112 Miles for 112 Days in the NICU

February 12, 2018

running shoes, team hand to hold

Lord help me, I hate to run!

Seriously, I really want to be a runner! I want one of those cool 26.2 car window decals. I want to experience that runner’s high people keep telling me about. I set a goal to run 112 miles in one month in honor of my children and the number of days they spent in the NICU. Every day for the past three weeks, I have gotten up early and laced up my super cute new jogging shoes. I have uploaded great music lists that were promised to provide the groovy beat needed to motivate my feet and my brain to run no less than three miles a day. And while I may LOOK like a runner, I feel more like a wounded bear lumbering around the track. Maybe my body just isn’t built for it? Or maybe it is just a symptom of growing up with asthma, so I have a mental block once I start breathing heavily after jogging 20 feet.

My daughter has been a constant source of support, cheering me on and coaching me on stretching, breathing and posture techniques. She keeps telling me over and over, “You are almost there,” or “You got this mom,” and “I am so proud of you.” And it helps so much. On the days I run without her, I feel like my shoes are full of lead. I limp through the exercise feeling exhausted and beaten down without the energy or willpower to push through to the end. I really need her there to remind me that I am stronger than I think I am.

Kelli Kelley Team Hand to Hold

Kelli after a grueling 4-mile run.

I think it is the same for a NICU stay. New NICU parents need peer mentors who can encourage them and support them throughout their journey because a NICU stay truly is a marathon, not a sprint. Even the most dedicated and equipped parents falter along the way when the long days in the NICU start to take their toll.

As a proud member of the Austin Gives Miles program, each year Hand to Hold hosts a water stop during the Austin Marathon. We pass out cups of water and Gatorade, ring cowbells and shout out words of praise as the tired and thirsty runners pass our station. And every year, we witness friends and family members of the athletes jump out onto the course to run a mile or two with their loved one. If you think about it, most marathon runners could not complete the full race without these provisions of water and encouragement — nor would they want to.

During our most difficult life experiences we rely on the strength of others to get us through. That is what Hand to Hold is all about. We are there during the darkest hours of the NICU when parents’ worlds are falling apart, and we lift them up. We hold their hand and tell them we will run alongside them until they finish their race.

So maybe I will never be a marathon runner and I may never qualify for the 26.2 window decal, but I sure am proud of the Hand to Hold logo sticker on the back window of my van, a symbol of my dedication to help others reach the finish line.

Hats off to all the runners willing to lace up and run on behalf of Team Hand to Hold. While I think you are all a bit crazy, I really do admire the fact that you choose to run day after day, despite sore muscles, blisters, rashes and bad weather. You are amazing!

To support Team Hand to Hold and NICU families, you can make your gift through February 28 at crowdrise.com/teamhandtohold.