Soaked with sweat, Mike Roby continued to run. He rounded the corner and saw the finish line. While running the last 100 yards of the Atomic Half Ironman in September, his thoughts shifted. Next year, Ironman Florida, Mike thought to himself. In the past two years, he has completed three Half Ironman triathlons. He knew that his next step was the full Ironman distance.
Several times a year, Mike travels to running or triathlon events. The trip up to Tennessee for the Half Ironman would be his last trip of the year. His wife, Lora, was pregnant and due March 2003. The doctors were keeping a close eye on the pregnancy and advised her not to travel until after the birth.
The watchful eye of the doctors included several tests done periodically, more tests than a normal pregnancy. Those tests began to worry the doctors. Two days before Christmas and more than two months before her due date, Lora was admitted to the hospital.
On Christmas, family and friends showed up at the hospital with gifts. While unwrapping presents, one of the doctors came in and told Mike and Lora it was time. For the health of the baby and the mother, the doctors wanted to proceed with a cesarean section.
The procedure was successful. It was a girl.
Lora was fine and the baby, two months premature, was doing well. Things went smooth the next couple of days. Lora was released, but the baby would have to stay a little longer. With the hospital only a mile from their home, trips occurred several times a day.
New Years Eve arrived and the baby was one week old. All three rang in the New Year at the hospital together.
During the next couple of weeks, Mike stayed busy. His time was split in all directions. From trips to the hospital to see his baby, to taking care of Lora at home, to maintaining his insurance business in Locust Grove. He also had to help pack up the house. The Robys were closing on a new home at the end of January. With a new baby, they needed a bigger place. Mike also found time to run.
"I tried and get a least three to four miles in when possible. This time really helped me because it gave me time to just let everything go and do some soul searching. You really don't understand how therapeutic running can be until you have a lot of stuff on your mind and how that little bit of time really helps," says Mike.
Friday, January 10 and the baby is just over two weeks old. Things have been going well. The doctors have been happy with her progression. Then something happens. The baby is moved from Henry Medical to Scottish Rite Childrens Hospital. Friday night turns into early Saturday morning. The doctors continue to work, but are unable to save her. After 16 days, baby Abigail Hope Roby passes away.
A few weeks later Mike and Lora move into their new home. That same weekend was the Callaway Gardens Half Marathon. Mike signed up for the event before Abby was born. He wasnt sure what to do. He talked it over with Lora and decided it might be helpful.
That was the longest half marathon of my life.
In the early miles, it was business as usual. Then Mike set into a steady pace and his thoughts caught up with him.
"Every emotion that anyone can imagine came to me. Four weeks worth of anger, frustration, and helplessness came to the forefront during the run. I asked a lot of questions during the run. Why? Why me? What could I have done different? Over the next two hours, no one could answer these questions, but it was almost like everything became OK," said Mike.
"I went from being angry and upset to feeling at peace with myself all within a two-hour half marathon. Mentally, I don't think I was ready for what happened to me, but in return, it was probably one of the most therapeutic events in the whole process."
With the half marathon completed, Ironman Florida loomed nine months away. But Mikes goals shifted.
For the last two years, Lora has sat on a committee to help put together the March of Dimes WalkAmerica for Clayton County. Last year, Mike put together a team for WalkAmerica in Henry County. The team totaled five people.
After going through the death of my daughter and seeing how important of a role that the March of Dimes played, I knew we were going to try harder this year to have a massive turnout.
Mike began to organize a team to participate in the March of Dimes WalkAmerica in Henry County. His goal is to raise money for the March of Dimes and have the biggest walking team at the event. Mike made a few phone calls and sent e-mails to family and friends in mid-February. In less than a week, more than 40 people had already agreed to participate.
"The response that we received has been tremendous. We hope to have close to 100 people walk in Abby's memory. I don't think you realize the people that you touch until a time like this," said Mike.
Overwhelmed by the support, he realizes that his biggest athletic achievement wont be an Ironman, but a three-mile walk.