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The pair will run with more than 60 others under the banner TeamMitoCanada to raise awareness and funds for the little-known and understood mitochondrial disease. Antonakos’s son Nicholas was born with the disease, which causes energy-producing mitochondria in the body’s cells to malfunction. She says it’s incredibly difficult to diagnose because the mutation can occur anywhere in the body.
Nicholas is blind and has suffered seizures every day since the age of three months, in addition to gastrointestinal problems and developmental delay. Antonakos says it was a shock to learn that her first and only child would have to deal with such medical trauma.
Doctors haven’t found the mutation yet, but because of his symptoms Antonakos says they believe Nicholas’s brain is affected.
“My son is a real joy. He’s easygoing, he doesn’t complain, he’s happy. I have that to embrace. He shows us every day that he’s still learning, and that gives you hope.”
Nicholas attends preschool three days a week and will go to an elementary school in the fall with the help of a teacher’s aide.
Antonakos says it will be positive for Nicholas to be around other kids and for them to be around him, too. She says she hopes this will teach his peers to be accepting of people with special needs from a young age.
Mitochondrial disease affects at least one in every 6,000 people, from very mild to very severe cases. There is no cure, but some symptoms can be treated with medicine and physical activity can improve mitochondrial function, according to the MitoCanada organization.
Antonakos, who sits on the organization’s communications and awareness board, says funds go toward research and support for families dealing with mitochondrial disease.
Ottawa Race Weekend and the Calgary Marathon kick off on the same weekend, May 26 and May 27, with Team MitoCanada runners geared up for both events. The organization is well-represented with athletes donning a variety of branded gear not just in running events, but also in triathlons and other sports.
The team was launched last fall by Kyle McLaughlin, an emergency room doctor in Canmore, Alta. Although he has no personal connection to mitochondrial disease, a conversation struck up at a race prompted him to do something,Antonakos says.
It’s the same desire to make a difference that has McNish, a mother of four and runner for the past 10 years, reaching out to help. McNish and her family live on an organic farm in Brockville.
“I heard the Mito slogan, ‘running for those who can’t,’ and it really resonated with me because I can run,” she says.
“I can’t fix Nicholas and I can’t really help Sarah. We don’t live very close, so I can’t be there to help her in her daily struggles. What I can do is I can run.”
Running was a driving force in overcoming postpartum depression, saysMcNish, and it helps her to set a positive example for her kids.
It’s a way to push past your limits. “You reach those small goals and you realize they are attainable,” she says. “You realize that you can achieve things, you can do something that’s good and that’s healthy for you.”
McNish is trying to raise a dollar for every kilometre she runs, including training and running the marathon.
The goal is $1,125, and she says she’s raised 70 per cent of that so far. Team MitoCanada’s goal is $10,000 at Ottawa Race Weekend.
Though McNish has been running for a decade, Antonakos, who lives in Arnprior, took it up about a year ago. She says she’s inspired by her friend’s resolve to do this for Nicholas.
“Alyson’s pushing herself for my son, so I can push myself for my son as well,” she says. “It means the world to me, it really does.”
Nicholas will be there at the race, wearing a Team MitoCanada sweatshirt and cheering for his mom.
Anyone registered for Ottawa Race Weekend can join Team MitoCanada by emailing Julie.Drury@mitocanada.org.
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