“Blayne technically is our first Hope Flies athlete,” said Laura Stanley, executive director of the Atlanta-based foundation. “The whole idea is anybody can participate in any athletic endeavor on behalf of the Foundation for Mitochondrial Medicine and raise funds and awareness for their friend or their loved one who may be impacted by mitochondrial disease.”
Shelton, who has been a runner all of his life, ran in the Jacksonville Marathon in Florida in December in honor of his 5-year-old daughter Audrey, who was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at age 2.
Those with the disease have a dysfunction when it comes to producing energy in their cells. The disease primarily affects brain, heart and muscle cells in varying degrees.
“It affects different people different ways,” Shelton said. “For [Audrey], it’s affected primarily her fine and gross motor skills, which affect her ability to speak and to walk. She can walk but she’s not really stable. She can do things with her hands, but the fine motor skills that are required for more dexterous tasks are difficult for her, like she can’t really write.”
He has participated in fundraising races before and jumped at the chance to raise money for the foundation.
Stanley said the money will be used to fund research for a cure and to increase awareness of mitochondrial disease. The disease is closely related to other health problems like Autism, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and muscular dystrophy, so research breakthroughs for mitochondrial disease can benefit many areas, she said.
At the Jacksonville Marathon, Shelton teamed up with a group of Florida high school students who had formed a mitochondrial disease awareness club in honor of a fellow student with the disease. The students set up a tent at the race and had posters, fliers and T-shirts.
“I was doing what I could even during the race, striking up conversations with other runners explaining why I had the shirt on that I did, and I had few folks come by the tent afterwards,” Shelton said. “We do what we can to spread awareness, and hopefully if we can raise a little money along the way, that’s great too.”
Shelton added he plans to run more marathons in the future on behalf of the foundation and the Hope Flies program.
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