Health and Fitness Column

Running as a family can be a lifesaver

By John Taylor | Jun 11, 2013

Anybody who knows me would probably have a few choice adjectives to describe my personality. The terms hyper, fast-talking, waves his hands like a five-year old, and a horrible-but-willing dancer may be used to verbalize my somewhat pleasant disposition.  But I am also easily moved when it comes to families who make a commitment toward health and fitness to help prevent the untimely death of their loved ones.
One such family is the DeLeon’s of Jersey City, New Jersey.  Victoria DeLeon, the Dean of Students at BelovED Community Charter School in Jersey City, contacted me and asked if I would be interested in running with her family at the 3rd Annual New Jersey Sharing Network 5K on June 9.  Though I love running 5K races, what peaked my interest about this particular event was why Victoria and her family chose to sign-up.
“About seven years ago, my dad found out he needed a kidney transplant, and he was on dialysis for quite some time before he found an organ donor,” said Victoria DeLeon, whose father, J.D. DeLeon, was at the event cheering on his family as they crossed the finish line. “The (New Jersey) Sharing Network hooks up organ donors and recipients, and they guide those who need transplants through that whole process. They helped my father, and he now sits on their board and helps other people who need transplants to receive them.  We are at the 5K every year. We sign-up and donate money as way of giving back, because they did help out my family a lot.”
I was also surprised how many participants there were at this race, because it has only been around for three years. According to the New Jersey Sharing Network website, 1,526 runners completed the 5K, making it one of the largest racing events in the tri-state area. But Victoria believes this amount of participation shouldn’t be shocking.
“There are definitely more people now than there were during the first year and second year, but when you go through a transplant, something that is so life-altering, you want to give back and you want to be a part of it,” said Victoria DeLeon. “The families that come and participate have had that first-hand experience with organ donation and really want to be a part of it, and they make sure they bring friends and family.”
Though this weekend’s 5K raised $649,425 for organ donation, Victoria admits that her family has been involved in running races together for a number of years, mainly to support each other overcome treatable illnesses.
The commitment of the DeLeon family to give back to an organization that helped them through the difficult organ transplant process and to support a family member who is fighting a potentially deadly ailment is commendable. Not only did Victoria’s brother make lifestyle changes to treat his diabetes, but he had the full support of the entire family. However, Victoria does admit she benefits from her family’s fitness activities as well.
“If I didn’t have my brother and sisters running with me, running the 5K would be so much harder,” Victoria DeLeon admitted. “It’s definitely harder for me to exercise when we don’t have the 5Ks, but when I know my brother is running because a 5K is coming up and I want to beat him, it really fuels me and motivates me, and it makes it easier to workout.”
I’ve always been an advocate for family fitness. So many times, parents get busy with other commitments, and sometimes physical activity doesn’t get prioritized. Like the DeLeon family, I find exercising with friends and family keeps me motivated to maintain a training regimen, and gives me the push I need through the actual event.  For this reason, I always urge families to try different activities until they find one or two that everyone wants to participate in on a regular basis.
Of course, Victoria’s little brother did beat me in this race. It was such a brutal defeat, he was standing at the finish line for nine minutes before my little girl, Molly, and I completed the course.
What is the proper etiquette for telling a family you want one of their members tested for performance enhancing drugs?