Adoption advocate Suzi Gurry shares about the training, dedication and heart behind Holt’s runners in the 2015 Chicago Marathon.
You could say I am somewhat of an inspiration junkie. As an artist, I’m forced to pay closer attention than most to the highs and lows of life to continue a reason to put the paintbrush into the paint and onto the canvas. Like most people, success stories inspire me. I am on a constant search to uncover where inspiration lies and often find myself at the tail end of a success story. With age, I find that I am drawn more and more to the part of a story that comes before the trophy is engraved and before the medal is handed over. For me, the most memorable part of a success story is the beginning and the middle. The influence lies in the struggle and the training, the part where we sweat and cry and push through pain with grit and raw determination. I am highly motivated by the stick-to-it-iveness of ordinary folks reaching for something extraordinary for a profoundly personal reason. Success itself is not an inherently beautiful thing, but the reasons we reach for it and go for it can prove to be utterly captivating.
For over 20 years, I’ve watched the Chicago Marathon from the sidelines. After watching the 2013 marathon just a few blocks from my home, it occurred to me that the struggle and patience and perseverance of a marathon runner is much like the struggle and patience and perseverance it takes for an adoptive parent to endure an adoption. Just like the long training runs necessary for a marathon, adoptive parents are required to make it through a long process that takes hard work, persistence, patience, love, inspiration, heart and determination. Adoption is not a sprint — it’s a challenging, heart-wrenching, soul-searching and seemingly impossible marathon that is not for the faint of heart.
Standing alongside those runners in 2013 was an AH-HA moment for me. I knew right then and there that creating a marathon charity team for Adoption-Link — a domestic adoption agency near Holt’s Holt-Sunny Ridge branch in Chicago — made perfect sense. As a board member of Adoption-Link for over five years, I knew we needed a fresh approach to fundraising that moved beyond auctions to reach a new audience. Creating a marathon team was the perfect fit. The day after the 2013 marathon, I contacted the director of charity teams for the Bank of America, and by January 2014 I was attending marathon workshops and had applied to be an official Chicago Marathon team. After recruiting runners who were longer on passion for adoption than distance running skills, now came the hard part: the brutal training and the intense fundraising. Oh boy!
As the training began, I was on spring break with my family, feeling a huge wave of fear wash over me after my first six-mile run. I was hurting, scared and doubting my decision to run a marathon. What in the world had I done? How could I run 26 miles when running six miles knocked me off my feet and into a soaking tub? Then, I remembered the WHY. I remembered that I was at the beginning of the training and needed to find a way to stay in it past the middle and for the long haul. I thought about the many years of watching runners and recalled their inspired faces. I channeled the inspiration I get from my adopted nieces, nephews and buddies and seared their images into my head. Then, I laced up again and got out there again and again and again. Seven months of running and a few twenty-mile-long training runs later — I was ready. The beginning and the middle was over, it was time to go for it! Together, our team ran a total of 131 miles that day and raised over $22,000 for Adoption-Link. It was an overwhelming and unbelievable success.
Planning for the 2015 Adoption-Link Chicago Marathon team was already well underway when Adoption-Link sadly announced its decision to close its doors after two incredible decades of providing loving homes to over 1,000 children. With Adoption-Link runners choosing Holt as its preferred partner, we were set to share funds for programs that held tremendous meaning to us.
Our donation to Holt went specifically to Holt’s program in China for children affected by HIV/AIDS. The inspiration and motivation to donate to this was two-fold. First off, my dear friend Rose McBride, Holt’s senior director of international programs and development, shared news of the program with me — well before she knew there were plans of Adoption-Link joining forces with Holt. Knowing I had been a supporter of Holt’s Peace House in Beijing, China and that I had traveled to China with a Holt crew, Rose knew I was all ears. She has a way of making people pay attention. Supporting Holt’s AIDS project in China was on my radar from the moment Rose shared the news. Making a connection to the project via our marathon team months later was a deliberate choice for the agency to look back at Adoption-Link’s history and connect the dots to what lies ahead, which is the second reason we chose to support this program…
Adoption-Link opened its doors over 20 years ago with an HIV+ program called Chances by Choice. It was a point of pride for our founder, Margaret Fleming, to direct positive attention towards children living with HIV/AIDS when the world was not yet so welcoming and compassionate. Margaret adopted two HIV+ children herself and went on to adopt a total of 13 children in over 20 years. That level of compassion and kindheartedness deserved recognition and our marathon team wanted to do our part on that front. So, just as our marathon team was forming, Adoption-Link simultaneously announced its closing and many of our families in the adoption process moved to Holt to finish their adoptions. A solid friendship was born between the agencies. It felt like the perfect way to honor Margaret and to end the legacy of Adoption-Link by lending our support to Holt’s program for children with AIDS in China. There was a feeling of coming full circle by adhering to Adoption-Link’s longstanding mission to serve the most vulnerable children in the world and reaching out to give all we could give. Simply put, supporting Holt’s China AIDS program felt like the most meaningful way for Adoption-link to end — by giving from the heart, just exactly the way it started.
With just three of our seven-team runners able to run the marathon due to a variety of injuries, we still raised almost $18,000 for Adoption-Link and Holt. Again, another HUGE success! In just two years, we raised over $40,000 to benefit children and adoption programs in Haiti, China and the United States. Our team started out as weekend runners with profoundly personal reasons to run the marathon for adoption. Passion was the wind at our back, pushing every single one of us across that finish line. I am immensely proud of the success of our marathon team but even more inspired by the birth mothers, interim caregivers, adoptive parents and children who motivated us to get there. I’ve learned that when inspired hearts unite for a common good, absolutely anything is possible. We ran from the heart, and we made it!
Suzi Gurry | Chicago, Illinois
Donations from the 2015 Chicago Marathon team went to AIDS Care China Children’s Home in the Guangxi Province of China. The 30 children in the home receive daily medical care and educational support where they can thrive without suffering from the stigma of HIV. You can read here about Holt’s work in a similar care home for children affected by HIV/AIDS in China.