Run Kenley Run: Making Happiness Possible

My story of making the impossible possible as a runner began on February 25, 2013 when I heard the worst words a pregnant mama can hear – “There is no heartbeat”.  My daughter Kenley Evelyn Wood was born silently into this world at 36 weeks and my life shattered into a million pieces.   

There is no pain like the loss of a child, and I spent the next year or two figuring out how to be human again. It felt utterly impossible.  I worked hard to take all of my broken parts and sew them back together into something resembling a whole person, but I wasn’t whole.  Even as my second daughter, Piper, was born happy and healthy, I still couldn’t comfortably wrap myself around the gaping hole Kenley had left behind. 

Februaries were especially difficult.  I managed to drag myself through them each year, but it kept getting harder and harder to do.   The third February without her almost broke me completely.  I was losing myself in grief, and I could feel myself slipping away.   The weekend of what should have been Kenley’s third birthday, I watched my sister cross the finish line of the 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon.  That morning was the moment things began to change.  The crowd, cheering for runners of all abilities, was electric.  I felt a positivity I hadn’t felt in years and I knew what I needed.  

I needed a win.   I needed to prove to myself that my body, ravaged by grief and two back to back pregnancies, could accomplish something amazing.  I needed to find a way to fight through the darkness that had settled around me – and I knew this was it. 

When I told my family I wanted to train for the 2017 Princess Half, they all thought I was out of my mind.  I am one of the least athletic people on the planet.  I ran in high school gym class under the threat of failing, and that’s about it.   They underestimated my determination.  

I bought some shoes and some running capris, downloaded a Jeff Galloway app, and started training – a 30 minute run twice a week and a long run on Saturdays.   I created the hashtag #runkenleyrun for all of my running posts, both to share my journey with my friends and to keep myself accountable.  With my end goal in mind, my runs became more than just physical.  They became my own tribute to Kenley.  Thinking about what I was trying to accomplish in her memory helped push me forward.  On days when it was a struggle, when my asthma made me slow down or when the bunions on my left foot decided to hate me, remembering the reason behind it all kept me going. 

As I ran, I imagined what it would be like to cross that finish line the day after her fourth birthday.  I imagined the cheers and the excitement.  I imagined the sense of accomplishment I would feel – the pride I could associate with my body as opposed to the shame and guilt it was saddled with.  

On February 26, 2017, I crossed the finish line of the Disney Princess Half Marathon in 3 hours, 22 minutes, which is slow to many, but was a feat of physical and emotional strength for me. 

And in crossing that finish line, I was able to move the memories I had of her from a cold and silent hospital room to a celebrating and cheering finish line.  She was no longer someone I failed, but someone I honored.  She was my victory.  Because of her, I had become a runner – and I continued running in her name.   I kept training and ran the Space Coast Half later that year, improving my half time by 9 minutes. 

On February 25, 2018, on her fifth birthday, I ran the 2018 Disney Princess Half Marathon in 3 hours, 9 minutes, and it was this race that really made me realize the difference running had made in my life.   Because for the first time in 5 years, I was happy on my daughter’s birthday.  Actually happy! 

Two years prior, feeling anything but miserable on her birthday seemed impossible.   Running, albeit slow and clumsily, made happiness on a February 25 possible!   It gave me back my joy.  It gave me back my sense of self, and it helped me see that my body and I weren’t the enemies I thought.  It turned me from a mother overwhelmed in her grief, to a mama with a purpose – and it gave me a place for that grief to go.  I am pretty sure had I not decided to start training for that first half, I would have continued my downward spiral.  I would have continued to drown in the darkness of grief, and I am scared to think about where I may be today. 

Running helped me be a better mother to both of my daughters.  I am able to deal with my grief in a healthy way so I can be mentally and emotionally present for the daughter in my arms, and I am able honor the memory of my daughter in the stars.  It is because of running that I am mostly whole again.

So, I continue to run because it makes my impossible possible.  2019’s Princess Half will see me with six half marathons finished before her sixth birthday.   My goal one day is to run a half in under three hours, but honestly, simply finishing is enough.  Every step I take, whether in a race or on my own, is a step towards constant healing.   I pour my heartache into my running shoes and I flatten it on the pavement I leave behind – and my happiness, which once seemed so impossible  - is possible once again.  


*For more from Rebecca Wood, you can check out her blog One Pink Balloon.