David M. Brown
Alli Schmidt, 17, was healthy for the first six months of her life. Then, bacterial meningitis changed it all. The Gilbert teen spent five days on life support in a coma, and emerged hearing-impaired, nonverbal and unable to walk. She has seizures multiple times a day and needs a tube for feeding. Nevertheless, the Gilbert teen on Nov. 6 will compete in the 41st Annual 3TV Phoenix 10K & Half Marathon benefiting the Mollen Foundation. Alli and her Best Buddies partner, Tempe resident Diane Bruchhauser, have entered the half marathon to and from CityScape in downtown Phoenix, accompanied by team member Jan Lohman.
Alli will be in a special running chair, with Bruchhauser and Lohman pushing. “I’m hoping to be able to walk in the 5K while Alli and Diane complete the half marathon,” said Alli’s mother, Stacy Schmidt, a former Gilbert Public Schools elementary school teacher who stays at home with Alli and her four brothers and two sisters, ages 7−13. She and her husband, Eric, a regional operations manager with Red Bull, adopted five of their children from foster care.
“She loves to feel the wind in her face and hearing people yell out her name,” Stacy Schmidt said. “She really gets excited about the medal at the end as well. After her very first race, she wouldn’t get out of her running chair and kept playing with the medal around her neck.”
Dr. Art Mollen created what is now the Phoenix 3TV 10K in 1976 to celebrate fitness and physical well-being with events for many age groups and fitness levels. It is one of the oldest 10Ks in both Arizona and the United States.
But Mollen also looks at the event as a celebration of groups like Best Buddies, which has made a world of difference for Alli.
“Best Buddies is an incredible altruistic, humanistic effort for others with a human spirit that is strong and unbroken,” Mollen said. “We are so excited to be involved with such an amazing group of generous people giving the greatest gift of all, which is to help others.”
Through the years, the 10K has raised funds for Valley organizations including the nonprofit Scottsdale-based Mollen Foundation, which has partnered with community leaders and educators to give parents and school-aged children tools to develop healthier lifestyles.
Best Buddies, a nonprofit founded in 1989 by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, connects mentors and college-aged youth with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, explained Tempe resident Timothy Bolen, Arizona director for the group.
Team Best Buddies began when he and his niece Sydney, who had a severe form of cerebral palsy, planned to complete a marathon. However, Sydney died in 2005 before they could join one. “In 2011, I met Jessica Dunn, who had cerebral palsy, at Camelback High School, and the dream to run that marathon was born once again,” Bolen said, noting that the program has expanded to 12 Buddy Teams and 50 support runners. Dunn died March 4.
Alli has found a champion in her Best Buddy group, called Team Alli.
Bruchhauser captains the team, coordinates the support runners for Team Alli, handles fundraising and organizes practice runs throughout the season for her, Schmidt explained.
Bruchhauser and Alli had their first race in January 2015 at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Tempe.
“It’s a perfect match! Diane grew up in a family very similar to ours since her parents did foster care and she had a lot of siblings, just like Alli,” Bruchhauser said. “She is completely unfazed by our hectic schedule and the little bit of chaos when she comes over for practice runs around our neighborhood.”
“She is the sweetest, most cuddly 17-year-old ever,” said Bruchhauser, a triathlete and runner and chairwoman of the Women’s Triathlon, which supports Susan G. Komen to save lives and end breast cancer. A graduate of Arizona State University, the Arizona native is the oldest of six, including foster brothers and sisters with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“One of her favorite activities is swimming with our family because the water lets her move in ways that she isn’t able to outside of the pool,” she added. The Schmidts are happy that Alli participates in races such as the Phoenix 10K.
“We aren’t runners, so there is no way that Alli would ever have been able to experience running if it wasn’t for Team Best Buddies,” Schmidt said. “Her meningitis typically causes deafness or death, so we are very blessed that she is with us,” she added.
“But, more importantly, she is curious, stubborn and very sweet. She loves her evening cuddles with daddy on the couch. She is a huge flirt,” Schmidt added. “She has the best smile, and her giggle can turn my whole day around.”
Team Alli has inspired the Schmidts to become more active; they completed a few 5K races last year and are signed up for more this season.
The Schmidts recently completed fundraising for an adaptive bike, so Alli can enjoy a first bike ride before her 18th birthday in February. “My younger children,” she said, “are looking forward to going on bike rides as a family.”
Her achievements inspire everyone near her.
“Alli can’t walk or talk and she has a feeding tube,” Bruchhauser said, “but even more important than what she can’t do is all that she can do.”
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