The Man Behind the Scenes

In pageants, a common question I get asked is, “who is your role model?”

Of course, my parents are AMAZING and have set a great example of how a family should function, how a married couple should love and respect one another and how to navigate through the tough decisions of life.

BUT, there is another man in my life who I look up to and hold in the highest regards.

Markshane became part of my life, just about 2 years ago. At the end of June 2014, I met Markshane and he became my personal trainer. When I started with him, I had no muscle mass, had only been walking again for just under a year and weighed 96 pounds. You’re probably thinking to yourself, “how could someone you met 2 years ago be your role model? And what could your personal trainer have taught you that enables him to be so influential in your life?”

Well, Markshane is more than my personal trainer.

Markshane is the type of person that gives more than he takes. He grew up in a small town in Alabama, and an anonymous donor paid for him to receive a private education. Even to this day, Markshane has no idea who the donor was, but not a day goes by that he isn’t appreciative for that stranger’s act of kindness.

Every single day, Markshane greets everyone with a smile (me by picking me up and giving me a big hug & a kiss on the head), goes out of his way to go above and beyond for others and always has a positive attitude.

Of course, due to his appreciation for the anonymous donation to his education, he ensures that he is always paying it forward through big acts of kindness. But, what I admire most about him, are the small acts of kindness he carries out daily; simply out of love, with no expectation of compensation or reward.

Markshane and I got extremely close, extremely fast. Basically, he plays the role of a 2nd father figure to me, and I tend to feel like an adopted daughter of his own.

At every workout, Markshane would ask how school was going, about my friend life, about pageants, about who I was going on a date with that weekend…and he would remember every name and detail in every story. Better yet, he would go to my monumental school events, charity runs and pageants to support me. The best part is, he would wear purple, my favorite color, and we would wear matching outfits, to the last workout before a pageant. Furthermore, Markshane would sternly shake the hand of my dance dates, just to ensure they knew who the real man in my life, out of the 2 of them, was.

My favorite moment of millions of Markshane memories, was the night of senior prom. Markshane had comforted me when I didn’t think I was going to be asked, seen the dress I bought, smiled and listened to the long story of my prom-posal and patiently sat with me while I talked through all of my pre and post prom plans.

My phone rang 30 minutes before I was supposed to meet my date for pictures, and it was Markshane.

Markshane had called me just to tell me to have fun at my senior prom & that he was sure I looked beautiful and that he couldn’t wait to hear all about it.

Amongst other memories, of him at my high school graduation, our countless BJ’s lunch dates, him cheering louder than every person in the audience at my pageant & walking side by side at a charity 5K, our relationship today is stronger than ever.

When I left for college, Markshane and I were both reluctant to say goodbye. We saw each other at least 2 times a week, early morning and afternoons, we talked almost 5 days a week, and I could meet him for lunch whenever he had a free schedule. Now, with me being half way across the country, a phone call is the best thing we’ve got.

We talk every 2 weeks on the phone for about 30-40 minutes each call. We text intermittently in between calls to send pictures and updates on our lives and families.  We meet up for our regular BJ’s lunch whenever I am home for break and catch up on lost time.

By simply being present, Markshane imprints an enormous positive impact in my life. One he isn’t even aware he is making.

Markshane was the 3rd person I called after I got my first college acceptance, just after my parents and grandparents. He is the person I call when I’m crying and need a pick me up, or when I am excited about an accomplishment.

The thing is, Markshane is the most humble human being I have ever known. He shows his commitment to every individual in his life by unconditionally loving and accepting them for their authentic self. He genuinely cares and is interested in the lives of others and willingly sacrifices anything to ensure the happiness of someone else.

A 30-40 minute phone call every other week, a carved out 2 hour time frame for lunch dates, an hour drive to watch me walk on stage and compete; these are the little things he does for me. And these little things inspire me to strive to be as selfless and appreciative as he is.

Markshane, you have helped guide me to become an independent, confident, strong and appreciative young lady. You have demonstrated to me the importance of investing in others, sacrifice, diligence and self-respect; which in turn, has enabled me to become a better version of myself. You have encouraged me to stay true to myself and my values, even in a tough environment, like college. You’ve told me not to change because you love and are proud of the girl I am. You have sparked my love of giving back and serving others, whether they are less fortunate or just someone who needs a friend. You have pushed me to chase my dreams & accomplish the things I had set limitations on due to self-doubt. You have been a phenomenal example that actions speak louder than words & shown me that hard work, truly does pay off.  Thank you, for loving me, caring about me, investing in me, supporting me and inspiring me to strive to be a fraction of the admirable and exemplary person you are. 

Markshane’s integrity is shamelessly and flawlessly executed daily. He genuinely cares about my life away from home. Heck, he even made sure to thoroughly background check Danny (my current boyfriend) before giving his approval & he made sure to make it known that, Danny can take care of me in Texas, but in California, I’m all taken care of & all his.  (He still has to officially approve Danny in person this weekend at my pageant, though). He makes time to call me on holidays or call me immediately when I leave him a voicemail where you can’t understand a word I am saying because I am crying so hard.

Most of all, he values my life, my experiences and my endeavors just as his own.

He doesn’t have to call me every other week, or show up at my pageants, or even meet me for lunch dates. I pay him for his (amazing) service to help me stay fit; not to be my friend. But, that is just who he is. He is a kind-hearted, selfless, compassionate, accepting, loving person. He exercises his love for life, Christ & his wife and daughter, Savannah, every moment he is blessed with.

He is a person I am proud to say I know, proud to love, and proud to call my family.

 

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Markshane, Savannah & I at my graduation.

 

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The first time we coincidentally matched, head to toe, lead to a pre-pageant tradition!

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He drove over an hour at 7 am to walk a 5K with me!

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A year prior, I finished this walk with my feeding tube. This time, I finished with a crown & a man who means the world to me.

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My transformation from sick to fit, thanks to Markshane!

 

Miracle in Action

March 20th, 2014, my dad and I were wandering around Rady Children’s Hospital, taking my daily walk to regain my muscle strength. Just the day before, we had managed to walk for 30 minutes and end up at the underground connecting door between Rady Children’s & Scripps Hospital. What my dad and I thought to be a legendary and hysterical adventure, was my mom’s and nurse’s worst nightmare. But those types of stories are typical for my dad and I, wreaking havoc at the most inappropriate times.

March 20th, 2016, my dad and I embraced in a hug at the finish line of the Dallas Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon.

March 20th, 2016, marks 2 years of being a survivor of my rare, life-threatening illness. March 20th, 2016, signifies 2 years of laughs, memories, opportunities and friendships that were almost never experienced.

For my family, today is a day of celebration, a day of thanksgiving and a day of reminiscing on the multitude of emotions we experienced 2 years ago, today. It’s a day that we were never sure would come, but God willing, it did.

On Thanksgiving this past year, my dad and I decided that we wanted to run a half-marathon together on March 20th, as it would mark a day of joy and accomplishment. We agreed that in order to show our appreciation for my survival, we wanted to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals around the nation, the organization that saved my life. So, I started a Go Fund Me, sent out emails, Facebook posts, and fundraised to raise money for a worthwhile cause.

I began fundraising in the beginning of January, and as of today, the end of my 2 year survival mark, I have raised $13,650!

$13,650!

The amazing thing about that money, is that it came from some family, friends, colleagues, and even strangers. It came from people far and near who read about my story and felt compelled to stand together to make a difference in the lives of children nationwide. Together, we all joined hands, to act as ‘A Rae of Hope’ with the goal of providing a child another chance at life.

The money that YOU donated and helped me raise, has the opportunity to save a child’s life. It has the chance to create another “March 20th,2014”, it has the chance to establish a day of survival, opportunity and memories. This money that we have raised together, can never be put into words, the effect it can have on someone’s life.

It is the moments of unknown miracles, that we create together, that save children’s lives and elicit smiles, hope and joy within families across the nation.

Thank you for your generous donations, unwavering support and unconditional love. None of what I accomplish today, could happen without you!

If you feel inclined to still donate & make a difference in the lives of terminally ill children, click the link below!

https://funds.gofundme.com/dashboard

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March 20, 2014

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March 20, 2016

Someone Like You

HOPE. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

My HOPE is to touch lives. 

Yesterday, my boyfriend, Danny, and I donated art supplies to patients at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, TX (let me just mention how phenomenal and beautiful this hospital is! Danny even subconsciously referred to it as a hotel…that’s how nice it is).

As we were passing the front entrance of the hospital to drive home, Danny looked out the front window and said, “Look Al, that used to be you!” We watched a young girl wheel herself up to the entrance of the hospital, with a white tube taped on her face and thread through her nose. Looking at her, in that moment, felt as though I were watching myself in a mirror, 2 years prior.

After we both acknowledged our observation of the girl, Danny said something that I had never reflected on until yesterday. He looked me in the eyes, with the biggest smile on his face, grabbed my hand and said, “I am so proud of you! Look at all you have done for these kids! The money you’ve raised for these kids, goes to kids just like that girl, it goes to someone like you.” At this point I was already crying, because my heart was overfilled with joy; I had just seen a spitting image of myself, recognized how far I have come since that battle, and it was finally resonating with me that I was indeed, helping someone like me.

Over the past 6 months I have raised over $10,000 in total for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, benefiting pediatric hospitals all over the nation. I’ve met amazing kids with phenomenal stories, been given once in a life time opportunities to attend and speak at events and most of all, I’ve learned the importance of gratitude and appreciation.

Of course I know, in the back of my mind, that the money I raise is going to benefit the health of children all over the nation, just like I know that ‘A Rae of Hope Foundation’ will bring smiles to hospital rooms across the US.

But here’s what I didn’t know, until Danny said this, “Al, $10,000 in 6 months is amazing! Think of all the kids you’re helping! What if one of those kids were someone like you? What if one of those kids needs the experimental treatment like you did, and you helped give it to them? What if one of those kids is someone like you, and you help give them their life back? Your donations Al, can save a child’s life. It can help them get better so they can pursue an education, it can allow them to have the opportunity to get a job, get married and have a family. Al, someone like you, saved your life…and you’re doing the same thing for someone else.”

It is an overwhelming feeling to sit back and reflect on how blessed I am to be sitting at my dream college, pursuing a nursing degree, laughing with my best friend and FaceTiming my family from half way across the country. 2 years ago, none of that was even on the table. It was uncertain I would even make it to 18 years old, and if I did, the plan was for me to stay close to home and not go to college anywhere more than 20 miles away from the house. But, here I am, writing a blog post in the library of TCU sitting next to Danny, waiting for 9 pm to roll around so we can stop studying & go enjoy youth group.

I am a girl with passion. I am a girl with ambition and drive. I am a girl with a HOPE to better the world.

And I am this girl, because someone like me, gave me the chance to live this amazing and rewarding life. 

 

Donate to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals HERE:

https://www.gofundme.com/8pa32kvw

https://www.booster.com/araeofhope?type=zoom&side=front

 

A Rae of Opportunity

I am beyond excited to announce my filing to have ‘A Rae of Hope Foundation’ incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of California!

“A Rae of Hope Foundation’ will create and deliver “superhero kits”, which include toys and activities, along with a superhero cape, designed to remind kids of the superheroes they are and encourage them during their battle.

When I was sick, people would always acknowledge the strength I had to fight, and even though I felt that I didn’t have any other choice, it empowered me to keep going.

It’s hard to be a kid when you’re sick, weak and stuck inside of a hospital bed with cords hooking you up to a machine. It’s hard to be a kid and miss out on quality family time, school and holiday festivities. Instead of enjoying the holiday of eating until you no longer can breathe and enjoying family company, I was having a NJ nasal feeding tube implanted through my nose into my small intestine, that hooked up to a pump to manually feed me for survival. That’s not how any child should spend their Thanksgiving, or let alone any day of the year, but that is the reality for millions of children across the world. But, one thing that make the days easier is play, because playing allows you to forget your illness and feel like a ‘kid’.

My goal is to hopefully, even for at least one minute, bring some extra joy into a child’s day and ensure that they know they are supported and that their strength is recognized and admired.

Of course, being 18, a full-time nursing student, pageant titleholder, self-proclaimed ‘movie critic’ (my boyfriend and I love watching movies and critiquing them, we probably watch about 4 or more a week…oops), AND now a President of my own nonprofit will be time consuming and exhausting. However, I am well aware of the challenges that this passion of mine imposes, and I recognize the dedication and diligence that is going to have to go into it, but I cannot sit back any longer with this desire in my heart to make a difference in the lives of others.

God blessed me with a difficult and arduous life, but a life that provides me pure satisfaction, joy, peace and gratitude. Through lots of prayer and reflection, I strongly believe He put me through my suffering for the benefit of other people. I have the opportunity to find strength in Him and follow His calling for me in allowing me to suffer in my health, for the joy of others. And strangely, I find peace and happiness in my pain and suffering because I am certain this is what He intended for my life.

My passion for helping children goes deeper than wanting a child to get better; to me, it is about bring even one more minute of happiness, one more smile, one more laugh or one more ‘Rae of Hope’ into these children’s lives.

Thank you for supporting me on my journey to live out my dreams and ambitions, absolutely none of what I have accomplished could have been done without your unwavering support.

If you would like to donate to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals or view/purchase ‘A Rae of Hope’ customized and personally designed t-shirt, please click the links below!

Half Marathon Donations: https://www.gofundme.com/8pa32kvw

T-Shirt Purchases: https://www.booster.com/araeofhope?type=zoom&side=front