Strong Enough for Nina

Last December I received an email with the subject, “I was her legs today. You had a part of it.” Ellen was writing to me from the Ukraine where she was in the process of adopting a little girl. Her email shared how my “Strong Enough” post had arrived in her inbox with perfect timing, timing that changed her family and changed their world. I was so touched, I asked her to please join me here as my first Guest Blogger. Here is their story:

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STRONG ENOUGH FOR NINA

After our youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome, we embarked in the most life altering journey of our lives. She had enriched our lives in meaningful and powerful ways. For this reason, I had spent almost two years looking at the faces of children on Reece’s Rainbow, an International Adoption Ministry for children with Down syndrome. I had fallen in love with many of them, praying that they would find forever families and wondering if any of them were meant to be ours. My husband Andy and I knew that adoption was in our future, but unlike me, he had not felt inclined to inquire about any of the children, so I waited. Occasionally, I would visit Reece’s Rainbow “Other Angels” page. These are the children with other special needs.

It was a late night in July, as I scrolled down the faces, I heard him say while he looked over my shoulder,

“Wait! Scroll back up a little”

I did.

“Right there” he said pointing to a beautiful smiling face, “That little girl looks just like a Stumbo.”

I stared intently at her face.

“Look at her eyes” he added, “She looks just like my sister.”

I got up to find our baby book. A small scrapbook I had made with our baby pictures before our oldest daughter was born. I returned to find him still studying the little face. I opened it up to the first picture and held it up next to the computer screen.

“Honey” I said, “She doesn’t look like your sister, she looks just like you.”

We stared at the photographs, blown away by the strong resemblance.

“You should ask what country she is from and if they have any more information on her.”

“Are you serious?” I asked excited.

“We have been talking about having another child, maybe our next child will come to us through adoption.”

“Does it say what her diagnosis is?” I asked

“Yes” he responded, “Cerebral Palsy”

Cerebral Palsy. The words were heavy, they fell on my heart and threatened to crush it. Cerebral Palsy? I could do Down syndrome, but Cerebral Palsy?

We decided to give ourselves some time to think and pray. We researched Cerebral Palsy and invited our close friends and family to help us sort through our thoughts and feelings. The fact that we wanted to adopt another child with special needs, did not mean that the time was now. I was scared about her disability and my ability to parent her. Could we do it? Could I do it?

As it is in many European countries, children with special needs are transferred from orphanages to institutions by the age of four. Once children arrive in these institutions, many die within the first year. We knew that time was of the essence, and if we were going to be serious about this, we needed to make a commitment to her soon.

It was during this time of “reflection,” that Rachel Coleman wrote her post, “Strong Enough to Be Her Mom.” It was a story about Lucy. Lucy, her beautiful daughter with Cerebral Palsy, her inspiration to be “strong enough.” Was she “strong enough to show her a word beyond sidewalks and ramps?” Would she be Lucy’s yes in a world of no’s?

Rachel didn’t know that the message she had shared in her story, was about to change the life of a little girl half way across the world. She didn’t know that she was asking me, “Ellen, will you be strong enough to be Nina’s mother? Will you show her a world beyond the walls of an orphanage? Will you be her yes?”

Tears started to trickle down my cheeks, they soon became a steady stream, and eventually the flood gates opened up and I was sobbing. I remembered what Andy had said earlier in the day, “She might have Cerebral Palsy but she still deserves a mommy and a daddy that will love her and believe in her potential.”

Talking about Rachel Coleman or Signing Time is common in our house. Our daughter walks around the house holding Rachel’s picture (sometimes she even needs to look at her while sitting at the dinner table) and constantly asks for a video or the music. We know all the songs, and almost all the signs. So when I told my husband I had just read Rachel’s last blog post and began to cry as soon as I said her name, he was sure I had had enough “singing time, and dancing time, and laughing time, and playing time.” But through tears I told him about Lucy and Rachel “I will be Nina’s yes, I will be strong enough for her” I said.

Four months later I held a sweet little girl with Cerebral Palsy in my arms. My daughter Nina.

For almost 4 years she had lived in one room. A room where she slept, ate, and played. Her life consisted of four walls. Even within the walls she had limitations due to her mobility. And while other children might have been taken outside to play once in a while, she stayed behind.

The first day that I was allowed to see her room my heart broke to a million pieces. It broke for the orphans, it broke for those children with special needs nearing their 4th birthday, and it especially broke for Nina.

I asked if I could take her outside to play, I could see other children on the orphanage grounds through the window. They said I couldn’t take her out because she couldn’t walk. I said I would carry her. They said it would be too hard, she couldn’t be carried like a “normal” child. I said I didn’t care. They said I didn’t understand. I said she was my daughter. They rolled their eyes, got her dressed, and put her in a wobbly, metal stroller.

After only a few minutes, I took Nina out of the stroller, it was impossible to maneuver on the uneven ground. I decided she could point and tell me where she wanted to go. As we walked around she would look at me and smile. The reality of her life continuing to sink in my heart. Her world was so limited not only because of being an orphan, but because of her CP. Her world limited to a room. Nobody was there to open her world. Nobody was there to be her “yes.”

I thought about Rachel and Lucy. When Rachel does not feel like running she still runs because she can and because Lucy needs her to be strong enough.

Nina had never had someone stand before a road, willing to explore, to walk, to be her legs. Nobody ever had, and in this place, nobody ever would. Would I be her “yes”? And when necessary, would I be her legs? Emotion welled up inside me, it needed to come out, to be released. So what did I do? I took off running. With Nina sitting awkwardly on my hip, we ran as fast as I could and for as long as I could. We ran, and we ran, and we ran.

Joy, there was pure joy in my daughter’s face! Because in that moment she had legs and in that moment she could run! It was pure bliss!

A worker shook her head at us. She wore a disapproving frown. But on that day disapproval was tossed away, and a child felt the cold wind on her face and ran! Ran with her mama!

That moment birthed determination in me. I will be her yes. I will be strong enough. And when necessary, I will also be her legs.

There are many children with special needs in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. Reece’s Rainbow seeks to find families for these children. So just like Rachel challenged me, I will challenge you. Will you be a “yes” for one of these children?
Will you be strong enough?

Ellen and Nina

Ellen and Nina

You can visit Ellen’s Blog here: www.elliestumbo.blogspot.com

Your Bike Is Calling Your Name

Your Bike Is Calling Your Name…
(and it wants you to ride 100 miles)
Originally posted on Athleta’s Chi Blog

You know the bike that’s in your garage? Yeah, you know the one. It’s the one that’s hanging upside down and taunting you every time you park your vehicle. Well, it’s summer and it’s time to dust that bike off. It’s time to sit down and RIDE!

I know the concerns you have because I have them too. I got my very first road bike for my birthday last October and it promptly snowed. Was I secretly thankful? Maybe. All winter my bike was there reminding me that when it finally did warm up I was likely to be flat on my back at the first stop if I forgot about those clipless pedals. It was reminding me that either the right brake or the left brake was the better one to use on a steep downhill grade. Which one was it though? How about those gears… all of them! Would I ever really figure them out? Let’s not forget traffic! Yikes! Vehicles zooming by and I don’t know the hand signals and what if drivers are texting and never even see me until…

Yes. There are a lot of “what ifs.”

There are also just as many “so whats!”

I would never figure it out if I never got on my bike. The same goes for you.

So here it is… an invitation from your two-wheeled friend.

Find A Buddy
I started talking about wanting to ride my new bike and suddenly I found a lot of people who were also putting off riding. My neighbor Krista hadn’t been on her bike in two years. She was happy to get back on and show me the ropes and I wasn’t too concerned about my complete rookie-ness holding her back. She mapped out a 13-mile ride, which seemed reasonable.

Ride Your Bike
Guess what? Riding 13 miles was much easier than running 13 miles. Even my heart rate monitor agreed. I was impressed by the amazing efficiency of this machine!

Register for an Event
The following week Krista and I scheduled a 26-mile ride, a good distance since I have a triathlon coming up in July with a 26-mile cycling portion. Yes, I registered for a triathlon when I had not yet been on my road bike. Talk about motivation to get cycling. Registering for an event will get you on your bike.

Register for Another Event That Makes A Difference
Later that week, while feeling especially optimistic, I registered for the MS 150, a two-day ride that benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Only after registering did I learn that my team was not planning on riding 150 miles over two days, they were planning on 175 miles over two days (just breathe). Later that week our MS 150 team “Saddle Soar” knocked out a 36-mile ride. I was feeling pretty good, even though I still didn’t have the confidence to drink from my water bottle while actually in motion. When I forgot to start my heart rate monitor I didn’t dare attempt to push that tiny watch button while still cycling. I didn’t know how to change a flat. I was definitely the “weakest link” and I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive everyone was.

Participate in a Supported Ride
Having only three rides under my belt and the MS 150 coming up in a few weeks, I wanted to experience a supported ride and I didn’t have much time. Little Red Riding Hood, an all women ride, had come highly recommended and had been on my calendar, but registration had quickly closed at 3000 participants. Luckily, two days prior to the ride a registration ticket fell into my lap! This ticket was for 58 miles and that felt just about right for my fourth ride.

Ride With People Who Inspire/Push You
The night before Little Red Riding Hood my friend Stephanie said, “You know Rachel, if you can ride 36 miles you can ride 80.” I questioned this philosophy, but Stephanie, who has tackled a number of century rides (that’s 100 miles) and even took on LOTOJA (206 miles in one day), was adamant. “No really, if you can ride 36 miles you can ride 80.” Stephanie and her friend Judy were both planning on riding 80 miles and they were considering 100 miles.

“Ok, I’ll try for 80.” Mostly I didn’t want to commit because… well… what if something hurt… like REALLY hurt. My muscles might cramp up. I might crash. If everything went smoothly I would do 80 miles, and by “smoothly” I meant that I didn’t want to suffer through it and I wasn’t willing to hurt myself.

The weather was perfect. The ride was beautiful! Farmlands, rolling hills, snowcapped mountains, bright blue skies and white fluffy clouds were awe-inspiring. “Wow, this is beautiful! Wow!”

Around mile 56 I got a flat tire. There were plenty of volunteers in SAG wagons watching for this very thing. Within two minutes a red pick-up truck was by my side and a friendly volunteer changed my flat.

By the time I arrived at the place where the 80-mile and the 100-mile routes split some interesting logic had been going through my mind. Trust me, four hours on a bike allows for a lot of thinking time. 100 miles suddenly seemed reasonable! Why stop at 80 when I was only 20 miles away from completing my first century?

Somehow it seemed easier to just ride 100 today… and that’s what I did.

My fourth ride.
My first century!

I did not wake up on Saturday morning thinking that I was going to ride 100 miles that day. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it… and sure wouldn’t have done it without Steph and Judy.

And guess what? I can now start my heart rate monitor while riding, though I still haven’t dared to drink from my water bottle without stopping first.

Can’t you just hear your bike calling your name?

For a list of Women-Only rides check out this article on Cycle & Style– an online cycling magazine for women.

Aaron and I are riding the MS150 in memory of his sweet cousin Kolleen.
To make a donation and sponsor me in the upcoming MS150 click here!
To make a donation and sponsor my cute husband Aaron in the MS150 click here!

Run With Your Life: Part 2 – No Exceptions

Once upon a time~
Someone sent me a link to a video about Team Hoyt. This was a long, long time ago. As I watched this father push his son, I was floored. I was inspired. It gave new meaning to “strong enough.” At the time I didn’t think that it had much to do with me, but I never forgot those images. I never forgot the love.

Last year when I registered for both half-marathons, I admit, I checked the rules. I looked to see if a stroller or a wheelchair would be allowed. The rules clearly stated that wheelchairs and strollers were NOT allowed. Did I secretly give a sigh of relief? Maybe. I’ll never tell.

This year I checked the rules again as I registered for the Salt Lake City Half-Marathon. Nothing had changed. In fact it stated “No wheelchairs. No strollers. No exceptions.” I was checking the rules for myself… sort of, I mean Lucy hadn’t even asked about it. I just wondered how it was that Team Hoyt seemed to find so many races that would allow them to participate when so far I was ZERO for Three.

And then one day not too long ago she said it…
I was in the kitchen. Lucy was on the sofa reading. She looked up and said, “I really want to run a half-marathon.” My heart sank just a little because… I had already looked. I already knew the answer was “no.” I smiled at my daughter and said, “That would be fun wouldn’t it?” But, I could still see the words “No Exceptions” clearly in my mind.

When Leah registered to run the half-marathon with us there was a part of me that felt even worse! What was I going to say now? “Sorry Lucy, see Leah’s just deaf and you… well, you got a bummer deal on the ol’ legs. You can’t walk and you can’t run so you get to stay home with a babysitter. Chalk one up for spina bifida and cerebral palsy.”

More than two weeks had passed since I made the call. YES, I made the call. I set the girls up with their homework and I went outside on the front porch. I shut the front door and I called the Race Director. I got his voicemail and I left the most compelling message I could muster up. In the face of No Exceptions, I was just committed (or crazy) enough to ask for one anyhow. I actually said, “I am calling to ask you to make an exception.” (Bwahahaha!)

Weeks went by and no one called me back, so I posted “Run With Your Life” and I only talked about Leah joining us in the race which was exciting and amazing and… I knew something was missing. You knew it too. You asked about Lucy in your comments.

Then… two days later I got word.
THEY WOULD MAKE AN EXCEPTION!
Lucy was in!!!

I might have jumped up and down in my front yard and whooped and hollered a bit. I just might have.

I couldn’t wait to tell Lucy. As soon as she was off the school bus and the bus engine had faded enough for us to talk I told her, “Lucy, I have really exciting news! You can do the half-marathon with us! We can all run as a family!” Lucy’s eyes were wide with disbelief. She put out her arms to hug me. Her eyes welled with tears. “Can you believe it Lucy?” I asked.

Still slightly shocked she looked up at me with a huge smile and said in a half whisper, “I am going to get a medal!”

We hadn’t been training with her and now the race was only a month away. We didn’t even own a jog-stroller. I called my friend Mike at Baby Bling Design Co. I knew that even though he doesn’t make the kind of stroller that I needed, he could tell me what I needed and point me in the right direction to find it. Like I said Mike doesn’t make that kind of stroller but as luck would have it he just happened to have one that he had used as a prototype for sheepskin stroller inserts. He had been trying to figure out what to do with this brand new jog-stroller in his warehouse. (Are you kidding me?) Within two hours of our “exception” Mike had donated the stroller and it was on its way to us!

And that’s how it happened that THIS Saturday Aaron, Rachel, Leah and Lucy Coleman will ALL be participating in the Salt Lake City Half-Marathon!!!
You can jump up and down a bit and even whoop and holler. I wont tell. Or better yet, if you are in town we would love to have you cheer us on. I think we’ll be pretty easy to spot… see, we’ll be the ones with the stroller.

Run With Your Life - No Exceptions

~With special thanks to Team Hoyt for paving the way and special thanks to The Salt Lake City Marathon Race Director, Scott Kerr for being a “Yes” in a world full of “No”

Run With Your Life

At the beginning of 2010 I set a goal to complete my first triathlon and to run two half-marathons. (I like to do my marathons one half at a time.) And while I was setting goals, I decided to go for breaking my personal record of running 13.1 miles in 2:05:02. This year I will break the 2-hour mark.

Do I really think life is going to simply unfold just the way I plan it? You would think by now that I would know better than that.

Here’s what happened…

My 11-year-old nephew Alex (yep, that’s the Alex you all know and love) joined a Run Club. He began running three days a week after school with trainer Kasey Payzant and her club, which includes about twenty-five kids, ages six to eighteen. Then… my 13-year-old daughter Leah joined. Most of the parents drop their kids off to run for an hour, and pick their kids up later. That’s fine for most parents, especially since the Run Club is geared toward kids, but my husband Aaron and I like to do things a little different so we asked if “big kids” like us, could join too.

By the time we joined, many of the kids in Run Club had already committed to running the Salt Lake City Half-Marathon in April. Aaron and I were already registered. Last year, Aaron and I ran two half-marathons and we crossed the finish line before our two daughters, sleeping soundly at home, had even woken up. Come to think of it, we go to the gym when our kids are at school. Aaron and I often hit the ski slopes right after the bus picks up Lucy for school in the morning. My kids haven’t seen and may not even know about most of the physical activity and training that goes on in their parents’ lives!

And then… Kasey, our trainer, did something I had never thought to do.   Continue reading