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'It was in the darkest time of my life that Running for Premature Babies, was born.'

“I felt like it was up to me to make sure that their short, but very inspiring, lives mattered.”

For the eighth year in a row, I’m organising a team to run in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) Half Marathon on Sunday 18 May. Not only because I love to run, but because I’m determined to keep the memory of Henry, Jasper and Evan, my first-born triplet sons, alive and to give other premature and critically ill babies like them the best chance at survival.

Where it all began

It was in the midst of the darkest time of my life that my team, Running for Premature Babies (RFPB), was born. We had just buried our last remaining baby triplet, Jasper, 12 weeks after we’d said goodbye to his brother Henry, and six weeks after we had let our little Evan go. My husband, Ash, and I were left heartbroken but determined that our precious boys would never be forgotten and that something good would come from their lives.

My little boys weren’t here anymore but I was still their Mum. I felt like it was up to me to make sure that their short, but very inspiring, lives mattered.

RFPB all began with Ash trying to help me get through the lonely days without our babies. I had a lot of time on my hands as I was still on maternity leave, so Ash suggested I get fit and train for the upcoming SMH Half Marathon, and use it to raise funds for the Royal’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Henry, Jasper and Evan’s memory. I thought this was a brilliant idea and started to train. I asked a few friends to join me, and then decided to cast the net wider and see if I could find a few other runners to join us.  I put up some flyers in local cafes, sharing my story and asking if anyone wanted to join me to raise funds in my sons’ memory.

What happened next was totally overwhelming!  Nine months to the day after Jasper died I toed the start line of the SMH Half Marathon with a team of 98 runners. And, that year, we raised $80,000, buying four new humidicribs for the RHW’s NICU!

That’s when I knew that Henry, Jasper and Evan’s legacy could help to save the lives of other babies just like them. So, the RHW Foundation set up the Henry, Jasper & Evan Smith Trust Fund, to support the equipment and research needs of the Royal’s NICU. Each year my team, RFPB, raises funds for this Trust. We’ve now been going for 7 years – and in that time 1500 people have run on my team and, together, we’ve raised just over $1 million! These funds have provided 26 pieces of life-saving equipment and helped the NICU achieve a ‘best in the State’ level of equipment.

It’s so humbling to think back to how we started and see where we’ve come. It makes me feel very proud of my three little boys and what their lives have achieved.

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Why people join my team

Mum, Dad and Jasper together.

What I find so amazing is how our reach goes beyond raising money. Each year runners of all abilities join my team, from our very fastest runner who runs in memory of her baby twins and set a team record of 82 minutes last year, to people who’ve never run before. These people tell me it’s Henry, Jasper & Evan’s story that inspired them to do something they never believed possible. They lose weight, develop a love of exercise and become the fittest they’ve ever been. One incredible woman has shared her story about how RFPB has helped to cure her depression. It’s amazing to think that my little boys have had something to do with this!

I also love the fact that RFPB gives other grieving Mums and Dads the opportunity to do something positive in their babies’ memories. Each year people join the team to run in memory of their own precious baby, sibling, niece, nephew or Godchild. We have people running in memory of babies lost as long ago as 1956 and as recently as a few months. I also love that RFPB brings together parents of children who’ve survived their premature start to life. We even have runners who were born prematurely – one was born at 24 weeks, 29 years ago and she is a true living miracle, and an absolute inspiration to everyone on the team.

Best of all are the parents of premature babies who’ve directly benefitted from our RFPB fundraising over the past seven years. And there are many of them.  Particularly poignant is Phoebe who now runs with us every year. Phoebe’s three year old triplets spent their first months using the new humidicribs and monitors provided by RFPB. To know that my boys helped this precious trio to become the happy, healthy and cheeky toddlers they are today is truly incredible.

We also have people who have no connection at all to babies or prematurity but simply love to run in support of a good cause and meet new, like-minded people.

My wonderful support team

What makes our team extra special is the generous people who volunteer their time to make sure the RFPB experience is a fantastic one. We have an exercise physiologist, Mandi O’Sullivan-Jones, who has trained our team for five consecutive years, and it’s this fantastic training program that draws so many runners to our team. I also have a team of trainers, a web designer, a photographer, a copy writer, a committee, and an endless list of others who help by donating their expertise. Of course I also have Ash who is endlessly patient with me when RFPB takes over my life!

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We are also fortunate to have wonderful partners Running Bare and Tommee Tippee who so generously sponsor and support us.

Our new fundraising focus

This year I’m excited that our fundraising focus is moving from equipment to prematurity research. Our goal for this year’s team is to raise $200,000 to enable a Research Fellow at The Royal to conduct critical research to help improve the survival rate of premature babies. As Professor Kei Lui, Head of The Royal’s NCC says, “There are many areas of prematurity that we’d like to understand much better, and to improve the outcomes of these babies, so to be given the opportunity to employ a dedicated research fellow to remove some of the mysteries surrounding prematurity is like a dream come true. We are so grateful to Sophie and her team. Their generosity is truly amazing.”

Why I need your help

An overwhelming response.

I can’t do this alone!  This year I’m looking for 400 people to join my team, either to run the 21.1km half marathon or to team up with a friend and run it as a relay (14km / 7km split).

When you join RFPB, you’ll receive a free Running Bare team singlet and cap and, to get you over the line, you’ll be supported with a fantastic and free 16 week training program for all running abilities, from complete beginners to die hard runners. This includes fortnightly long runs and weekly interval sessions in three locations across Sydney, led by a professional exercise physiologist and experienced runners.

Plus, suggested training sessions for the remainder of each week. There’s something for everyone. We also have regular social get-togethers including a team after party with prizes for our most outstanding and inspirational runners.

So please, grab your runners, old or new, and a friend, young or old, and join now to help me reach my new goal.  You don’t have to know anyone else who’s been affected by prematurity or pre or postnatal loss. But, you do need to love running, meeting people, having fun, making life-long friends and, whether you want to or not, improving your performance and becoming the fittest you’ve ever been.

How to make it happen

Jump online and visit my new website: www.runningforprematurebabies.com to find out more about this incredible cause, the amazing team and how you, too, can become part of it all and help me kick start my quest for prematurity research. What are you waiting for? I’d really love to meet you.

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