When Michelline Suarez took on the challenge of running in her very first marathon, she was bent on chasing something worth more than just a personal milestone.
A 42-year-old mother, homemaker and entrepreneur, Michelline has had her fair share of personal and career accomplishments. Blessed with a wonderful husband and five kids, aged 24 to 2, she also co-owns and manages two businesses.
Michelline was born with a cleft palate, commonly referred to as “harelip” or “bingot” in the vernacular. For years, she had been thinking of ways to help children who were born with the same condition, but whose families were too poor to pay for corrective surgery.
Looking back, she feels extremely blessed for having parents who recognized the urgency and could well afford surgery. But it also bothered her knowing how many more less-fortunate children with cleft palate would have to bear a life of hardship, humiliation and discrimination without the benefit of a surgical operation.
“I have been thinking about finding a way to help other cleft palate babies for some time now, for I know how much a very simple and affordable surgery can turn their lives around and open up so many possibilities for a better future,” she recounted.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that Michelline plunged into her maiden 42-kilometer run at the age of 42. Completing every kilometer of the long-distance course, it seemed, symbolized each year of a life-long dream to help less-fortunate kids with whom she shared something common as a child.
“The marathon became my inspiration to raise funds for surgery for children who were also born cleft palates through Gabriel’s Symphony Foundation,” she added, recalling how family members and friends positively responded to the idea of her running to benefit others.
The support was so overwhelming that by the time she reached the finish line of her very first long-distance run— at The Bull Runner “Dream Marathon” held in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna last May 22—Michelline was able to raise more than P153,000 for Gabriel’s Symphony Foundation.
Surely, this was no small feat for this mother of five, who started running barely two years ago after giving birth to her youngest child.
“I wish to emphasize that it is the generosity of those who pledged, including my family and friends, that has made this donation possible. I just provided a conduit,” she humbly said of the experience.
Michelline first came to know Gabriel’s Symphony through the annual multi-sport event it holds at the Ayala Alabang Village in Muntinlupa every September. Established by health and sports advocate Senator Pia Cayetano, the foundation was named after the lawmaker’s youngest child, Gabriel Cayetano Sebastian, who died from complications of trisomy 13, a rare chromosomal disorder, in 2001.
In the last nine years, the foundation has been raising funds to finance cleft lip and palate operations, hearing aids and artificial eyes for differently-abled children, and surgical operations for very young children suffering from congenital malformations of the brain and spinal cord.
Michelline signed up for the multi-sport event in 2008 and soon became friends with Sen. Pia.
“I admire Pia, her family, and all the volunteers who have done so much to help these children,” related Michelline, who also credits her coach Patrick Joson for instilling in her the skills, techniques and proper approach to running, as well as her running group, the Speed Monkeys, whose members pledged support and cheered for her from start to finish.
Asked about the professional runners she looks up to, Michelline replied: “I love watching the pros for their form and admire their dedication to training, but truth to tell, I think those closer to the back of the pack, the ordinary people who find time to run despite the demands of a regular life, have the best stories.”
Indeed, the running world is filled with inspiring stories of life-defining first marathons. With her first marathon, Michelline not only fulfills a life-long dream; she is also forever changing the lives of others.
“What I wish these children and their families to know is that a cleft palate or lip is an easily correctible condition. With surgery and speech therapy, these kids will soon be well on their way to normal, productive lives,” she concluded with a smile.
Photo: Michelline Suarez (in blue, holding up medal at second row, fourth from right), with family members, coach and running friends after finishing her first marathon, The Bull Runner “Dream Marathon” held in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa, Laguna last May 22, 2010.