Like many of us, Dorina Gilmore-Young runs for fitness, mental clarity, and spiritual renewal. But each year, as the Two Cities marathon approaches, she runs to remember.
For the past eight years, her Remember Haiti running team has been a presence at the Two Cities marathon. She started the team with her late husband, Ericlee Gilmore, in the wake of the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island. It has grown to include a community of runners, many of whom have completed their first race while raising money for Haitian relief.
Dorina and Ericlee had personal ties to the country, as his grandparents were pioneering missionaries there in the 1940s.
“He grew up going to Haiti every year,” she recalls. “His mom was born there. In 2001, he invited some people from our church to help put on a track camp in Haiti. That’s how I met him.”
As she recalls on her website, she ended up falling in love with the country as well, and even moved there to teach English for a time. After the 2010 earthquake, she says, she and Ericlee decided to return to Haiti to aid in recovery efforts. Since they were both runners, a friend suggested they run the Two Cities marathon as a fundraiser to help finance the family’s move.
“It turned out we had 19 different friends who wanted to come out and said they wanted to run it with us,” she says. It kind of became this instant fundraiser.” Thus, first Remember Haiti team was born. Coached by Ericlee, the team “became this really neat training group and community. We were helping many of them run for the first time, and they were helping us spread the word and knowledge about Haiti.”
Though the Gilmores eventually returned to Fresno, they continued to operate a nonprofit and travel to Haiti on a regular basis. They also continued to lead the Remember Haiti team, each year choosing a new project to benefit from funds raised.
Ericlee Gilmore passed away from cancer in 2014. At that time, Dorina stepped down from her leadership position with the nonprofit and cut back on her family’s trips to Haiti. In her initial grief, she says, she thought she might cut back on running as well.
“My first husband and I ran together, we ran tons of races together, and after he died I really wasn’t sure if I could keep running. I was used to having him as my partner and coach and companion.” However, she says, friends — many from their Remember Haiti teams — stepped up in a big way “and said, ‘we’re gonna do this together.'”
Running became a way to process her grief. “Running is a space for healing; it affords me time to think through the memories and heal and grieve and pray. It’s a way to heal that I don’t in other spaces, partly because I’m a mom, but partly because the exertion, the breath, the time alone in God’s creation have made it a healing space for me.”
As an author and blogger, she says, it’s also a “creative brainstorming space. I feel like I do my best writing when I’m running. I may be stuck in the direction I want it to go and I’m kind of processing that when I’m running.” You may be familiar with Dorina’s award-winning picture book, Cora Cooks Pancit, but her most recent book is a Bible study called Glory Chasers: Discovering God’s Glory in Unexpected Places. “I’ve really pivoted to focusing on writing about God’s glory, and grief, and serving readers who are going through difficult circumstances,” she explains.
As she continues to run strong, so does Remember Haiti. She now coaches the team with her new husband, Shawn Young. In preparation for this year’s Two Cities half marathon, the group has been meeting weekly for track workouts and long runs. Members are responsible for doing additional runs with a training partner and are shown core and strength training exercises they can do on their own.
This year, she says, the team is particularly unique — it includes several families with young children: “We have at least six kids under 12 who are running. It’s mothers and daughters running it together. My middle daughter is running it with my dad, and I’m running it with all the kids. We’ve always had adults do it; we’ve never had the kids participate. It’s really exciting to see them get excited about raising money for these projects in Haiti.”
Over the years, these projects have included building schools and raising money for orphanages. Recent projects include digging a new well in Fontaine and establishing a running club for teenagers who have grown up in an orphanage in Pignon. Last year, the team raised $12,000.
Although it has been eight years since the earthquake, Haiti is still rebuilding. More recent natural disasters have resulted in setbacks. “The part of Haiti where we work is in the northern mountains … they don’t get the direct hit, but the amount of rain they get is very devastating and affects their clean water source,” Dorina says. After August’s Hurricane Irma, “the river raised several feet and people’s animals washed away, crops were ruined. It definitely is an ongoing thing, partly because of the poverty and partly because of how that land is. When something like a hurricane hits, it has ramifications for years.”
You can donate to the Remember Haiti team through Christian Friendship Ministries, a nonprofit that has been working in northern Haiti since 1947. The nonprofit accepts PayPal donations; when you make your payment you can note your donation is for the Remember Haiti team.