A Reason to Be Thankful: The Story of Team Hunt
“Every struggle in your life has shaped you into the person you are today. Be Thankful for the hard times, they can only make you stronger.” -Unknown
As I sit down to begin this blog entry, I suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I am truly lucky. I have a loving husband, outstanding children, amazing parents, and a kind brother. I also have a very big group of supportive girlfriends. Some of us were in school together from a very young age through college. Although a few of us did separate for college, we were brought back together here in Nashville after we graduated. Throughout all of the years and all of the changes, we never lost touch and our friendship never faded. We have been there for each other through the good and the bad, and we still are today.
That brings me to one of my very, very best friends and the reason for this story, Ellen Hollis. Ellen and I met in preschool. We went to school together forever, separated for college, and have been back together in Nashville since 2001. Even though we are both married now and always have a million things going on, we still talk almost every morning on my way to work. In 2009, not long after I had my second child, I got a call from Ellen. After a long battle with infertility, she was pregnant! I still remember where I was sitting when she called. I was at my parent’s kitchen table, and I screamed! In typical Ellen fashion (an event planner and the most organized friend I have ever had), Hunt Michael Hollis arrived on his exact due date October 15, 2009. My friend Misty and I were literally hovering around the corner of Ellen’s hospital room as she delivered him. We were a little over eager to meet this baby! Ellen and Mike were over the moon, and Hunt appeared to be a healthy and happy baby.
As the weeks went on Hunt was not gaining nearly enough weight and was vomiting an abnormal amount. By four months old, Hunt was undergoing a series of gastrointestinal and genetics tests to determine what was causing his delayed growth and continued vomiting. Soon after, Ellen left her job as the Director of Events at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center to focus on Hunt. He was about to begin both physical therapy and feeding therapy and they both consumed a lot of time and energy. When his first birthday came that October, there was still no diagnosis, yet the problems continued. Ellen and Mike sent Hunt’s records to children’s hospitals all across the country in an attempt to find an answer and develop a plan. I watched both of them search every avenue and work endlessly to find an explanation, to find a way to help Hunt. As a mother I knew what it was like to worry about your child, but never at this level. As a friend it is very humbling to watch someone you care about go through something so hard, especially when it involves a child. Even with all of the challenges, Ellen and Mike remained strong, positive, and supportive of one another
In December of 2010, when Hunt was fourteen months old, Ellen and Mike formed “Team Hunt”. They wanted Team Hunt to be an opportunity for friends, family members, and others in the community to be active and supportive through running, triathlons, and other endurance sports. They hoped it would honor children who were developmentally challenged, both mentally and physically. The goal was also to help raise money for High Hopes Pediatric Therapy Clinic, the school Hunt attends here in Franklin for his therapies. Hunt’s therapies were expanded to include speech and occupational therapy, so Ellen and Mike spent great deal of time at High Hopes. Team Hunt’s logo was quickly designed and it was perfect. It was an adorable sketch of Hunt, most importantly sporting his head full of signature curls.
In January of 2011 teamhunt.org was launched, and the very next month (at 16 months old) Hunt was officially diagnosed with Mitochondrial disease. Mitochondrial disease is an energy disorder that occurs when the mitochondria of the cells fails to produce enough energy for cell and organ function. It causes major organ problems, and in Hunt’s case it has affected his GI system. It is associated with slow growth and developmental delays. With the new diagnosis, Ellen and Mike then decided to split the money Team Hunt raised between High Hopes and The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF). Now their mission for Team Hunt was very clear:
“To improve the quality of life for children with Mitochondrial disease by supporting therapy programs and to support families who have loved ones with mitochondrial disease through raising awareness and money to help find a cure.”-Team Hunt’s Mission
That year more than 50 people ran in the Country Music Marathon for Team Hunt, and over 100 people walked for Team Hunt in the Energy For Life Walk-a-Thon which benefits the UMDF. By the next year, the number of people walking, running, and biking for Team Hunt had more than doubled. With each race, the numbers continued to grow.
Team Hunt has now been officially established as The Hunt Michael Hollis Fund, a component fund of the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. Many people that began to support Team Hunt had never done distance running, nor had ever done triathlons, but they set out on a mission to run, bike, swim, and walk in support of Hunt. Prior to Hunt’s diagnosis, Ellen had never run much over a mile. When Hunt was 18 months old Ellen completed her first half marathon in his honor. She went on to also complete her first sprint triathlon soon after, and she continues to compete in races today with her personalized Team Hunt shirt that proudly reads “Hunt’s Mom” on the back. Although Mike had done some running, he has now done multiple marathons, half marathons, half ironmans, and other races in support of his son. He too proudly wears his Team Hunt shirt that reads “Hunt’s Dad” on the back. Possibly one of the most moving moments came this past April at the Country Music Marathon. Mike pushed Andy Garrison, a 30 year old man with Mitochondrial disease, in a handicap stroller for the entire half marathon (in the pouring down rain), stopping at the finish line to help Andy slowly walk across on his own. Andy had given up on physical therapy before he met Mike and Ellen, but agreed to go back with the goal of crossing that finish line and winning his own medal…..goal accomplished!
The gym Ellen and Mike belong to, Prairie Life Fitness, also became very involved and supportive of Team Hunt. They hosted one of the biggest fundraisers to date, a song writer’s night. Friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers put in many miles training for races to support Team Hunt, and a lot of energy into raising money for the foundation. Team Hunt supporters as a whole have participated in over 30 endurance races since 2011 including walks, sprint and Olympic triathlons, half and full marathons, and half and full ironmans. These events took place in 6 states and over 500 people have participated in these races to support Hunt. All of these races have been a platform that has allowed Team Hunt to accomplish all that it has. It is such an amazing thing when you think about it. All of these people were setting goals, bettering their health, and improving their fitness level, all while an even greater purpose was being served.
Today Hunt is four years old. He is still in physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy, and feeding therapy, several of them are multiple days a week. He is making progress but is still significantly behind his peers in all areas. Ellen and Mike try to focus on how far he has come, and not how far he has to go. Doctors had asked them to consider a feeding tube for Hunt because he struggled to eat and keep food down. Convinced that with help Hunt could persevere, they declined, and now he is eating pureed foods and things like cheerios and mandarin oranges. Hunt walks, runs, climbs, and jumps, all things the doctors said Hunt may never do. Oh and did I mention he is quite the dancer? Hunt may be shy at times, but put some music on and he is not afraid to showcase his moves!
I know it isn’t possible to understand what it is like to be the mother or father of a child with special needs unless you are the parent of one. I also don’t know that many people could be as strong, determined, and motivated as Ellen and Mike have been. They chose to take a difficult situation, find the positive, and try to make some good come out of it…….and it has. In 2011 alone, Team Hunt raised over $60,000 for High Hopes, not including other supplies and an electronic medical records system that they were able to provide the school. To date, Team Hunt has raised over $200,000 and it is increasing every day.
Ellen and I have always loved inspiring quotes. Our friends have saved and shared them with each other for years. Recently she shared one with me that is so fitting for her and for the story of Team Hunt. The quote reads “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” Strong doesn’t even begin to touch the bravery their whole family has shown throughout this journey. I have a new lucky Team Hunt shirt I have worn to every race this year. It reminds me that running isn’t just about the race, but about the motivation behind it. This is a great week to remember all of the blessings in your life and to be thankful for them. So many people are thankful for Ellen and Mike and all of the things Team Hunt has done. I am thankful to have such a caring, thoughtful, and admirable friend! At four years old, Hunt Michael Hollis has touched and inspired more lives than most people do in a lifetime. I am certain that his purpose is so much bigger than we could ever imagine.
Have a very thankful and happy Thanksgiving!