Racing with Ruby in the Fifth Third River Bank Run

Mark and Ruby TenHaken. (May 2016)

HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — This isn’t a story about running. It’s a story about Ruby.

Like her name implies, she’s a precious jewel to her family.

“I don’t think people in general understand how much she truly blesses our life,” Mark TenHaken said.

He and his wife, Kelli, began the adoption process in 2007 after he had an epiphany while they were on a mission in Haiti.

“Second night before we left, we were laying in bed kind of just recapping what we had seen for the day, spending some time in prayer, just talking. And I looked at Kelli and I said, ‘You know, I think we should adopt a baby,'” he recalled.

They brought Ruby home to Holland from Ethiopia in September 2008.

“To be honest, we prepared for a healthy little girl. And so all the things we learned about in training were things that a typical child might go through when they deal with adoption,” Kelli TenHaken said.

But Ruby wasn’t exactly what they had prepared for. She has a form of epilepsy known as Lennox-Gastaut. She also has cerebral palsy and what doctors described as global brain scarring.

“What hit me the most was when we went to her orphanage, which was shockingly horrible conditions. I believe that Ruby would not have survived had she gone from the hospital back to that place,” Kelli TenHaken said.

“We picked up our daughter in the ICU — and I use that term extraordinarily loosely — and Ruby was in really rough shape in a lot of ways. She had a skin fungus. She was seven pounds at four and a half months (old),” Mark TenHaken added.

In the face of so many challenges, Ruby’s life has become a series of milestones.

“Just saying, ‘OK, God. If she is like this for the rest of her life, that is OK. We will love her and accept her,'” her mother said. “And now, if she does do something new, we celebrate it like crazy.”

“Ruby is social in her way. And what I mean by that is she loves to be around noise and sound. She likes to be in the room where the people are. You can see it in her face. She kind of lights up and she smiles and she starts talking in her own way,” Mark TenHaken said.

It’s been a whirlwind to get Ruby to where she is now, more than seven years after they brought her home, but the TenHakens wouldn’t trade it for anything, even if it means rest is rarely an option.

“She’s always liked walks … swings, all those sorts of things. She’s always liked movement. So we knew the transition to running would be pretty simple,” Mark TenHaken said.

That was made possible with myTEAM TRIUMPH, a nonprofit athletic ride-along program created to help people with disabilities compete in races. During the 2015 Fifth Third River Bank Run, team members took turns pushing Ruby through the course. She was their captain and they her angels.

“It gives kids and adults like Ruby kind of a voice,” TenHaken said of the team. “It gives them representation in a world that they’re probably rarely represented in. That definitely planted a seed to say it would be fun for me to do it someday.”

Last fall, TenHaken and his brother were selected for “Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge,” an obstacle course competition that will air on NBC starting June 13. His training regimen for the competition pushed him to get in shape and he stuck with it.

Now ready for the race, Ruby’s father will push her through the River Bank Run 25K on Saturday.

“My goal is for me to push Ruby myself the whole way. I’m hoping this is the start of more races to come,” he said.




Fifth Third River Bank Run

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