Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Story of My NASA Social TESS Launch Experience

"5"- My breathing intensifies...
"4"- Tears fill my eyes...
"3"- My hands tremble...
"2"- The silence is deafening...
"1"- It's finally about to happen...

When I was 7 or 8 years old, my parents took me to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center in Alabama.  The majority of my space travel and exploration knowledge until that point had come from watching Star Wars and Star Trek with my dad, so it may have been a tad skewed from reality but I was in love with it regardless.  I remember that day well; flipping switches and pressing buttons on a shuttle control panel while imagining the exhilaration of being thrusted into the atmosphere from the launch pad, pushing off with as much force as my scrappy little legs could muster on the lunar jump simulation ride, and wearing a perma-grin as I watched a movie about the planets through flimsy blue and red cardboard 3D glasses.  Just one day at that space center, and I had decided that I was either going into space, working for NASA, or at the very least, participating in a part of the adventure by witnessing a launch first-hand.

I don't have pics from that trip but this was me around that age... I wasn't kidding about the scrawny legs! ;)
Fast forward about 30 years.  While scrolling through Twitter on a random Sunday evening, I came across a post from NASA that caught my attention.  It turns out, NASA Social chooses up to 40 social media influencers to come to Kennedy Space Center and participate in 2-day events culminating in the viewing of a launch.  I applied for the first launch listed and was not selected.  But because I don't give up easily (some call it stubbornness, I call it tenacity), I immediately applied again for the next event; the launch of TESS: THE PLANET HUNTER.  While that sounds like the name of a formidable comic book villain, TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) is actually a satellite containing a set of cameras which will discover millions of new planets over the next two years, some of which may contain or support life!!  SO COOL!!

I included in my application a plan to involve the students of my school and beyond by creating a Facebook group for the event that all of our staff, parents, and others could join.  I wanted to share my love of everything space related with as many people as possible and essentially create an entire generation of little bitty space nerds, just like me.  On the first afternoon of our Spring Break, I got the e-mail announcing that I had been selected and my inner space nerd completely geeked out.

Being the Type A person that I am, I headed toward Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral with my carefully packed suitcase, plenty of healthy snacks, print-outs of key e-mails and directions, a playlist full of meticulously chosen music, and all the positivity I had in me.  But as usual, things didn't go according to my plan.  I didn't hear my alarm on the first morning (thanks a lot hotel dehumidifier with jet engine decibel levels!) and I almost missed my check-in at Press Accreditation!  Luckily, I'm a morning person so I woke up on my own and made it just in time.  As we boarded the bus for the best field trip of my life, my near panic turned quickly into sheer joy and excitement.  This was it, an experience I had hoped for since that fateful day in Hunstville back in 1988.  And it was all about to begin.

Our first day was relatively short and sweet.  We gathered in the NASA News Center Auditorium for a meet and greet and NASA Social Briefing Live Show.  This was where we met several of the key players in TESS's development and mission planning.  Scientists, engineers, and more from all over the country were gathered at The Kennedy Space Center to witness the culmination of their creation and hard work.  It was exiting to observe the vast diversity of the population both in the audience and on the stage... a theme that would resonate strongly throughout the entire experience.

After the Live Show, we were given parking passes and tickets to The Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex and sent out on our own for the rest of the day.  I connected with a small group of NASA Social participants and we headed into the park for lunch and an afternoon of learning and fun.  We explored the Space Shuttle Program and Atlantis exhibit, rode the Shuttle Launch Experience (which simulates what astronauts feel when launched into space!), and visited the Heroes and Legends exhibit where we learned what truly makes a person a hero.

While everything we saw was memorable, the part of the afternoon that stuck with me the most was seeing the memorials to astronauts whose lives had been lost.  I fought back tears as I walked the hallway amongst photos, memorabilia, and plaques.  Then I reached the memorial for Christa McAuliffe and the tears flowed freely.  For those who don't know, Christa was a teacher and the first civilian to literally reach for the stars.  She was onboard the Challenger Shuttle when it exploded above the launch pad in 1986.  I actually lived in her dorm at Illinois State University where, like Christa, I studied to become a teacher.  She is a true American hero.

Photo credit: Wikipedia 

Day 2 was the big one... tour and launch day!  We boarded the bus bright and early and while we were all adults, I'm certain there wasn't a soul on that bus that didn't feel like a kid about to enter the largest candy store they'd ever seen.  Our first stop was Swamp Works (NASA Robotics Lab).  We were very limited in what we could take pictures of in there, but I can tell you they are working on some truly amazing creations... including a 3D printer that will use metals pulled from Martian soil to create the very walls the Mars colonists will live in!!

Next up was a visit to Pad 40 and TESS.  Being only a couple hundred yards from the Falcon 9 rocket that would be exploding off that very launch pad in mere hours with TESS housed in the top was a truly incredible experience that goes beyond words.

The next compound on our agenda is still one of the most mind-blowing sites I've ever had the honor of seeing firsthand; Pad 39b, the launchpad which will eventually see the launch of the SLS (Space Launch System) Mars missions.  The sheer size of the pad coupled with its 'clean pad' concept and the realization that this is the last thing the Mars astronauts will see on Earth was both awe-inspiring and humbling.  Can you imagine leaving Earth in the name of science with the knowledge that you'll never return?!

After lunch in the NASA cafeteria and a Q&A session, we headed off to the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building).  It's the largest building by volume in the country and the building I was most anxious to see.  As I walked in through the "mouse doors", the sheer volume of the structure nearly overwhelmed me.  I started to think about all of the shuttles, rockets, boosters and more that had traveled in and out of this very building and my emotions got the better of me yet again.  Challenger, Columbia, Apollo, and so many more names went through my head as I stepped silently among the 21-story high walls.  We even saw the bay where they will be piecing together the SLS (Space Launch System) for the Mars missions.  It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie and in fact, part of Transformers 3 was filmed here!

It was on the bus traveling from the VAB to our next stop (Launch Control Center), when we got the news.  The TESS launch scheduled for just 2 hours from then had been scrubbed, and would probably be delayed for 2 days.  I was shattered.  I had known all along that this was a possibility but had convinced myself that it wouldn't really happen.  Being a public school teacher, I'm limited in my finances and in how many days I can take off... and I had already hit my limit on both fronts.  I tried my best to fight back the tears, but failed miserably and fell on the receiving end of several comforting hugs from sweet people I had met only the day before.  We finished our tour and were sent on our way.

What happened next only reaffirmed my belief that there are good, kind people all around me.  All that night and into the next morning, people from both my classroom back home and from the NASA Social group did what they could to help enable me to stay.  People offered me beds to crash on in their hotel rooms, free meals, and more.  Despite having a take 2 days without pay from work, I was able to stay the extra 2 days for the launch of TESS thanks to several angels in my life whom I will never be able to thank enough.

To my many new NASA friends and especially those who made it possible for me to stay for the launch... THANK YOU for your friendship and kindness!!
And so the time finally came... we lined up on the NASA Causeway overlooking the water with TESS and the Falcon 9 rocket looming quietly a mere 2 miles or so away.  I had waited almost 30 years for this moment and was having a hard time processing that I was actually here and this was actually happening.  It was mostly silent as we listened for the final countdown.  And then it happened:



The rocket rose smoothly into the air and the sound came about 15 seconds later... roaring over the water with a deafening crackle unlike anything I had ever heard before.  Tears flowed freely down my cheeks as I witnessed history being made.  The delay had made this moment even more special because I had almost lost it.  It's like when you go to the circus and the trapeze artist misses a trick.  Then he or she climbs back up, tries again, and nails it.  The audience that was politely clapping for the acrobats before is now on its feet screaming in a standing ovation.  TESS got her own standing ovation that night as our little group cheered and cried and celebrated together.

What hidden secrets will TESS uncover during her mission?  What new worlds will she find and will they contain life or the potential for it?  Where will we go with our newfound knowledge?  I don't have the answers yet, but I know one thing for sure; I am eternally grateful to NASA Social and to all of my new NASA friends for this experience... and I genuinely hope I get to do it all again someday!

Live Simply, Run Swiftly, and most importantly, Dream Big my friends!

Friday, March 30, 2018

New Kids on the Block: Anxiety, Confetti, and How They Changed My Life

If you happen to listen to the most amazing podcast on the planet, 'My So Called Whatever', then you've probably already heard the condensed version of this story.  But since I got a lot of positive feedback and encouragement from listeners, I decided to blog the full story in the hopes that it might inspire someone else.  My NKOTB history is a unique blend of anxiety, positivity, hopefulness, and self-awareness.  And it all started with a scrawny little 9 year old and a sweet, little voice on the radio.

PART 1: I'll Be Loving You Forever

I first discovered The New Kids on the Block like so many young girls did, in 1989.  I heard "Please Don't Go Girl" on my little black and grey Sony radio and fell in L-O-V-E with the sweet, angelic voice of young Joey McIntyre.  Now, those that know me well are probably spitting out their Blondies by Jenny at that comment because everyone knows I'm a die-hard Jordan Girl (with strong Donnie tendencies... we are ALL Donnie girls after all!).  But yes, in the early years it was all about lovable, curly haired Joey.  If I'm being honest though, it was more by default than anything else.  He was the only one I thought I had a shot with since he was the youngest... and I was only 9.

Can you spot the New Kids watch and button?  I never left home without either!

I can remember doing all of my weekly chores just to earn New Kids posters, buttons, slap bracelets, and my totally awesome pink, plastic watch with the guy's faces plastered across the band.  My very first poster was one of the band that I cleaned out my entire bedroom for.  I was positively giddy with excitement as we drove to Sam Goody in the mall to pick out the poster and while my dad helped me to hang it ever so precisely between my windows where Joey and his Boston bandmates had the perfect lighting.  I can also remember memorizing exactly how many seconds I needed to forward-wind and rewind my cassettes to get to 'Step-By-Step', 'Hangin' Tough', 'The Right Stuff', and 'My Favorite Girl'.  I would count the clicks and know exactly where to stop the tape and press play.

It was in 1991 during their 'No More Games' tour that I had my first chance to see them in concert.  Unfortunately it was determined that I was too young to go to a concert yet and I had the lamentable experience of being the only one in my troop to show up for the Girl Scouts meeting that night, because every single girl was at the concert!!  My troop leader, bless her heart, did her best to make the night fun for me.  But ultimately I was heart-broken.  Making God's Eyes from twigs and yarn just didn't compare to seeing the loves of my life perform on stage.

Here's the catch though; looking back, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to handle it anyway.  If you've read my post on how I use running as therapy, than you know that I have dealt with anxiety throughout my entire life.  I often got (and still sometimes get) overwhelmed by large crowds, lots of noise, and being a new and unfamiliar situations.  I used to call my parents crying to come pick me up from birthday parties and school dances when I got overwhelmed.  I had no way of knowing this at the time, but it would be a full 26 years before I was able to see The New Kids on the Block live!

PART 2: The Whisper That Grew Louder

Inevitably, the New Kids on the Block broke up.  I don't actually recall it happening but I remember missing them.  And I clearly remember years later, watching in awe of their bravery as Jon and Jordan talked about their anxiety on Oprah.  I couldn't help but feel a connection to them as they sat tense and uncomfortable in those iconic chairs.  The episode aired right around the time that I was becoming more aware of my own anxiety and it was oddly comforting to hear the Knight brothers talk about their own struggles.

When the group got back together in 2008, I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about it at first.  Part of me was ecstatic to hear new music and maybe finally get to see them live.  But another part of me wanted to remember them as the iconic boy band from my childhood with the catchy pop hits and questionable style choices (rattails and mullets and overalls... oh my!).  I never imagined they would be so popular the second time around, or that my future experiences with them would be so life-altering!

As much as I wanted to see them at that time (and to see Jordan during his Unfinished Tour), the stars didn't align for me until this past summer during The Total Package Tour.  I found out that I was going to be in Chicago at the same time that NKOTB was going to be touring there.  So I called up my friend Kenlyn and asked her if she wanted to go.  It had been almost 30 years and it was time for me to face my anxiety and see what I was capable of overcoming.  Most people don't know this, but that concert in Chicago would be the first concert of that kind I had ever attended!

Since we're both public school teachers, we went with the cheapest tickets available which meant we were in the back row of the highest balcony.  As the New Kids rose up from underneath the stage and began to sing "Give me one more night to love ya...", I cried.  I literally cried.  For 29 years I had waited for this moment and it was even more amazing than I imagined it could be.  Notes were sung, dance moves were performed, confetti fell, and I had never been happier... or less anxious.  Despite the Boston boys looking like sexy little ants so far below, Kenlyn and I sang and danced like there was no tomorrow and my preteen obsession with NKOTB was reignited.

I hadn't even gotten home from that trip yet when I contacted my friend Jaimie about going to see the guys again in Raleigh a few weeks later.  This time around I decided it was worth shelling out the money for floor seats and we ended up on the aisle right by the B-stage.  We stood a few short feet from Jordan as he swayed his hips to 'Block Party', and rushed over with the crowd as the guys took the B-stage for 'Summertime', 'Games', and more.  Jordan smiled right at me at one point and I miraculously captured my blurry unicorn on camera.

As they made their way back down the aisle toward the main stage, I got a quick hand squeeze from Joe, then Donnie, and finally my dear sweet Jordan.  I'm not gonna lie, I seriously considered chasing after Jordan to profess my undying love for him, but the sight of the hulking bodyguard following him brought me back to my senses.  And I never washed that hand again!  Just kidding, I'm a special ed. teacher and I wash my hands at least 20 times a day.  But I think of those hand squeezes fondly and often.  And the best part of all; with the exception of one brief moment about halfway through the concert, each new song washed my anxiety further and further away.

PART 3: Thankful

What happened two days later ended up being a turning point in my life, and I owe it all to NKOTB!  I was still riding the high from my concert experience in Raleigh when I decided on a whim to look on TicketMaster and see where NKOTB were performing next.  The answer was Charlotte, just 2 and 1/2 hours away from me.  With 3 hours left before showtime, I took a chance and found a single front row ticket available for an insanely low price.  Fate.  I purchased the ticket... then immediately began to feel those all too familiar pangs of anxiety.  How on earth was I going to drive to Charlotte and sit in the FRONT ROW of a concert completely by myself?!?  I could feel the panic rising in me.

But... if those last two concert experiences had taught me anything, it was that I was capable of handling more than I ever thought possible and that the Blockheads at NKOTB concerts are the most amazing, genuine, kind, and supportive people around.  So I pinned on my "I love Jordan" buttons, jumped in my car, and headed to Charlotte without a second thought.  Only for you Jordan, Donnie, Danny, Joe, and Jon!

As the night wore on, I made 3 new friends, danced my butt of, sang my lungs out, got two winks and huge smile from Jordan (swoon!), and felt absolutely zero anxiety at all!  I learned a lot about myself that night, and it was life-changing in the best possible way.  My only regret is that I didn't take any confetti home with me.  That confetti is a symbol to me now... of my strength, my courage, and my self-confidence.  But in my elation at the end of the night, I made the mistake of emptying my purse of it's tissue paper cargo instead of bringing it home with me.  Oh well, there's always next time...

It was only a week after that last concert that I decided to really throw caution to the wind and sign up for the NKOTB Cruise!!  It would be my first time on a boat, first time out of the country, first time traveling by myself, and first time actually meeting the New Kids in person.  Talk about testing my limits!!  I even decided to tie a fundraiser for Remember Betty into the cruise and ran a mile on the boat in honor of breast cancer patients and survivors.  Had I not gone to that concert by myself in Charlotte, I would never have convinced myself I could do all of that.  But I had, and I did.  And the rest is history (you can read my 4-part cruise recap here on the blog!).

Fast forward several months and I have now made countless friends from all over the country (and even a few from other countries) that I wouldn't trade for the world.  Do I still have anxiety from time to time?  Of course!  But it's easier now that I know what I'm capable of overcoming and knowing that I have so many Blockhead friends that love and support me.  So thank you Jordan, Donnie, Joe, Danny, Jon, and all of my new friends... you may never know this, but you have all positively influenced my life and I am a better person for it.  May all your days be filled with confetti!!  #spreadloveandlovewillspread #loveeternal #BHLove #Thankful #NKOTBForever

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Why Running is My Therapy

If you know a runner, then you've probably heard at least one of the following statements before:

"Running is my therapy",

"I'd go crazy without my daily runs", 

or my personal favorite, "I run because punching people is frowned upon."  

Until about 6 years ago, I thought those nutty runners were just exaggerating.  How could something as sweaty, difficult, and boring as running be therapeutic?!?  But then I started running.  And you know what?  It's true.  It's all true.  Running has become a form of therapy for me and helps me through my anxiety, my daily stresses, and my worst days.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't have much to complain about in my life.  I am healthy, have a full time job, have loving friends and family, and adore the area I live in.  But I do have a great deal of anxiety, which I've dealt with since I was very young.  And everyone has the occasional bad day/week/month or stressful situation.  So how does running as therapy work for me you ask?  Let me explain...

Running is Music Therapy-
One of my favorite parts of running is that I can put in my NON noise-canceling earbuds (gotta stay safe on those trails!), turn up my music, and tune out any stressful thoughts in my head.  What I listen to on any given day depends on my mood and it varies greatly.  I have multiple running playlists on Spotify that range from upbeat pop music to get me moving, to movie soundtracks and musicals I can sing along with, to NKOTB (yes I have a whole running playlist that is nothing but New Kids on the Block... don't judge!).  I also love listening to music that brings back fond memories like the Disney-themed playlist I used when I was training for/running the WDW Marathon!

Of course there are also those days when I just need some peace and quiet so I don't use any music at all.  I especially love running like this when it's drizzling outside.  As you can probably tell from my blog title, I enjoy running in the rain.  There is just something so indescribably peaceful about splashing rhythmically through the puddles while listening to the raindrops pitter patter on the surrounding leaves,  pavement, and dirt.

Running is a Real Life Snow White Experience-
You may have noticed from the photos in my blog that I like to run on paved trails, usually surrounded by lots of trees and nature.  I relish the feeling of being transported when I'm running, almost as if I'm in another world far from the one I actually live in.  Running amongst the trees allows me to achieve this feeling of escape from my daily stressors without actually having to leave home.  I'm lucky that I live in an area that has several running trails like this.

The best part of running in this environment is that I often encounter various animals while I run.  I've even had a few come close enough to me that I could touch them, although I never do because I want to respect their personal space and I don't want to scare them and get bit or scratched.  I often talk to them as I run by and sometimes they look at me as if they want to reply.  I'm probably making that up, but it makes me feel like Snow White when they do that, so I'm sticking with my theory!

Running Does a Body (and Mind) Good-
We've all heard it before... exercise is a natural anti-depressant/anti-anxiety pill/cure for insomnia/etc.  And while this may not be exactly true (running alone will not replace medication/therapy/etc. for those who truly need it), it does go a long way to alleviating the symptoms of anxiety, depression and more.  I am not a medical professional but I can tell you from experience that running does in fact release endorphins that make you feel good.  The cardio aspect of it can also help you lose weight, gain strength and increase stamina... all of which can lead to better mental health.  I always feel more energetic after a good run and it helps me sleep better too. 

While there are multiple physical benefits to running, the more important facet to me is that it makes me feel happier, stronger, and better about myself in general.  Plus, there is something to be said for the rush you feel after completing a particularly challenging run.  I always feel like a total bad-ass after running a new long distance, over difficult terrain, or in extreme temperatures.

Running is Good for the Soul-
Running is not only excellent for your body, it can also be incredibly satisfying for the soul.  I do a lot of running for charity for this reason.  It gives my running a greater purpose than just doing something for myself.  (Read my previous post if you're interested in learning more about running for charity.)  Running for those who can't or in honor of donors helps me push myself further than I would be able to if I were just running for myself.  I sincerely believe that I would have dropped out of my first full marathon at mile 18 if I hadn't been running it for children with cancer.  Remembering who I was running for helped me through those last few miles when I really wanted to quit... and now I am able to call myself a marathoner!

This is not to say that there is anything wrong at all with running for yourself!  It's just a personal preference for me to run for charities sometimes.  There is absolutely no judgement if you don't run for a charity.  You are still doing something wonderful for your body and mind and whether you know it or not, you are probably presenting yourself as a positive role model to someone!

Running is Social/Me-Time-
Some people prefer to run in groups, and others (like me) prefer to run alone.  There is no right or wrong way to run when it comes to who you are with.  It all comes down to your personal preference.  I have tried running with friends and joining running groups and I enjoyed the social aspect of those experiences.  But when it comes down to it, I like my running time to be 'me time'.  I enjoy being alone with my music, my thoughts, my steps, and nothing else.  If you're more of a social butterfly or want the distraction of having someone to talk to while you run, you might find more peace in running by joining a local running group or finding a friend to run with.  To each his/her own!

Running by myself gives me a chance to reflect on and react to the way I'm feeling on any given day.  If I'm in a good mood, I am running to celebrate.  If I'm feeling sad, I am running to alleviate the pain.  If I'm frustrated, I am running out the anger.  And if I'm feeling anxious, I'm running to relieve my stress.  Whatever I'm feeling, running is pretty much always the answer for me!

So there you have it, why running is my therapy.  Does it work for everyone?  Of course not.  Will it replace medication or professional therapy if you need it?  No it won't.  Is it worth trying regardless?  Absolutely!  If nothing else, you're getting a good workout and who knows... you just might discover a whole new version of yourself.  It worked for me!  Now get out there, put one foot in front of the other, and see where it takes you.  Happy running!!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Running for Charity (Tips, Tricks and How I Ran for the National MS Society, Kellsie's Hope Foundation, and Remember Betty)

Whether you've run for a charity before, you're thinking about running for a charity, or you're just interested in what charity running is all about, this post is for you!  I have done multiple fundraisers for three different charities so far and I'm going to break it all down for you.  In this post, you will find tips and tricks for fundraising as well as information on some of my favorite charities to run for and a few of my own personal fundraising stories.  

1) Choosing a charity to run for.   The charity you choose should be personal to you.  When it's personal, you'll be more motivated to fundraise.  Plus having a personal story to share will also motivate others to make donations.  For example, I chose to run the Muckruckus MS (now known as Muckfest MS) in 2012 to support my dear friend Shannon in her fight to end MS for her mom and other relatives, and for my two friends with MS.  Muckfest MS is a 3.1-mile mud run that supports The National MS Society.  Donations help support people living with MS as well as assisting the National MS Society in their tireless search for a cure.  

My choice to run multiple RunDisney races for Kellsie's Hope Foundation came from a personal experience during my first attempt at the Walt Disney World full marathon in 2016.  I twisted my ankle at mile7 and unfortunately had to drop out.  As I sat on the shuttle back to the start line in tears, the woman next to me told me she was proud of herself for getting as far as she did, especially since she knew she wouldn't finish anyway.  When I asked her why, she replied "Well, cancer'll do that to you."  Pity party over.  I decided that I would finish a RunDisney race and this time, I would do it for charity.  Since I have also had students with cancer, I decided to run the 2016 Inaugural Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge races (10k and Half Marathon) and the 2017 WDW full Marathon for Kellsie's Hope Foundation.  This foundation provides gifts and trips to children with recurring cancers, as well as providing nursing scholarships and funds to hospitals to support research and pediatric patient care.  You can run any RunDisney race or Rock n' Roll series race on Kellsie's Krew! 

For Remember Betty, I decided to create my own running fundraiser in conjunction with going on the 2017 NKOTB Cruise.  I have supported countless friends and co-workers with breast cancer over the years and I wanted to raise money for a cause that could help them and others in similar situations.  Remember Betty was founded by Danny Wood of the New Kids on the Block after his mother passed away from breast cancer in 1999.  Remember Betty provides direct financial assistance to breast cancer patients and survivors.

2) Deciding on a type of fundraiser.  Once you have chosen the race/distance and charity you want to run for, it's time to figure out what type of fundraiser you'll be doing.  Below are some various examples of fundraisers I have done:

-Virtual Race.  Create a virtual 5k race for donors to participate in and invite them via a Facebook event.  All donors have to do is make a donation of a set minimum amount and let you know when they have completed their 5k on their own.  As soon as they've completed their race, mail them a custom medal, certificate, or t-shirt along with a personalized thank you card.

-The Gift of Handmade Goods.  If you're crafty, you can make thank you gifts to send each donor to let them know how much you appreciate them.  For one Kellsies's Hope fundraiser, I made several cards (blank, holiday, thank you, etc) and handed/mailed them out as gifts to each donor.  This works especially well around the holidays as people love having handmade cards to give to family and friends.

-Random Gift Giveaway.  When you're about to hit a milestone amount of money raised in your fundraiser (ex. the halfway point or your minimum goal), offer up a handmade or purchased gift to the next person or people who bring your total over the milestone.  When I was almost to my goal of raising $500 for Remember Betty, I sewed pillowcases and offered them to the next two people who donated and therefore brought my total past the goal.  You can also raffle off prizes, or offer special perks to donors who give above a certain amount.

-Create Fundraisers Through Small Businesses.  I recently hosted a 'Cards for a Cause' fundraiser through a friend at Usborne Books.  About half of the amount from every $30 set of cards sold went to my fundraiser and my friend even covered the shipping costs as her contribution to the cause... thanks Kim!  If you know someone with a small business, try asking him/her about fundraisers.

-Offer to Do Something Special in Honor of Each Donor.  For my Remember Betty fundraiser, I ran a 5k on my own for every single donor, no matter how much they gave.  And I ran a mile on the NKOTB Cruise with the names of every donor and the people they asked me to run in honor of on my shirt!  I also know someone who created GIFs on social media for donors and someone who did a burbee and pushup for every dollar donated!

-Set Up an Event.  This is one I haven't personally done yet but I have friends who have organized each of the events described here.  Talk with the owners of your favorite local bars, restaurants, and businesses to see if they would be willing to host an event where you can collect donations as admission.  Check with your gym/fitness center to see if your favorite instructor would be willing to teach a donation-based class.  Or ask your crafty friends to donate artwork to an auction you set up.  Some businesses will even donate a small percentage of sales during a few set hours to your fundraiser.  It never hurts to ask so go for it!  

3) Getting Your Fundraiser Set Up.  Now that you know what type of fundraiser you're doing, it's time to set it up.  If you've signed up for a race through a charity, they will most likely send you a link to set up your fundraising page via a site such as FirstGiving.  This is where you have a chance to really draw people in with your story!  Make sure to address each of the following:

-Describe the race itself.  What distance(s) will you be running?  Where is the race?  Are you racing individually or as part of a team?  Is this your first time running this race or distance?  Potential donors will want to know!

-Include what your donors' contributions will be going to, who their donations will be helping and in what way, and most importantly, why you are running for this particular charity.  Don't be afraid to get personal and include photos if possible.  

-Will donor's get anything tangible out of this?  Will you be sending each donor a gift or raffling off prizes?  If so, make sure donor's know exactly what they could receive.

-Make sure to thank your donors in advance and let them know how much their donations will mean to the people they are helping, as well as to you!

-Make the first donation to yourself!  People are more likely to make a donation if there is already at least a small amount raised.  Donate $20 or so anonymously to get things rolling.

My fundraising page for The Star Wars: Dark Side Challenge with Kellsie's Hope Foundation.

My fundraising page for The WDW Full Marathon with Kellsie's Hope Foundation.

For Remember Betty, the mechanics worked a little differently for me since there wasn't an actual race attached, but this gave me the flexibility be creative.  I created a fundraising page for Remember Betty on Crowdrise and since there was no required fundraising minimum, I set a goal for myself to raise at least $500 by the time of the cruise.  As you can see, I well exceeded my goal!

I don't know why the site squished my photo... but oh well!

Now that you're set up, it's time to start spreading the word!  Post about your fundraiser on all of your social media outlets and let people know what you're doing and why.  Send personalized e-mails or messages to family and friends and ask them to share the link to your fundraiser with others.

4) Following Through.  Now that you have your fundraiser set up and donations are starting to come in, it's time to start following through on your end.  I always make sure to thank my donors immediately after they make a donation.  If they included their name publicly on the donation site, I will thank them on my social media pages.  If they made their donation anonymously, I will thank them through a personal text, call, or direct message.

If you promised donors a gift, make sure you're keeping up with sending those out in a timely manner.  And if you're doing something for each donor such as running in each donor's name, try to complete and document each run and thank you within a day or two of each person's donation if possible.

5) When All Is Said and Run.  When your fundraiser is over, it is essential to let donors know how your race or run(s) went and how much you appreciate their support.  Most fundraising websites let you post updates that all of your donors will see.  Utilize this tool, as well as your social media outlets, to keep donors up to date on your progress and thank everyone when it's over.  If possible, wear the name of the charity you're running for on you during your run/race so other runners and spectators know whom you're representing.

I know this was a long post, but I hope you were able to pick up some usable tips for your next running fundraiser.  I HIGHLY recommend running for any of the charities I described in this post and would be happy to help anyone who is thinking of doing so!!  Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't thank a few people who have been key players in my fundraising adventures!!

Thank you Timothy, Shannon, Sara, Lindsey, Donna, Beth, Kelli, and everyone on team Sync or Swim who helped me fundraise for and finish my first mud run for The National MS Society!

Thank you Ashlyn for your love and support of all the Kellsie's Krew runners and your commitment to the foundation!

Thank you Kimber for being your amazing self and supporting me as I finished my first marathon on Kellsie's Krew!

Thank you Abbie for answering all of my questions, supporting my fundraiser, and organizing the amazing Remember Betty organization!

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