Rhett Seevers never knew the joy of crossing a finish line. He had cerebral palsy and passed away unexpectedly in 2004 at age 7.
But the unfailing spirit of the child lives on in the Runnin' for Rhett Foundation. Thanks to the Sacramento nonprofit founded by Rhett's parents, Randy and Beth Seevers, children and teenagers are given the chance to develop their running skills and participate in races that get their hearts pumping and their faces shining as brightly as Rhett's once did.
The nonprofit provides grants for after-school fitness programs in 30 area schools. The program trains students to run 5K races and focuses especially on those who are underprivileged, at risk for low achievement, obese and lacking physical fitness, and disabled.
In late October, 1,400 students from 24 schools ran the most recent race in downtown Sacramento. The five-week program included about 50 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from Charles Mack Elementary in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Wendy Laining, a Mack fifth-grade teacher, was their coach.
Over the weeks, Laining watched her students grow in endurance and speed.
Emily Chavez, 11, was her "pacer," who always came in first.
"Running is good for you," the sixth-grader said. "It helps you and it's better than push-ups."
The Seevers take joy in helping young people take up the challenge of running. Rhett, their third child, was born in 1997. At 4 months, they were devastated to learn he had severe cerebral palsy. One weekend in 2004, he became ill and died unexpectedly.
Beth Seevers began running to battle her sorrow. On the first anniversary of his death, she raced a half-marathon with Rhett in her heart. Randy Seevers soon joined her in running, and the second year, 35 friends and family members also ran a half-marathon in Rhett's memory.
The group grew to 125 in 2007, and late that year, the Seevers founded the nonprofit.
Today, they own a marathon-training business, and use business revenue and fundraisers to support Runnin' for Rhett. Supporters of the nonprofit are asking Book of Dreams readers to provide funds for T-shirts, wristbands and registration fees to help families who cannot afford the costs of races.
At $15 per person, that would help 333 runners enter races in memory of the brief but inspiring life of a child who could not run or walk, but who left his smile in the hearts of many.
NEEDED: Funds for registration fees and apparel to help young runners enter races in memory of Rhett Seevers.