FAMILY FINISH: My family joined me at the California International Marathon in 2010

FAMILY FINISH: My family joined me at the California International Marathon in 2010

Many of us at Kimco are involved in charitable organizations that hold a special place in our hearts. For me, giving back to other parents is a big part of my life -- not only because I am a dad to five children (three sons and two daughters), but also because one of those children is no longer with us today.

My wife, Brandi, and I lost our fourth child pre-term in 2011. From that experience, I decided to help other parents of preemies in a big way, and this year I founded the Tiny Feet Foundation to do just that. I’ll be running 12 marathons over the next 12 months to raise funds for the Tiny Feet Foundation.

As an avid runner, it’s the biggest running feat I’ve ever undertaken. But more than that, it will be the most profound effort I’ve started to give support, care, and love back to parents like Brandi and me. I thought I’d share my story on our blog to show you how we’re hoping to help families around the country who are dealing with one of, if not the most, difficult challenges they could ever face.

My inspiration

As I mentioned, in 2011, my wife and I were five months pregnant with our fourth child and son. We would name him Rome Strong Turner. (Strong is a family name.) That summer, after a Friday evening out with some friends, Brandi became ill. I remember that weekend vividly because whatever hit her, hit her hard.

By Saturday night, Brandi was taken with a fever and what seemed to be flu-like symptoms. Then her water broke and we were in the emergency room at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento trying to save our baby.

To this day, there is no firm explanation for the infection. The baby was perfectly healthy and would have been until delivery. But after a day and a half, the infection became so severe that it threatened Brandi's life. We were forced to either deliver the baby then and there, or lose both Brandi and the baby.

I recall clearly listening to the medical advice from Brandi’s father, Dr. Andrew Wertz, a highly respected and senior neonatologist who founded the NICU at Sutter Memorial Hospital. I had never heard him sound so professional. I know it broke his heart too, but he was able to hide it behind scientific explanation and facts.

The labor was long. What should have matched our previous three joyful experiences would be slow, sad, and painful. The hardest part was going through a normal labor process, but leaving the hospital empty-handed.

Tiny Feet Foundation is born

After the experience, while Brandi recovered at home, the outreach of love and support from my friends, co-workers and family was overwhelming. What touched me the most was the number of similar stories we heard from other parents. I also kept remembering how my father-in-law supported us on the day of Rome’s delivery. I love and highly respect the man. Anyone who can dedicate 40 years of his professional career to saving premature babies is a hero to me.

Using this experience, and seeing the selfless day-to-day labor of my father-in-law, I decided to form a foundation to support families with premature newborns and those who lose their babies pre-term. I named the foundation the Tiny Feet Foundation.

The foundation's mission is to help parents of premature babies by providing them with preemie diapers, onesies, and other supportive items. Although hospitals usually provide diapers and onesies, they have limited supply, and many parents haven’t stocked up on these enough yet at home.

In addition, many families in California travel from a couple hours away to Sutter Memorial Hospital to see their baby in the NICU. So Tiny Feet also provides gas cards and calling cards to help defray families’ costs of traveling and staying in touch with the hospital.

Thirdly, funds raised through Tiny Feet also helps support funeral costs, even a few hundred dollars per family, for those who lose their baby as Brandi and I did, or after a long battle in the NICU. And fourthly, after losing Rome, we thought there was nothing better to do than create a foundation in his memory, and to honor Brandi’s father.

Marathon-ing for a mission

I plan on kicking off my foundation fundraising efforts by running 12 marathons in 12 months. I am an avid runner. Mediocre, in my opinion, but passionate. I have been running while juggling my family and career since 2007. I ran my first marathon in 2008, and have completed six marathons total. I’ve also run numerous shorter trail and road races in California and outside the state.

So far, I’ve mapped out a few marathons that will definitely be on my schedule. The L.A. Marathon is my first one on March 17, followed by the Eugene Marathon in Oregon on April 28, the Grand Valley Marathon in Palisades, Colo., on May 11, the San Francisco Marathon on June 16, the Deseret News Marathon in Salt Lake City on July 24, the Atlanta Marathon on Oct. 27, and the California International Marathon in Sacramento on Dec. 8. I’ll be adding more to the list as I go along.

For each marathon, I’ll launch a round of fundraising efforts. All donations to the Tiny Feet Foundation can be made online, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to support families of preemies. My goal is to raise $10,000 after a year of marathons.

I’ll be posting updates on my progress on Facebook and my Tiny Feet Foundation blog. I hope my blog also becomes a place where moms and dads of preemies can interact, share their personal stories, and find help and support. I’m excited to see how it grows.

Runner’s regimen

Running 12 marathons in 12 months will be the biggest running undertaking I’ve ever experienced, but I feel it’s doable. The biggest change I’ve made to prepare is my diet. I have a huge sweet tooth, which has made it challenging! But I’m staying committed to eating a Paleo-style diet where I’ve cut down on most carbs and sugars, and eat all-natural, organic foods. I also don’t drink or smoke to keep my body as healthy as possible.

I’m following a strict training method where I scale up and scale down my runs on a weekly rotation. Each week I’m running three to four shorter runs, anywhere from six to eight miles each; a medium run in the middle of the week, which is about 10 to 13 miles; and a long run on the weekends, about 13 to 15 miles. I’ll lean toward the longer end of each run as I get closer to a marathon.

I’m allotting about four weeks in between each marathon to recover. I’m also cross-training with weight lifting to stay strong and other outdoor activities such as climbing and biking. And I have a couple friends who are semi-professional marathoners who are coaching me.

Through this training regimen, I hope to get my marathon time down to about three hours and 15 to 30 minutes. My fastest marathon so far was four hours. I have some weight to lose, but I think I’ll reach my goal with more training and by staying healthy.

My wife will be at the finish lines of all my marathons, and we’ll have our kids there as often as possible, with all the travel. It will be a rewarding experience, and I hope you’ll share it with me if you are touched by my story. It’s all for you, Rome.

  • CATEGORY: General
  • DATE: Thursday, March 14, 2013