The often used expression “run for your life” took on new meaning in Occoquan on Sunday as over 600 runners and walkers participated in the Washington Regional Transplant Community (WRTC) Race to Donate Life 5K.
As the crowd gathered near the Mill House Museum and awaited the race’s 9 a.m. start, an atmosphere of camaraderie spread among participants who were not only running for themselves, but also for the lives of those who donated and those who benefitted from organ, tissue, and eye transplants.
Friends and family members of donors wore team t-shirts to commemorate and celebrate life, while embracing the bittersweet emotions associated with organ and tissue donation of deceased loved ones.
“This week I visited all the recipients of Taylor’s organs,” said Bill Thomasson, whose daughter Taylor passed away in 2007 at age 18. Thomasson has become a champion of organ donation and a WRTC Advisory Council member.
Thomasson and a team of 24, including Boodoo Ragooneth, 65, of Manassas, the recipient of Taylor’s heart, marched and crossed the finish line together in memory of Taylor.
For Lisa A. Colaianni, 57, working with the WRTC for over 20 years inspired her to become a living kidney donor. Not only has Colaianni given her kidney to a stranger, but her donation has had a pay-it-forward effect.
The son of her organ recipient gave one of his kidneys to a stranger, whose family then donated as well, totaling a chain reaction of six donors since Colaianni’s operation in November 2011.
Colaianni receives notice every time someone is added to her kidney donation “chain.”
Although she initially didn’t want to discuss her surgical decision with her coworkers, her employer urged her to disclose her three-week absence by saying, “You need to tell people and inspire them.” Colaianni has since done just that.
She surprised herself and others as she ran the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run this spring less than five months after surgery. She said she felt greatly blessed by good health and three grown children “who are employed and healthy.” She also noted that her kidney recipient is doing remarkably well.
Three-time cornea recipient Jennifer Porter, 63, said, “I can see, drive, and work. There were a couple of years when I couldn’t do any of those things well.”
Porter, Colaianni, and Thomasson desire to raise awareness about organ donation and relayed sobering statistics: every single day, 18 people die in the United States waiting for a transplant.
In joining forces with the WRTC and the Race to Donate Life, they wish to spread an inspiring message of hope and urge the community at large to elect organ donation.
This is the third year that the WRTC put together the 5K race, although it was held in Occoquan for the first time.
In a moment of pure serendipity, Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta was approached by the WRTC out-of-the-blue a month after he started plans to revive a 5K race previously held in town.
Mayor Porta was quick to stress the importance of this event and of the collaborative efforts of several Occoquan entities, including the police department, Fairfax Water, and several shops that offered discounts to participants.