Why We Run - June Edition - Running through grief

Laurie Plaza

We often enter parenthood thinking that our children will outlive us and we will be there to see all of their milestones and accomplishments as we guide their way into adulthood. Sadly, that’s not always the case and sometimes our children are taken from us much too soon.

Erica became a mother in 2007 to a beautiful girl named Ariella. Ariella loved to dance, adored her friends, and lived each day to the fullest. At age 9, she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma (a bone cancer). She and her family fought hard, but in May of 2019 Erica said goodbye to her daughter and held her as she took her final breaths.

People cope with grief in many ways and running has been the catalyst that Erica has used to help her navigate this grieving journey. When asked how running has helped with her grief this is what she had to say, “When running, I can take the time to just focus on my running. My steps, my breathing, music if I'm listening to it, the world around me. I am able to tune everything else out much of the time. But if I need a good cry, or just want to think about my daughter in a safe place, running is great for that as well. I often talk to Ariella during my runs and look for signs. I know she's with me at those times. Running frees my mind and gives me that hour or two a day to just escape life in a way that no other cardio does. Running feels freeing and limitless and gives me moments of peace.”

Erica’s running journey began in high school when she ran cross country and track, but she was also a figure skater so it wasn’t until she entered her college years that running became more consistent. After college she started racing and enjoyed the challenge it gave her and found that it really helped with managing her mental health. When her daughter Ariella was diagnosed, she ran through her treatments, but after May of 2019 she took some time off. After a few months Erica started running again, not racing, but just getting out for a run. In a time when she desperately needed some relief, running seemed to be the only way she could deal with her grief.  

In 2021 Erica signed up for her first full marathon since 2006. She ran for her daughter knowing that if her daughter could endure all that she did, Erica could run 26.2 miles. So she ran for Ariella and ran with the names of children who have died from cancer on her back. In her words, “they had no choice to endure the hard stuff. I could certainly get through a couple of hours of pain.” Erica shares more about her marathon experience in her personal blog: https://lifeafterchildloss.net/the-evolution-of-a-marathon/.

Since Ariella’s death, Erica has been committed to keeping her daughter’s memory and charity alive. While battling her own illness Ariella had a strong desire to help other children fighting illnesses. She came up with an idea to make bears and bring them to children in hospitals. She started Ari’s Bears and before passing Ariella hand delivered bears to 7 local hospitals and respite houses and also mailed bears to children in other states. Erica and her husband have committed to keeping Ari’s Bears alive and expanded Ari’s vision to include raising money to provide grants for childhood cancer research and also providing scholarships to college-bound childhood cancer fighters and survivors.

To learn more about Ari’s Bears please visit: https://arisbears.org/ariellas-story/

To read about Erica’s journey visit her blog: https://lifeafterchildloss.net


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