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Miles to Heaven and Back: Running the Boston Marathon in Memory of My Son

Running has always been a part of my life. I enjoy working out and running always clears my head while also helping me to de-stress. For many years, I ran as a form of exercise, but after one fateful day, running became my therapy.

On October 29, 2011, my husband Eric and I lost our son, Tucker Joseph Critchley, to infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He was a day shy of six weeks old. Tucker was born on September 18th, 2011 and was a healthy 8 lb 1 oz little guy. Eric and I were relishing our new lives as parents and spent our days doting on our son. When Tucker was four weeks old, something changed. I knew that something was wrong because he stopped eating as much as he normally did. I took him to the pediatrician’s office four times that last week and was sent home the first three times. Finally, on the fourth visit, Tucker’s PCP decided to run some lab tests and take some X-rays. When the results came in, I was told that everything was “off” and that they were rushing Tucker to Children’s Hospital in an ambulance.

Miles to Heaven and Back: Running the Boston Marathon in Memory of My Son

We arrived at Children’s and after hours of tests were told that Tucker had acute lymphoblastic leukemia which, in infants, has a cure rate of less than 5%. The disease occurs by random chance and is extremely rare—one in a million to be exact. Less than 24 hours after being admitted to Children’s Hospital, Tucker passed away in my arms. I cried so much that salt crystals lined my eyelashes. I didn’t know what to do with my arms because for weeks they held my newborn baby and suddenly he was gone. My heart felt like it had been twisted and torn and I knew that my life would never, ever be the same.

We were still sitting in the family room of Children’s Hospital when I made the decision that I had to do something great, something amazing in Tucker’s memory. I decided to train for the 2012 Boston Marathon. I wanted to raise money for cancer research in hopes that other families would not have to experience the pain of losing a child to cancer.  My husband, Eric, and I raised $60,000 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society that year. We bonded with our team members who had also experienced the tragedy of cancer and shared our story as we ran. I ended up stopping training when I found out that I was pregnant, but Eric successfully finished the 2012 marathon and I cheered him on from the finish line.

Miles to Heaven and Back: Running the Boston Marathon in Memory of My Son

After having two more children, I decided I needed to finish what I started. I still felt compelled to run the Boston Marathon for Tucker. I applied to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training and was in awe when I got the call that I was accepted onto the 2016 team and that I was the very first person accepted. I set my fundraising goal at $10,000, but by April—thanks to the generosity of family, friends, and local businesses—had raised over $16,000. There were many, many times that I wanted to give up along the marathon course. I was hot, my feet hurt, I was thirsty. It was during those times that I thought about why I was running and who I was running for, and I just had to keep going. I crossed the finish line with my arms held high, a smile on my face, and Tucker in my heart.

Miles to Heaven and Back: Running the Boston Marathon in Memory of My Son

Although the 2016 Boston Marathon is complete, I continue to run as a way to clear my mind. During a crisp, cool morning when I see a blue jay or a beautiful sunrise, I feel Tucker’s presence. I know that he is smiling down on all of us and is proud of what we have accomplished in his memory.

 

Miles to Heaven and Back: Running the Boston Marathon in Memory of My Son

Stories like Tucker’s are why we decided to create a limited edition line of cancer awareness t-shirts, available in the Runkeeper Store.  $1 from each t-shirt sold will go to the Massachusetts chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  To read more about LLS and the fight against blood cancers, visit Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Ashley Critchley

About the author:
Ashley Critchley

Ashley is a mom and marathoner, inspired to run by the sudden loss of her son Tucker to infant acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She and her husband Eric have two children and have raised over $75,000 for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s Boston Marathon team.

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