Running marathons, father and son raise $48,000 for charities

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter

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Learn more about Micah's Miles online at www.micahsmiles.org and on the "Micah's Miles" Facebook page

At just 7 years old, Micah Snell has completed more marathons than the vast majority of adults. With 22 marathons under his belt and $48,000 raised for charities, Micah shows no signs of stopping.

For all but one of Micah’s marathons, his dad, Jeff Snell, has been powering the efforts, pushing the Camas first-grader — first, in a jogger stroller and now, in a custom running chair for people with disabilities.

In Micah’s most recent marathon, however, Jeff Snell watched from the sidelines with his wife, Suzie Snell. For the Vernonia Marathon on April 8 in Vernonia, Ore., Micah had a new marathon buddy: his teacher, Amy Campbell.

A runner herself, Campbell was excited for the chance to run with Micah and support the Snells’ fundraising efforts.

“I believe in what Micah is doing and what the Snells are doing, trying to raise up Micah to create awareness and support for other families that might feel isolated or alone,” Campbell said. “If I can put Micah out in the world for 26 more miles and share his smile and happiness, then that’s what I want to do.”

Genetic disorder

Micah has a genetic mutation that falls under the umbrella of cerebral palsy.

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development, usually before birth. The condition can cause movement, muscle tone and posture disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with cerebral palsy often have other conditions related to developmental brain abnormalities, such as intellectual disabilities, vision and hearing problems, and seizures.

Micah doesn’t walk or talk, and he does experience seizures. But there’s plenty Micah can do.

Through ongoing therapy, Micah has strengthened his neck muscles so he can hold his head up and has improved his trunk muscles. He’s in first grade at Helen Baller Elementary School in Camas, and his classmates say he’s a great reading buddy and listener. Micah uses a system of switches and buttons to give yes and no answers to questions. And he can certainly make his displeasure known when things upset him, Suzie Snell said.

On the flip side, Micah makes it clear when he enjoys something. A few years ago, when Jeff Snell broke his ankle and the pair missed a few marathons, Micah was inconsolable the nights before races. Finally, when Jeff was healed enough to run, Micah woke up happy, babbling and excited for the morning’s race.

“We figured out at that point that he really gets it,” Suzie Snell said. “That connection with daddy is so important.”

Sharing Micah

The Snells spent much of Micah’s first year of life just trying to survive. They had to adjust to life with an infant and two older children, address Micah’s medical needs and navigate the health insurance world.

Once life settled down, the Snells decided they wanted to share Micah with the world and use their story to help other families in similar situations.

They reached out to United Cerebral Palsy Foundation of Oregon and Southwest Washington, a Portland-based nonprofit that helps families and promotes independence for people with disabilities.

The Snells proposed entering marathons and soliciting donations to raise money for the foundation, naming the effort “Micah’s Miles.”

The father-son duo ran their first marathon — the inaugural Vancouver USA Marathon — in 2011. Micah’s Miles took off from there.

They’ve run the Vancouver USA Marathon every year since. In 2013, they added three more marathons to their schedule. Those first six marathons all raised money for the local cerebral palsy foundation.

In 2014, however, the Snells picked a couple of other beneficiaries that champion causes close to their hearts: TinySuperheroes, which makes capes for children with cancer, other health conditions and disabilities; Marathon Scholars, which supports low-income children on their journey to a college degree; and Oregon Active, which provides adventure therapy for people with disabilities.

The first eight marathons raised about $25,000.

The Snells continue to support those organizations, as well as several others, including Make-A-Wish Foundation and All God’s Children International, an adoption, orphan care and missions ministry. For each marathon, they ask Micah’s Miles followers to sponsor a mile. They don’t set a monetary value; they just ask people to make a contribution. Sponsors receive a free Micah’s Miles T-shirt.

In total, they’ve raised $48,000, most recently donating about $3,400 to Make-A-Wish — the beneficiary for the first two marathons of this season. They have two more marathons on the schedule this year — the Tacoma City Marathon on April 30 and the Vancouver USA Marathon on Sept. 17 — and have their sights set on surpassing $50,000.

“Selfishly, we do this because it feels good to help other people,” Jeff Snell said. “And it feels good to share Micah.”