The Sunrisers Race Towards a New Day for Children with Clefts

If you’re going to travel 4,000 miles to run a marathon, you do it for a cause

The Sunrisers are a diverse group of friends who meet at the dawn of each new day to get fit and change the world.

The group started about 40 years ago when a group of local leaders in Nairobi, Kenya decided to walk together early each morning. The 20 or so friends upped the ante during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting to run together on a track at a sports complex in the city. Maybe it was the quarantine cabin fever or maybe it was the dream of a half-asleep mind, but at some point, someone joked that they should run a marathon together.

In the spirit of improv, someone raised the stakes: Berlin is beautiful — let’s run the Berlin Marathon!

This time, no one laughed; everyone looked to one another with the same thought: Why not?

The challenge was on.

But even this group of highly motivated individuals needed an extra push to start training for a marathon almost 4,000 miles away. “If you’re going to run 42km, you do it for a cause,” Sunriser Rashmi Shah explained.

Prepping for a marathon is very hard. But, for the Sunrisers, the choice of which cause to run for was easy as putting one foot in front of another. Team EMPOWER, Smile Train’s athletic fundraising squad, was the unanimous choice.

“I run specifically for Smile Train because I’m a mom, and Smile Train is helping children across the world smile,” said Sunriser Catherine Karita.

To further inspire themselves to run for Smile Train, two Sunrisers, Rashmi and Kellen Kariuki, visited Gertrude’s Children’s Hospital, a local Smile Train partner. There, they met Nancy, a mom whose baby was having free cleft surgery that day thanks to people like them.

“This has been an awesome visit, very, very fulfilling. [It was] very humbling as well, just seeing the mother… receiving the baby and just giving the widest smile herself because of how happy she was that her baby had been treated. I’m so inspired for the Berlin Marathon, and especially knowing that the money will be going to a very good cause… and is going to make a difference in these children’s lives,” said Kellen.

The Sunrisers arrived in Berlin feeling bright and cheery as the weather on marathon day. The run was tough, as expected, but the Sunrisers were tougher. Shirish Shah developed a painful blister on his toe during the race, “but I decided there’s no time to stop to even put a bandage on; I just decided to run on,” he said.

“At no point did I feel my legs are giving up. Because what was happening was, we prepared,” reflected Rashmi. “And the cause we were running for, it kept reappearing in the mind that this is something we’ve got to promote.”

Fired up inside by thoughts of all of the children and families they were helping and outside by Team EMPOWER’s cheering crew, every Sunriser crossed the finish line.

Their victory was equally a win for children with clefts, as their hustle raised more than $10,000 for Smile Train!

“Finally, having got to the end, you start believing in yourself. And having run for a cause, it was a double-ended benefit: We felt good for ourselves, but we felt good that we ran for a very good cause,” said Shirish.

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