Run to Break Through – The Perfect Day

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It was July of 2020. I had just read an article about Ryan Clifford who ran across Long Island to the Brooklyn Bridge and thought about how incredible of an achievement that is. Inspired by the stories of Dick Hoyt competing in races with his son Rick, I envisioned myself running while wheeling clients of ours and continuing to make a positive impact on the special needs community. Although never being in the shoes of someone with a physical disability, I’ve imagined the freedom that participating in events like that must give them; The feeling of no limits, no restrictions, and a completely inclusive environment.

The next day, I walked into our then office of Breakthrough and said to the team that I wanted to run across Long Island while wheeling our clients in an adaptive stroller while fundraising for an organization that supports this community. The first responses I got were, “You can’t do that, it’s not safe” and “No way! You can’t do that, you’re crazy”. I smiled because I was reminded of a lesson I’ve learned through the challenges of running my own business and pushing towards your dreams. Every single human on this planet carries around a tremendous amount of self limiting beliefs. In that moment and throughout the training process, I not only heard limiting beliefs about the fact that this could be successful, but also people saying limiting beliefs about their own capabilities. Whatever you say is true. It’s true because you believe it to be true. But what if everyone questioned what they told themselves? There were times this goal seemed much bigger than my level of capability, but if I didn’t question it – if I didn’t try, we would never know what was possible. So, in the face of disbelief and worry, I trained anyway. Every day I got up and completed what I needed to prepare for this challenge and what I didn’t realize was it was about the journey anyway; Not the completion and the finish line, but the commitment, passion, and purpose behind the hours and miles put in throughout the 8 months of training.

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This past year was challenging for every single one of us. Not a single person made it out of this time without having to adjust, adapt, and change something about our lifestyles or ourselves. For our special needs community, some faced truly detrimental challenges. Services switched to telehealth, schools switched virtual, “not medically necessary” surgeries were delayed, amongst a whole list of additional ways this community and families needed to adapt. Parents and caregivers in this community already wear many hats, but they then were expected to balance spinning plates in every direction, too. Parents and caregivers had to (and some still have to) act as therapist, school teacher, employee for their typical jobs, and also act as mom or dad. These families fight daily for services and necessary equipment, and this entire past year became an extra fight. Routine was ripped from these families and these children and caused them to again have to adapt and adjust. Yet again, this community proved its resilience and the ability to see the positives despite the challenges.

When planning my goals for 2021, I wanted to bring the community together to celebrate their resilience and to create an experience together that would prove their potential, their ability to adapt, and their strength, is limitless. I decided that I would combine my dreams of wheeling our clients in a race, with something extraordinary and to highlight a local organization, Angela’s House, who serves the medically fragile community access services, grants, equipment, and most importantly support.

After 8 months of training, finally September 3rd rolled around. I was set to start at 11pm to run through the night with a goal of finishing in 20 hours, by 7pm on September 4th. I had the opportunity to stay with a client’s family in Montauk the day prior to ensure I got enough rest. It became real the moment my dad and my brother showed up as crew that evening. Napping at that point was not possible.

The excitement at the start line was palpable. 11pm hit and we began. It was peaceful through the night and it was the perfect weather. My crew car led the way and we were supported by the Suffolk County Sheriff Department and Long Island Road Revival Auto Club as our paramedic team for safety. By midnight we were running through the town of Montauk where people were bar hopping for Labor Day weekend. If there was ever a moment to realize you’re a little different than the crowd, that would have been it. I laughed at the time, but in reflecting on it, am so grateful that I have found my purpose.

Mostly through the night, it felt like it flew by so fast but my legs felt heavier than usual. As flat as Long Island is, we hit so many hills that it took more out of me than I anticipated earlier on in the day. We hit mile 37 and my boyfriend Kevin had biked with me from the start. His legs cramped and he had to rest so it left me between mile 37 to mile 40 to be the only one out there. All of my support were in the crew cars and all I could think about was wishing I was riding in there, too. I knew I had part of our Breakthrough family waiting at our 7am stop, mile 40, but those 3 miles brought out my first point of struggle. I knew the pain I’d experience because of my training runs, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that you still feel the pain. Disheartened from struggling earlier into the race than I intended, my dad got out of the car to run alongside me and help me through to the first official stop. I’ll never forget the green Run To Break Through shirts I saw waiting ahead of me. The first sight of my Breakthrough Family was one of the best moments of the day. It was in that exact moment, that I realized you create the energy within your own heart. I was energized and overwhelmed that our Breakthrough Family, Lori and Rich woke up to drive east just to run alongside of me so I would have support early in the day. They were both unsure of how long they would be along for the run but both ran further than they ever expected to go; Rich 16 miles, Lori 6 miles.

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Each sea of green shirts that I saw waiting at each stop, I was reminded of the sense of community and purpose behind each step. Seeing Michael, I was reminded of the three hour sessions he fought through to be able to take his first steps. Seeing Nate on his scooter, I was reminded of the work he put in just to be able to balance himself on it so he can keep up with his friends. Seeing Brooke, I was reminded of the daily fight she goes through but smiles and giggles anyway. Seeing Sean, I was reminded of the challenges he pushes through each week to work to be able to stand and walk again. Seeing Dino, I was reminded of the times he fought to learn to push up through his arms and lift his head up despite how hard it was. Seeing Savvy, I was reminded of how scary it was for her to be pushed at first and how she worked through it to achieve her goals. Seeing DJ, I was reminded of her fight through hip pain and determination for a better quality of life. Seeing Alaya, I was reminded of the endless surgeries and tests she’s had to endure but the smile and joy that she carries with her everywhere she goes. Seeing Shane, I was reminded of how positive he is no matter what is thrown his way and how he’ll try whatever it takes to reach his goals. Seeing Sofia, I was reminded of the tears she endured to work through her challenges and those first steps she took many years ago. Seeing my Breakthrough team, I was in tears. I was reminded of their support to serve Breakthrough’s mission and of the heart and love they put in every day at our office.

I was with them for their struggles and they were with me for mine. We were a team. I was brought back to my heart and the limitless energy that lives there.

I expected the pain and the fatigue. What I didn’t expect was so many other people overcoming their own Breakthroughs that day; A client rode 7 miles – the most bike miles she has ever been able to do; My best friend ran her first marathon distance; A client’s mom intended to ‘get through’ a few miles and ran 6; A client’s father hoped to get through a few miles and ran 16. My father completed the last mile after not running in many years. It was so nice knowing that I had so many pieces of my family out on the course with me that day.

It’s so hard to put into words the experience of that day. For the first time in these clients’ lives, they got to experience what it was like to be part of a race and to be part of something much bigger. It was more than I could have ever imagined it to be and it wouldn’t have been done without the support of so many people along the way.

Every day at Breakthrough our clients are challenged; We challenge them to push past perceived limits to reach their goals and improve the quality of their lives and their families lives. I hit my walls and pain during that run too, but it was nothing in comparison to the light and energy that these families brought to me and bring to Breakthrough everyday. I thought they would get to borrow my legs for a day, but what I didn’t know is that they would be the ones carrying me through with their energy and spirit.

September 4th, 2021 changed my life and it was just a glimpse of the impact Breakthrough will have in this community one day all over the globe.

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Christine Astarita