MICHIGAN CITY — After coming home from the Bolt for the Heart 5K Run on Sunday morning, I realized I had just discovered an iceberg.
The goal of my project is to cover these kinds of running events and try to capture the stories behind the origin of the race and the perspectives and purpose of the race participants. As I began speaking with people, I quickly understood the magnitude of the task. What I saw at Washington Park on a cool and breezy late-summer morning was nothing short of a humbling experience.
One of the first people I spoke with was Julie West-Schroeder. She is the mother of Jake West, a La Porte student who died of a heart condition while playing football six years ago. When she told me who she was, I felt an extraordinary feeling to which I am still trying to find the right words to describe. It was a mix between sympathy, happiness and purposefulness. The range of emotions born in that moment hit hard, and stayed with me as I covered the event.
Sympathy was the easy feeling to understand. Here I was, standing next to a woman who lost her son. She was gracious and happy that I was covering the event. She spoke with a certain empowerment which I can only imagine comes from putting on such an event with a cause as personal as this one.
The Play for Jake Foundation, of which West-Schroeder is the founder, is an organization which gives heart screenings to middle and high school athletes around the area. The screenings are able to detect many heart conditions, including the one that took her son’s life. Her organization teamed up with Franciscan Health and Bolt for the Heart for Sunday’s event.
“This is where my heart is,” said Mrs. West-Schroeder. “My son was a vibrant and active athlete with no symptoms of a heart condition until his sudden cardiac arrest. Our screenings can help detect and treat people who have Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).”
The feeling of happiness came from witnessing an example where hope is a power which can come from grief and sadness. As a parent, I can not imagine what kind of grief can paralyze your mind, body and spirit with the loss of a child. However, I looked at the filling parking lot around me and realized I was covering an event which aims to help people and save lives, and here in front of me was a woman, turning personal tragedy into an opportunity to save lives.
Purposefulness drove me the rest of the event. I looked down to the southern end of the parking lot and saw firefighters from Coolspring Township Fire Department suiting up for the run. I spoke with Chief Mick Pawlik and asked him why he and his crew were there that morning.
“The cause of this event today is important,” said Pawlik. “It’s best to have an AED and not need it, then to not have an AED and need one.”
Pawlik and his crew routinely dress in full gear and run/walk in events such as this.
I spoke with a young man named Hayden Lowe who I coached at Boston Middle School two years ago. The race was his first athletic endeavor he took on since getting a concussion while playing football earlier this season. Lowe and his family were out that morning supporting the cause, as they had personal ties with the West family.
“Jake was a hilarious kid,” said Haden’s mother Natalie. “He would come over before football and play video games at the house. He always had a smile on his face.”
The next person I talked to was saved by an AED back in 2012. Kandace Eapmon collapsed of a heart condition after a seemingly normal day, seven years ago. So this event struck a personal chord for her. Not even sickness could stop her from giving opening remarks at Sunday’s event.
“I woke up this morning feeling sick,” said Eapmon. "I called Pierre Twer (Founder of Bolt for the Heart) at 3 this morning. I probably have a fever and I feel terrible, but I cannot miss this event. It means everything.”
Twer’s organization continues to fundraiser to get AED’s into each police car in the state. They have successfully completed their original goal of equipping AEDs into every Indiana State Police patrol car.
I interviewed a dozen or so participants after Eapmon, none of which were there for personal glory. Instead I talked with nurses such as Audra Bair and her husband, who ran the race because of the importance of getting AEDs into police vehicles throughout the state. I spoke with Frank and Miles Arts, a father-son duo who were running the race because Frank’s wife also helps raise awareness of heart disease and is instrumental in getting AEDs into New Prairie High School.
Of course there was some personal glory gained at the race, particularly for the Salyer family. Joseph Salyer, a 22-year old from La Porte won the overall race with a time of 20:07. His brother Luke, 24, was right behind him. The father of the top finishers, Darin Salyer, 55, who has been running his entire life, won the Masters Division.
Brooke Nack was the overall female champion of the day with a 22:32 time. Nack is the Bolt for the Heart Champion whose goal is to attain Franciscan involvement in the cause. Her hope is that events such as this continue to save lives.
I only had a chance to investigate the tip of the iceberg Sunday, but in doing so my perspective on humanity was positively charged. The people I talked with were there for the betterment of mankind, and for the health of others. I can’t help but think this project may be more about uncovering the meaning of life, than just covering races.