When Heather Grace Thomas reached out to us last October asking if she could represent Connecting Champions in the 2019 Pittsburgh Marathon and run in memory of her cousin, our former intern and volunteer, Victoria Ondo-Burnfin, we were flattered and honored, but little did we know the incredible impact this kindhearted, passionate woman was about to have on our organization.
Last summer, the world lost a beautiful and loving soul to a battle with cancer; Victoria Ondo-Burnfin - former Connecting Champions role model and intern, beloved wife, daughter, cousin, and friend to so many. Seeing the passion and love Victoria had for the kids involved with Connecting Champions, Victoria’s cousin, Heather Grace Thomas, wanted to carry on her legacy and memory through a positive impact for our kids.
When we began this journey together, we had no idea how far it would take us. It took us much farther than the 182.8 collective miles that our team of 19 ran during marathon weekend. Every goal we set, we met, but our team was relentless in continuing to push themselves and each other, both in their training and their impact on Connecting Champions. Time and time again we hear that there is something different about running for someone or something. It’s not about you or your personal doubts or fears. You’re not there for yourself. You’re there for a purpose and you keep putting one foot in front of the other, because someone is counting on you. You made a promise. This amazing team made their promises to our kids. For months they trained in the rain, in the cold, the heat, snow, the wee hours of the morning, and after long days at work when many others were relaxing and winding down for the night. They trained and they ran and they shared the Connecting Champions kids’ stories, spreading awareness for our organization and our cause. In just its first year of existence, the Connecting Champions Pittsburgh Marathon Charity Team in Memory of Victoria Obdo-Burnfin raised more than six times our original fundraising goal. Many of our team members set personal records of their own; first race, first half marathon, first full marathon, a PR. They dedicated so much of their time and of themselves to our kids and every bit of it shows in the lasting impact they have created.
From the very beginning, our team captains, Heather Grace Thomas and Alanna Figurelli, have been a beautiful combination of smiles and good cheer with drive and commitment, never losing sight of why we took the first step in this journey. Not only has our team raised $12,669 so far, making 50 friendship moments possible in the coming year and creating countless smiles, but they have begun what we hope to be a Connecting Champions tradition for years to come. A tradition of passion, selfless athleticism, and of carrying on the loving memory and legacy of Victoria through the smiles of the kids in Connecting Champions. We know that this is the start of something truly beautiful and we look forward to watching it grow and strengthen, and our impact spread. So be on the lookout next year for the Connecting Champions shirts in the sea of runners and send a little extra love and encouragement their way for all that they’ve given for our organization and for our kids. Maybe even consider lacing up those running shoes and creating some smiles with us next year!
Types of Friendships