Alexandra Ford will run a half-marathon almost a year after the passing of Victor "Andy" Andres Pena, a 14-year-old Darien freshman who died last March 25 from undiagnosed myocarditis, a heart infection.
Come March 10, Alex will run 13.1 miles in the Celebrate Life Half-Marathon in Rock Hill, N.Y., to raise $3,000 and awareness for the Myocarditis Foundation.
"I just found out the theme and it reminded me so much of Andy and the date was really close to the anniversary of his death," she said. The 16-year-old Darien High School junior never has completed a half-marathon before; the farthest she has run is 9 miles.
Alex ran track with Andy. The pair also created the Freethinkers Group, a club where students gather to discuss controversial topics.
In September 2012, Alex was interested in running a half-marathon when she stumbled across the Celebrate Life Half-Marathon and she knew she had found the race to run.
Normally, funds that are raised are donated to Citizens Reunited to Overcome Cancer for cancer research. However, Alex has opted to privately raise money to be donated to the Myocarditis Foundation, the only nonprofit organization to direct all its proceeds to awareness and research of myocarditis.
She raised $650 in the last month, and she's hopeful about achieving her goal.
"If we can get that in less than a month, we can certainly raise the money in two more months if we put in more effort," Alex said.
Andy, who was also a swimmer, died suddenly of cardiac arrest after running a mile on a treadmill in Boston before attending a swim meet. It was later determined that he had an undiagnosed case of myocarditis. Andy showed no signs of symptoms prior to his death, according to his mother, Giovanna Pena.
Myocarditis, according to the foundation, is marked by inflammation and damage to the heart muscles. Most cases have no symptoms, which can only be identified by an electrocardiogram or by blood tests to detect any traces of heart injury.
Because of the disease's rarity, more research is needed to determine the best way to diagnose myocarditis.
After her initial research, Alex contacted Giovanna Pena to fill her in on her upcoming plans.
"I was very impressed," Giovanna said. "I knew that they have been very close up to the day that I lost my son."
She added that Alex took Andy's passing "very hard" and remained in contact with the Penas.
"I got to know her nature, her passions and how sensitive and how compassionate a woman she was," Giovanna said. "She was very attentive to us in the beginning of the grieving process."
Giovanna wishes that she could be in attendance the day of the race, but her other son is a swimmer as well and potentially has a race the same day.
However, all of the work that Alex has done is important to Giovanna.
"When we see that he in a way affected people and he touched people and that he inspired people so much, it's very comforting," she said.
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