This Sunday I’ll be entering a team into the SMH Half Marathon as I have done every year since 2007. This is more than just a run for me - it’s about life and hope and a beautiful legacy. My team is called Running for Premature Babies (RFPB) and this year I have close to 500 runners and am hoping to raise $240,000, bringing the total raised to $2.25 million for lifesaving equipment and research at the Royal Hospital for Women’s NICU.
When I ran my first SMH Half Marathon in 2007 it was to try to raise $20,000 for one new humidicrib for the NICU in memory of my three beautiful and sweet triplet sons who had lived and died there a few months earlier. Our precious trio had been born 16 weeks early and had struggled bravely to live in the NICU at the Royal. Huge efforts were made to save their lives but tragically all three of our beautiful babies succumbed to complications from their prematurity. Tiny Henry lived for just one precious hour, Evan died from a brain haeomorrage when he was ten days old and Jasper fought on for 58 days before his lungs collapsed and nothing more could be done to save him. Those days with our boys were the happiest and saddest of our lives. There are no words to describe the tragedy of losing all three of our little triplets, but their lives were so beautiful and precious and they brought so much love into our lives. Love that did not die when they did.
After Jasper died I needed to do something to keep their spirits alive. I was still their mum so it was up to me to make sure their lives mattered and made a difference. That’s when Ash suggested I train for the upcoming SMH Half Marathon and raise $20,000 for the hospital which needed to upgrade their life-saving humidicribs. Six months to the day after Jasper’s death I ran the Half Marathon with a team of 98 runners and we raised $80,000 for the hospital! I remember how proud I felt on that day of my little boys who had inspired so many people, many who’d never run before, to complete a half marathon and help other babies as small as them have a better chance of survival. I had no idea back then that RFPB would take off as it has, that 11 years later over 2500 people would have run and hundreds of premature babies would have survived as a result.
RFPB hasn’t just helped save hundreds of premature babies over the years, it’s saved me too. Being able to channel my grief into something positive has helped me heal, and knowing that babies today are surviving because Henry, Jasper and Evan didn’t is incredible. I visited the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Hospital for Women just last week and saw a baby weighing only 450g who wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for the special RFPB funded ‘Nava’ ventilator keeping him alive. It’s extremely humbling.
Not long after Jasper died I found a poem on the internet called ‘Mummy’. There were two lines of that poem that jumped out at me and stuck in my head: “Please don’t be sad, Mummy, go on and live for me. It’s so important that you do, because it’s through your eyes I’ll see”. These lines inspired me – to go on, to go forward and live my life in honour of my boys, rather than give up on my life because I’d lost them.
Just over a year ago these lines once again spoke to me, but this time replacing the word ‘Mummy’ with ‘Bubba’, which was one of the many names my amazing husband Ash had for me. My loving, funny, kind and brave husband lost his 7 year battle with brain cancer on 20 February last year. He approached his illness with a courage I’ve never before seen, and refused to let it get in the way of us enjoying our lives. I am continually inspired by how Ash faced his illness with the greatest courage, and even humour. Two years after losing our triplets, and six months after welcoming our fourth son, a big, fat, beautiful bouncing baby called Owen, Ash was busy training for the upcoming SMH Half Marathon, and hoping to beat his PB of 99 minutes. He began to have debilitating headaches, and to our utter shock he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer with a grim prognosis. Instead of spending his time worrying about what the future had to hold, Ash got on with living - in the present - and sticking two fingers up to his disease. He defied the odds and returned to full health, and we became parents once again to another son, Harvey. However when his cancer reared its ugly head five years later he never asked ‘Why me?’ and he never gave up. He even continued to run the SMH half marathon between surgery and chemo - it took him over three hours to complete his last race in May 2015 but he did it! He endured countless surgeries to remove recurrent tumours, chemo and radiotherapy, but eventually no more could be done to save him.
Since Ash’s death I’ve found that once again running, and throwing myself into RFPB, has helped me through my grief. Three months after Ash passed away I ran the SMH Half Marathon with my team and took 3 minutes off my PB - a very old PB which I’d set at my first RFPB half marathon back in 2007! Last November I then took a team of RFPB runners to New York to run the marathon as part of our 10th year celebrations. It was my first full marathon and I stuck to the training program like my life depended on it. By November I was fitter than I’ve ever been in my life. Early on the morning of the race I wrote all the special names Ash and I had for each other up my arms and when the going got tough during the race I read them and felt Ash and our boys push me on. It was an incredible feeling to cross the finish line in 4 hours 4 minutes and dedicate my run to Ash.
I want to now show our children that even when the worst happens, even when your heart is broken, you can pick yourself up and you can carry on, and you can still find joy in life. It’s not about forgetting their dad and their brothers, but living our lives well in honour of them. And I’m so grateful that I have running to help me through.
Sophie is still looking for people to join her team in this Sunday’s SMH Half Marathon and Half Marathon Relay. To join the Running for Premature Babies team go to http://www.runningforprematurebabies.com/team-2017
It doesn’t matter if you are already registered to run the event or not. Anyone can join!
RFPB runners are asked to raise just $200 each and in return you’ll receive a free running kit and feel the amazing camaraderie of the team on the course.
Visit www.runningforprematurebabies.com for more info or visit Sophie at her Running for Premature Babies stall at the SMH Half Marathon expo at Town Hall on Friday or Saturday.