” said Tammi. “Jason and Lloyd attended Tommy’s funeral and then Amanda and I met a bit after that. She and Tom were inspired by what we were doing with ChadTough and wanted to contribute.”

The Ruddy’s – Tom, Amanda, and Isabella – became the very first ChadTough Partner Family, honoring Tommy by raising funds and awareness for DIPG research through The ChadTough Foundation.

“It has definitely been a journey channeling grief into fundraising, but it is a big way we keep Tommy’s memory and giving spirit alive,” said Amanda.

Originally from Pennsylvania, Tommy was diagnosed with DIPG the summer after they moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The community embraced their family, providing continuous support during such a difficult time.

“The community has been amazing,” said Amanda. “We’re non-Michigan natives — complete strangers to this area — and they’ve totally embraced us and welcomed us in. I come home to flowers on the doorstep or wine and cheese on my doorstep and people just seem to know when we need lifted the most.”

“That’s how I know prayers really work, because in the moments that I need it, these little things will show up. Or just a text or even a card.”

The first year of fundraising, the Ruddy family held their own garage sale and their 1st Annual RunTough for Team Tommy event. Now in the second year, they have recognized a significant opportunity within their community: running.

Their 2nd Annual RunTough for Team Tommy event raised more than $25,000 and they are generating support and awareness for The ChadTough Foundation through marathons and other competitive races.

“This is a huge running community,” said Amanda. “Tom started running once Tommy was diagnosed and he was completely swept up by the culture. He is running in the Chicago Marathon to honor Tommy and support ChadTough as have other friends and neighbors of ours.”

Now more than two years since Tommy passed away on November 3, 2016, Tom continues his work as an Area Director of Applebee’s and Amanda — after 12 years as an ER nurse and the past 4 in clinical research — is currently studying to be a nurse practitioner.

While they also enjoy time with their daughter, Isabella, the moments are bittersweet. Isabella was just 8 years old when Tommy’s earthly life ended. Now at 10, she is thriving in the Jenison school community that surrounds her with love and support to this day. She enjoys playing the violin, choir, cheerleading, and the dance team.

“There are so many moments we still enjoy, but there is always a gaping hole,” said Amanda. “The sting is unbearable at times. We still have to get through one day at a time.”