Blazing a Trail for Premature Babies
There will be something different about Sophie Smith when she runs into Little Bay on February 4. A few things different, actually.
The Coogee founder of the Running for Premature Babies Foundation (RFPB) will not be wearing her signature bright purple singlet, imprinted with the names and tiny handprints of Henry, Jasper and Evan, the babies she lost at one hour, 10 days and 58 days respectively after they were born at 24 weeks in 2006.
She’ll also have her hands full. Smith has been selected to take part in the Queen’s Baton Relay for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, having been secretly nominated by a teacher at the preschool her sons Harvey and Owen used to attend.
“I’m not allowed to wear the purple kit – I have to wear an official uniform,” Smith says. “But I will be asking members of my team to come along and cheer me on wearing their Running for Premature Babies uniforms.”
The former primary school teacher says she feels like she’ll be representing everyone who has supported the charity.
“I’ll also be carrying the baton on behalf of Henry, Jasper, Evan and, of course, Ash, and all prematurely born children, both living and lost.”
Smith’s husband Ash, with whom she co-founded RFPB, died from brain cancer two years ago.
In the 11 years since it started, the group has raised more than $2.6 million. The money has been spent on medical research and life-saving equipment at the Royal Hospital for Women’s Newborn Intensive Care Centre in Randwick.
The charity is once again on the hunt for runners to take part in The Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon on May 20. Last year, the group fielded 520 runners – its biggest team so far, and the event’s largest single team.
In 2018, Smith hopes to at least match the $400,000 they raised in 2017. As well as funding research, the group’s goal is to raise enough money to buy a new monitoring system for the 16-bed ward where the sickest babies spend their earliest days.
Runners – and would-be runners – of all levels are invited to sign up. The 21.1 kilometre course can be split between two people as a relay. A free 16-week training program is offered, with sessions at Centennial Park on Sunday mornings, plus Wednesday evening sessions at Queens Park, The Domain and Balgowlah.
The purple kit is also included, courtesy of Running Bare and Ash’s former employer, BT Investment Management, now the charity’s corporate partner. Each runner is asked to raise at least $200.
Smith says most team members don’t have a direct link to premature birth; they’re there for the sense of camaraderie, the free training and the warm-fuzzies that come from supporting such a great cause.
Others have deeply personal connections. This time last year, Smith met two new team members, Cat Webb and Pat Bell, whose niece Amity Peats was born at The Royal Hospital for Women at 23 weeks, weighing just 500 grams. She spent the first five months of her life in hospital, supported by equipment the charity had donated.
A few weeks ago, Smith received an email containing a recent photo of the couple with their niece.
“The doctors have told me that so far approximately 4,000 babies have benefited from the equipment we have provided,” she says. “I hear the numbers but for me, just seeing the photo of this little girl with a bow in her hair and a smile on her face on her first birthday makes it all worthwhile.”
Smith hopes to broaden the reach and impact of the charity’s work, helping more hospitals. She has run marathons in New York and Chicago. Others have raised money competing in events around Australia and overseas.
As if land wasn’t enough, Smith has also taken up ocean swimming. RFPB budgie smugglers and swimsuits are available.
While her athletic and fundraising workload would be enough to drive most people to Netflix and chill, Smith has also found time to write her memoir, with journalist Deborah Fitzgerald. Sophie’s Boys (Affirm Press) is scheduled for release in April and will, she hopes, help make it easier for people to understand and discuss infant loss and brain cancer.
“I don’t want it to be a story of tragedy,” Smith says. “It’s a story of hope. Even out of great tragedy, something really beautiful can come.”
For more information or to donate, please visit Sophie’s website, www.runningforprematurebabies.com.