Ashley Kumlien decided to turn her passion into a cause and her hardship into inspiration.
In 2010, the 28-year-old Brookfield native embarked on a cross country challenge to benefit the nonprofit organization she founded in 2009 called MS Run the US. The goal of the run was to raise funds and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis. MS Run the US donates 100 percent of proceeds to the Wisconsin chapter of the MS Society.
Turning negative into positive
Ashley has seen the hardships caused by MS firsthand. Her mother, Brookfield resident Jill Kumlien, was diagnosed with the disease in 1980. Instead of dwelling on the negatives, Ashley decided to create something positive. As a lifelong runner, she chose to combine her passion for running and travel by directing it toward a cause.
"I got really excited and passionate when this could help my family," Ashley said. "My mom has such a great spirit about everything, I couldn't imagine not wanting to help out and then you meet people and they're inspired and want to help."
MS Run the US was born and Ashley took off across country on foot, raising money and awareness.
New challenges, new rewards
Though Ashley ran daily marathons for weeks on end during her run across the U.S., the challenge has just begun.
On July 29, Ashley was invited to join five athletes to run the Wipro San Francisco Marathon back-to-back. It's a 52.4 mile run that kicks off Worth The Hurt - a new model for charitable fundraising.
Worth The Hurt was developed by San Francisco Marathon event producers who found the current model of endurance-based charitable giving to be limited.
"With Worth The Hurt, the athlete uses a new, proprietary web platform to create their own custom campaign - whether it is running across the U.S. to raise money for multiple sclerosis, climbing the highest peaks for clean water or trekking to the South Pole for the blind," said Jenny Radloff with Worth The Hurt. "For any challenge imaginable, for any charity, every dollar an athlete raises up to 20 percent goes directly back to the athlete to help pay for their training, race expenses and to support their fundraising campaign."
The fundraising method is being tested on six athletes, who are already participating in endurance challenges to raise money for charities. Ashley is one of the six and she is more than up to the challenge.
"I do ultra marathons pretty regularly so I'm not scared of the distance as I am looking forward to the opportunity to bring awareness to the cause and bring excitement to the race (across the U.S.) and continue fundraising," she said.
Awareness one step at a time
Through participating in Worth The Hurt, Ashley is hoping to reach out to other runners so they participate in a brand new MS Run the US event. This event is a relay that will connect 22 endurance runners in a segmented relay run across America that covers more than 3,000 miles of roads stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.
"We're doing this in a fashion that's never been attempted before. A runner would apply for a section of an average of 140 miles in one week," Ashley said. They will run a marathon a day for six days and pass on the responsibility to the next group."
Anyone interested in participating in the relay across America should contact Ashley at Ashley@msrunus.com.
For many, running a mile seems an impossible feat, but for Ashley, every mile brings success to her cause. Multiple Sclerosis can have varying degrees of symptoms. Ashley said her mom is fortunate and does not have to be wheelchair bound. Jill does suffer from loss of balance, hand tremors, as well as some loss to her communication skills.
When Ashley embarks on a lengthy run, it is her mother and the nonprofit that motivate her to take the next step.
"It's amazing to find even when you're at the break and can't go on anymore, there's a source of energy there you can tap into and I tap into my mom a lot as an energy source," Ashley said. "I know it's there. I don't know where it will come from, but the more you practice, the more you learn that."
On Sept. 22, that energy source will be running with Ashley, as the mother-daughter duo are set to participate in the Brewers mini-marathon. Jill physically cannot run, but Ashley will be pushing her in an adult disability stroller throughout the race.
For information on MS Run the US, visit msruntheus.com.
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