Sunday, April 16, 2006

Boston & 100 - Sophie's Story

This is the story of young Sophie Hartman. She has an important story that may do more than inspire fundraising to save the lives of others; Sophie might just inspire you to live, like she inspired me…


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Sophie Hartman: Guardian Angel
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It was a gorgeous, sunny autumn day in November, but from the inside of the Pediatric ICU at the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital, much of its splendor was lost on me. I was visiting young Sophia Hartman and her mom Vivian, my third visit in a week. To say Sophie (as we all called her) wasn't doing well was a bit of an understatement. She had more tubes, probes, wires and equipment hooked up to her than the nicest surround sound HDTV entertainment center I'd ever dreamed of. I don't mean to minimize her condition; it was just such a horrific sight that you had to try to think of something else to even bear it.
Sophie had been diagnosed over a month before (10/7/04) with leukemia, still the number one cause of death of children in the United States. After a month of aggressive chemotherapy, her condition had only worsened. She was so heavily medicated that she couldn't speak most of the time. If she could nod and shake her head to communicate, it was a good day. But those good days were behind us now. Sophie's nurse Ester had informed me that the leukemia was a very rare form, loosely described as "Refractory Leukemia", meaning it was not responding to any of the treatments they had administered. This cancer had a life of its own and it was taking the life of a very precious 11-year-old girl rapidly. I fondly remembered the day in mid-October only a few weeks prior, when Sophie and I had talked about the finer qualities of Hilary Duff (her favorite singer) and Britany Spears (my favorite bubble gum pop queen). I came to visit as much as I could, as much to try to cheer Vivian up as to see Sophie. I would sit at her side, tell her running stories and goof off.
Sophie was a runner. There was a picture of her finishing a race above her hospital bed, a huge smile on her face and a full head of hair, a day now long past. I would tell Sophie of my dream to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. I would tell her about my races leading up to the California Int'l Marathon (in Sacramento), and I brought her a 2nd place medal I won at the Puente Hills Turkey Trot 10k right before Thanksgiving, which we hung on her IV stand. I told Sophie to fight, that her mind and spirit could keep her body alive. I told her that it was just like running the marathon, when your body begins to break down and you're so tired, you just make up your mind to keep on going because you know you will be smiling at the end. I told her that I believed in her and I knew she'd beat this (even though there was this terrible feeling in my gut, wondering if it was really possible). Ester told me the statistics… Sophie had a 1% chance of surviving 'Refractory Leukemia'. Even more disturbing; she had a meager 3% chance of seeing the outside of this ICU again. It seemed hope was nearly lost. But Vivian and I never gave up hope.
Sunday morning December 5th arrived, and it was time for me to make my 3rd competitive attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Only 26 months prior (10/13/02), I had fallen 12 seconds short of qualification at the Chicago Marathon with a 3:11:11, a mere half second per mile slower than the necessary 3:10:59 to qualify. On race day there was hope in the air: hope for qualifying for a long-time dream, hope for life, and hope for my little angel Sophie back at UCLA. I ran a solid race, a tactical race, maybe the best race of my life… until Mile 21. I hit the wall a little after 9:30am, and I hit it hard. I had this painful sensation, like there was a little jackal enjoying a ride on my left leg, sticking the teardrop muscle of my quad with a syringe every time my leg hit the ground. After a mile of very fast limping, it was clear my hope for qualification today was nearly gone. I crossed the Mile 22 mark in 7:48, a solid 33 seconds per mile slower than I could afford. I needed to run this 26.2 mile stretch at an average 7:15 pace, and I now faced the prospect of needing to run even faster than that for the final 4.2 miles. After running the first 21 miles (at a 7:15 average) somewhat fresh, the prospect of 4.2 miles even faster than that in agonizing pain, the worst pain I have ever had running, was a devastatingly discouraging feeling. Makes you want to run marathons, doesn't it!?
At that moment I thought of Sophie fighting for her life. I remembered I had told her to keep fighting no matter what, and I felt like such a fraud. I was crying, but I couldn't tell if it was the pain in my left leg, the sobering reality of not making my goal, the thought of letting Sophie down or a combination of all three. I suddenly felt the strength of anger… how could such a sweet little girl die such a horrible death!? I told Sophie I would run for her and I would be damned if I didn't give every last bit of me to that race. I ran faster and after another mile my IT band felt like that jackal was now sticking a dull rusty knife in the outside of my left knee. Mile 23 – 7:15! I ran harder and harder, I desperately had to make up time, I had to do this for Sophie. The miles ticked by, 7:16, 7:14, 7:04… I had less than a quarter mile to go and I might still make it! As I turned the final corner I read the clock… 3:10:01, 02, 03, 04… I was going to make it!!! I crossed the finish line and collapsed into my fiancĂ©e Kate's arms. I had finally done it!!! I was fulfilling my dream of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I couldn't wait to get back to LA and share the news with Sophie!
Tuesday afternoon, December 7th, I walked (or limped) as fast as I could to Mattel Children's Hospital on the UCLA campus. I hit the button for the 3rd floor and darted to the ICU. Most of the nurses and staff had come to recognize me from my frequent visits and they smiled and checked out the cool marathon medal I sported around my neck. When I arrived at the ICU I scurried to the back where Sophie's private room was… my heart sank when I realized it was not Sophie, she was gone. I rushed back out of the ICU fighting to hold back the tears. I pleaded with a nurse to tell me where she was; that she was okay… the nurse calmly responded that Sophie had been transferred to the east wing. Her condition had improved! She was out of the ICU!!! I sprinted down the hall to get to her room! Numerous doctors and orderlies told me to slow down but I didn't care. I rounded the corner and I saw Vivian, Sophie's mom! After a big hug, she asked me how the race went. I told her I qualified for Boston and she then shared with me Sophie's marathon story…
"Sunday," Vivian said, "I reminded Sophie that it was your race day and that we had to pray for you that the angels would carry your legs from 7:00am to 10:10am. At around 9:30 in the morning, seemingly asleep and totally quiet, Sophie started to talk to you while her eyes were still closed. She started to say, 'faster Jimmy, run faster!' "
Chills shot down my spine. I pulled out my running log and looked at my mile by mile splits… it was 9:32am when my left leg gave up on me and my pace slowed. It was then that Sophie had spoken to me and I had the strength of 1,000 angels to continue through great discomfort. When I told Vivian this, tears filled her eyes. "Sophie said she ran WITH you, Jimmy." Maybe we were each other's guardian angels?
Less than a month later I was sitting at Vivian & Sophie's dinner table, enjoying a hearty dinner with their family. Sophie had been discharged from the hospital just before Christmas to enjoy the holiday & New Year's at home, since her condition had so dramatically improved. A month after that, she was diagnosed in complete remission, a miracle and memory that I shall always cherish. Sophie would call me 2 – 3 times a week and this joyful girl made me laugh every single time. She had this lightness about her, a zest for life that everyone needs and very few possess. Sophie represents so much for me and for those who knew her; she is the powerful embodiment of hope, the power of love and prayer.

Yet Sophie's story doesn't have a happy ending. After nearly 6-months of remission, the leukemia returned and Sophie was re-diagnosed with AML (Acute Myelogenous Leukemia). Sophie never left the hospital again. On October 14th, 2005, we lost 12-year-old Sophia, a young girl that we will never, ever forget. For those of you who needed another reason, this is why I run. Running is my way of maintaining hope. My belief that someday soon, we'll have eliminated these terrible diseases so beautiful children like Sophie can grow up to be beautiful people, giving the world their own form of joy, hope and love. My fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society may be a small piece of the overall picture, but it's an important piece, because I strive to inspire others to do the same. The last marathon team I coached raised over $239-thousand dollars (a new SGV team record)… and I am joyfully reminded that we are all in this together. So much more together than we ever realize… we are fellow humans, doing what we can to enrich humanity. We must each do our part to keep hope alive.

In memoriam Sophia Hartman (4/11/1993 – 10/14/2005)

With Love and Relentless Hope,
Jimmy
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