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It’s official! Gwendolyn Is Cleared To Run the Santa Barbara Half Marathon

July 17, 2012 by Bill Strong

It's official! Gwendolyn has been cleared by the organizers of the Santa Barbara International Marathon to "run" with Team GSF in November 2012! To be honest, I get chills every time I think about it. And not because it's going to be a memorable experience for us as a family. Or because it's going to be a physical challenge for me personally. Nope. While those are both certainly true, there is a much more important reason why this is such a big deal for us. It's clearing the way for our little girl to be part of something she's made clear to us she loves -- running.

From the moment Gwendolyn was born, Victoria and I have hoped that as parents we can listen to her cues so we can then help guide her through what she wants out of her life. Her SMA diagnosis didn't change this. Since she was a baby she has had a daredevil streak, a love of the thrill, and that is all her. No matter what her physical challenges may be, she's pushed us to figure out ways to allow her to do things. We are always more nervous than she is but whether it be sledding or jumping in a bounce house or just being physically playful, her distinct high-pitched "This is AWESOME" squeal and giggle always lets us know she is having a blast. And that she wants more!

When I started running to train for the Santa Barbara Marathon last year, Gwendolyn made it clear she wanted to run too. Victoria and Gwendolyn cheered me on every step of the way in my training, supported me in different practice events, and were there in full force for my first half marathon in July 2011 and, of course, my first Marathon in November 2012. Whenever Gwendolyn saw me wearing my NEVER GIVE UP. jersey, she told us she wanted to run too. And once the more official events started, we saw her enthusiasm grow. She loved holding the signs, cheering the runners, and waving her pom poms. But each time I stopped to give her a kiss and then took off to rejoin the race again, Gwendolyn always cried. She wanted to be running with me.

From those first indications we started exploring the idea and when we started running with her in her customized running wheelchair in January 2012, she lit up like we'd never seen her. She tap, tap, tapped and told us, "Let's go!" She loves putting on her special NEVER GIVE UP. shirt and her "fast racing" pants or shorts. She loves her running music mix. She loves feeling the wind in her hair and seeing the sights along the way. She loves going fast. We have taken all of this in, but we have been nervous too. Seeing her pride, her exuberance, her self confidence... we knew she was letting us know what she wanted. One day before a run I asked Gwendolyn why she liked running and she told me it makes her feel "FREE!" We knew right then, that very second, that we would go to the edge of the earth to bottle that feeling for her. When we asked her if she wanted to be in an official race, she didn't pause for one second. We got a loud "GUH!" (yes)

The Santa Barbara International Marathon (SBIM) is a Boston Qualifer so it isn't a "stroller" race. We get that completely. We've been in several family type 5K races with Gwendolyn already and she's done well but they are very different than the SBIM. We were nervous about getting a waiver for Gwendolyn from the SBIM organizers -- at this point she already had her heart set on it. So when we got the official news that Gwendolyn is cleared, Victoria and I cheered almost as much as we will be cheering for her on the day of the race. This is Gwendolyn's race -- and we're so excited that Gwendolyn will be running 13.1 miles in the SBIM on November 10, 2012. Yes, I'll be proudly pushing her in her running wheelchair and Victoria will be running by our side in her first half marathon -- but Gwendolyn will be carrying us both across the finish line because this is what she wants! And it's going to be awesome.

We'd like to sincerely thank the organizers of the Santa Barbara International Marathon for recognizing the importance of running the Half Marathon to Gwendolyn and having such an open mind about making an exception for her. Know that you have literally made a dream come true for our little girl and we are forever grateful to you all for that.

Now, off to train, train, train our little tails off. We hope you'll be out there running with us or cheering Team GSF on in November! It's going to be an amazing day!

If you'd like to join Team GSF in the Santa Barbara Marathon, Half Marathon, or Relay on November 10, 2012, find more information by clicking HERE.

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