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When People Cheered for My Son With a Congenital Heart Defect

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Today, a group of young men demonstrated what it was like to be a part of a team. They extended warmth and grace. They had fun and supported their youngest teammate and the community in general.

For those of you who might not know our story, our son, Blaze, was born with basically half of a heart. He underwent three open-heart surgeries before the age of 3 years old. Years ago, his diagnosis would have been a death sentence. But today, thanks to some amazing medical intervention and I believe a God who answers prayers, we have a thriving, healthy 8-year-old.

Our community has an annual obstacle course for grown-ups called the Fun Run. It starts at an old, closed down penitentiary. This year, they expanded the experience for kids ages 8-17. Blaze, who just turned 8 in July, was determined to participate. The obstacles had terrible names like “Devil’s Backbone” and the even more ominous “Mud Pit.” Ick!

To say I was hesitant to let my son participate was an understatement. And yet, I was the one who saw the ad and talked to him about it. My husband and I believe Blaze should decide what he can and can’t do. We’re not going to put limits on him.

Kids his age were encouraged to run with a buddy. Part of the experience goes along a street with no sidewalk. There were volunteers at the obstacles, but kids were sort of on their own. We were told a family member could run with our son. I loved that idea. The day I signed him up, I frantically texted his uncle who was more than willing to run with him. I also contacted his friend’s mom to see if her son wanted to run, too. With Blaze’s heart, I really wanted an adult to be with him. I thought it was too much to put on a child his age.

Then the Blue Tiger Fest came up. That’s the time where Lincoln University is welcomed back to town for another year. We took Blaze to meet up with his teammates: Lincoln University’s men’s basketball team. Through a partnership with Team Impact and Lincoln, Blaze is an honorary member of their team.

My husband let the coach know about the Fun Run. Suddenly, we had a commitment that the team would be there to support Blaze. Some of the guys would run with him on the course, but the entire team would be there to support him. We were humbled by the idea. Instead of Blaze being on his own or just with an uncle or friend, which would have been wonderful in itself, suddenly an entire team had his back.

When we arrived at the prison yard today, the team was there waiting for us. We took pictures pictures with them, and then the majority of the guys went to actually work the obstacle course. Throughout the morning, they were a presence in the community, helping to serve water and guide kids through the obstacles.

Three guys stayed behind to run with Blaze. Their coach was there to help at the starting line as well. Blaze, his friend and the three teammates took off. The very first part of the course was a very long, steep hill. They were in one of the last groups to leave the staggered starting line. My husband and I jumped into the car to follow them. When we caught up to our group, one of the young men had Blaze’s hand and was helping him run up the hill. They were encouraging and supporting him.

At the first obstacle and all of the following ones, they cheered, literally boosted him, gave tips and even went on some of the obstacles themselves. There was one obstacle in particular that was very difficult. It was a steep A-frame obstacle with a rope wall on one side and wooden planks on the other. Some older kids ahead of Blaze struggled to go over.

Then it was Blaze’s turn. His friend went over fairly easily, but Blaze is a few inches shorter, and it was very challenging for him. A really tall friend actually climbed up behind Blaze to catch him if fell backwards. Another teammate sat at the top of the obstacle Blaze to show him how to go over it. And the third waited at the bottom on the other side, coaxing and encouraging.

As our son clung to the top of the obstacle, we heard his name echoed throughout the park. There was support coming from a nearby water station. The obstacle behind us had teammates calling his name with encouragement. Other people standing around, including the wife of the president of Lincoln University began yelling encouragement, too. It was beautiful and surreal. The child who may never be able to play on an organized school team was very much a part of this community.

There are no words to express how amazing that moment was. Blaze said the A-frame obstacle was his favorite one of the course. I can totally understand why. He conquered it — with a little help from his friends.

It’s beautiful to not feel alone on this journey. We are so blessed to have our community supporting our son, and we will forever be fans of Lincoln University’s Blue Tigers.

Originally published: September 6, 2016
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