Wednesday, November 19, 2014

#Champions14


I thought that I had "retired" from blogging a long time ago. Life is busy with 3 active kids, and there never seems to be enough time in the day to think, much less write. But with the once-in-a-lifetime week we experienced last week, I have felt the burning desire each day to just get my thoughts and emotions written out to process the enormity of it all.

Nathan was chosen to be the 2014 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Champion for the state of Florida. It was an incredible honor to merely be nominated by our local Children's Hospital, and it was quite humbling knowing that in this role, he would serve as the ambassador for all pediatric patients who visit the numerous CMN Hospitals in our state. I have to admit, we had a lot of fun traveling around Florida this year attending fundraisers, telling Nate's story, and showing our gratitude to the many organizations who support the cause that is so dear to our hearts! 
The year long ambassadorship culminated in a trip to Washington DC and Orlando that was unlike anything we have ever experienced. Not truly knowing what to expect during this trip, the two phrases we kept hearing was "this will be the trip of a lifetime" and "this trip will be life-changing". Those phrases are often used for drama and flair and have seemed to loose clout over time. So understand my earnest explanation that in reference to the #Champions14 trip we took, those phrases are entirely true and are almost an understatement. 

We are not the same people we were before going on the Champions trip. It literally changed our life in many ways. 

Due to the astounding sponsorship of Delta Airlines, Marriott International, and Chico's FAS, a Children's Miracle Network Champion from every state, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico were given a week of lifetime experiences, celebrity greetings, and a whole lot of fun. These little warriors, accompanied through the week by their National Goodwill Ambassador, Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev, stayed in the beautiful JW Marriott in the heart of Washington, DC, met First Lady Michelle Obama and pet the first dogs, had lunch in the Dirksen Senate Hearing Room and explored the Capitol Building and other National Monuments. One night, they were treated to a preview showing of "How to Train Your Dragon" before it was released to DVD, complete with stuffed "Toothless Dragons" and DVDs for each child and a complete movie theater experience! These Champions paid their respects at Arlington National Cemetery by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in a solemn and extremely touching service, and they later boarded a beautifully decorated Delta Charter flight with the absolute friendliest pilots and flight attendants as we all flew together in high spirits to Orlando, FL for the second half of the trip. 
After experiencing an emotional water salute from the Orlando fire department upon our plane's arrival,  the Champions were welcomed to the Disney Coronado Springs Resort with thunderous cheers and applause from hundreds of supporters awaiting their arrival. It was all any of us could do to keep from breaking down emotionally at the warm welcome! (Which, if we are being honest here, I completely soaked the shoulders of one of our Florida CMN Hospitals Associates with tears directly after this moment.) The next day was chocked full of so many highs...the medal ceremony with Nick Cannon, Miss America, and Delta Executives that honored each one of our Champions for their courage in tackling their medical challenges, meeting several celebrities, the mothers and grandmothers being honored with a jaw-dropping shopping spree and afternoon of pampering by Chicos, White House Black Market, and Soma Intimates, an afternoon where we were able to personally thank the amazing people behind each of our supporters for CMN Hospitals, ending with a Disney Character dinner and a personal concert by Lady Antebellum where the Champions were invited to join them on stage for a couple of songs. 
If that wasn't enough, the trip concluded with a magical day at Disney's Magic Kingdom, where the Champions participated in a dance party, were the Grand Marshals of the Disney Main Street Parade and finished out the night enjoying the ever popular Very Merry Christmas Party. 

So, when you read the above paragraphs, you can totally understand why I say that it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But what makes it a "life changing" trip? 

Well, that would be the people who accompanied us on every step of every day. These families from each state...I simply can't write about our moments and memories with them without tearing up. These children are the definition of "Champion" in every sense. Each and every one of them. They have defied odds, proven medical odds wrong, and fought through treatments, trials, heartache, pain and pure exhaustion with every fiber of their being. They have each done so with grace, resilience, and an incredible positive attitude that inspires every person who is privileged to cross their path. And what do they want to do in their free time? Help other kids in need by bringing the much needed awareness and funds to our Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. All of this is what makes each one of them the epitome of a Champion. 

And the families behind these Champions...I looked into the eyes of these families and instantly saw a reflection of our own journey. Each of us have been on a similar, yet different, path. I saw their worry, their fear, their hearts that have been broken and mended a hundred times. I saw their joy, their wonder, their delight in seeing how much their Champion has accomplished. Without words, their eyes told stories of the nights they lay wide awake worried about the future, the times they crouched in a shower to sob because no one could hear them there, the internal pain they felt when their child was looked at differently or the tinge of jealousy that erupted from watching the complete normalcy of friend's lives.

But in the midst of the struggled that lay deep in the eyes of our new friends, we saw the pain overshadowed by the intense joy they felt each time they were able to hug their child. We saw elation in watching them experience so many amazing opportunities in the span of a week. We saw the overwhelming love and emotion well up in each parent as they sat back and watched 54 children who have met various challenges throughout their lives all meet, connect, and instantly become best friends...for life...for ever. All because of Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. 
When we didn't feel like our hearts could take anymore, we started to get to know the others who were with our families every single step of the way on this trip: The CMN Hospitals Staff, the photographers, the videographers, and Miss America...people who have devoted their lives to helping others. Each of these individuals were born with a servant's heart, and we fell in love with them all quickly and deeply. 
So when I say that we are not the same as we were before this trip, it is because of each of these Champions, families and individuals. All together, we created ONE family...the #Champions14 family. Being home to reality this week has been much harder than I ever imagined. I feel like pieces of our heart reside in every single state in our country now. But in the end, I am grateful that we know precious people all across our nation who desire to further the momentum of Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. 

We are #Champions14 forever.




7 comments:

maria barreiro on November 20, 2014 at 4:10 AM said...

Thank you for representing the State of Florida! I love you guys! God bless!

Loving Family said...

This is beautiful! We are so happy that we had the opportunity to meet so many great families, your all will be missed much but we are thankful to hold on to so many great memories! Love you guys much!

lolly block on November 20, 2014 at 8:28 AM said...

Our family couldn't agree with you more! This trip was just the tonic we needed as we got through the last of 8 weeks of waiting to have the test (tomorrow) that will tell us if Max (Colorado) is out of remission.
This trip gave such joy to my son, his super-sibling, my exhusband and I! We loved meeting the other families and knowing that sharing our story and that of the boundless generosity of the CMNHospitals staff and network will help others as we have been helped.
No matter what happens with Max's test tomorrow, we have wonderful memories of this experience to draw strength from, and 65 new families to add to our already strong support base.
Thank you for sharing the story of our trip so eloquently-and for giving me another venue to express how thankful we were for the experience and mindful of the honor given to us when we represented our state and hospital.

Page Mossage said...

I am in tears reading this as I feel exactly the same way. You have a wonderful way with words!

Matthew DeFoor on November 20, 2014 at 7:21 PM said...

It was an absolute honor to meet you, your son, and the rest of your family on the Orlando leg of your trip. I was one of the Extra-Life people that was there playing video games for CMN.

peterocc on November 21, 2014 at 11:31 AM said...

It was honor meeting you and Nathan. My wife and I were the ones that asked Nathan to stamp our arms (and forehead) during the Book signing and pin exchange.

Allyson/HBMomof2 on November 27, 2014 at 2:43 AM said...

Even if you are not blogging as often, I still think about your family and pray for you as often as I remember. What a wonderful blessing to have a trip of a lifetime. Nate deserves every bit of recognition of his daily triumphs. Thank you for the wonderful update. There couldn't be a better ambassador that him and your family. Will always keep praying.

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