Close to her heart

Close to her heart

When Cyndi Ortiz-Taylor runs a race, she runs for MANC.

Her t-shirt says: “I Run 4 MANC.” So does the temporary tattoo on her hand. And if the race offers a personalized bib, hers often says, “I Run 4 MANC.”

Blog Photo“MANC” is Maddox, Alex, Niccole and Cam.

Maddox is a child with juvenile arthritis. Alex, the son of a good friend, died at age 9 from cancer. Niccole was a 22-year-old Wisconsin woman who died from an overdose. And Cam is an Ohio boy with heart disease.

Ortiz-Taylor has been running for them and their families for the past several years. She began running in 2010 after volunteering at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon and being inspired watching the participants. When a former co-worker lost her son, Alex, to cancer, Ortiz-Taylor decided to dedicate her run at a half marathon in Springfield to him.

She got involved with the organization I Run 4 Michael after family members with children with special needs told her about it. The non-profit organization matches runners with children and adults with special needs or physical or congenital disorders. It is named for a man with Down Syndrome who inspired the organization’s founder.

Blog PhotoI Run 4 Michael matched Ortiz-Taylor with Cam. But before a match was available, she was connected with I Run 4 Remembrance, another branch of the organization that matches runners with families who’ve lost a loved one. It matched her with Niccole’s family.

Ortiz-Taylor had a student when she taught preschool who had juvenile arthritis. She began running for him too.

“I wanted to show awareness for juvenile arthritis. I was oblivious to it. I didn’t even know it existed until he came into my classroom,” she said.

Blog PhotoThe I Run 4 organization asks participants -- runners, walkers, triathletes or any other type of athlete -- to devote workouts to the buddy or family they’ve been matched with and to maintain contact with them through the organization’s Facebook group several times a week.

Ortiz-Taylor runs a race for each of her buddies or families every year, and she sends a race medal and photos to them and tags them when she posts about the races on social media.

“That’s a way to let them know I’m always thinking about them,” she said.

Doing so helps her as well.

“There have been times where I’m at the point in miles in the half marathon or marathon where I can’t do this anymore. My leg hurts or I’m tired, and I just think of them. It rejuvenates me and gives me the motivation to continue,” Ortiz-Taylor said.

She plans a race each year in Wisconsin for Niccole’s family and one in Ohio for Cam. She met the families after running for them in races in their hometowns and has become friends with them. She’s now training for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Half Marathon in Canton, Ohio, in April, which she’ll run for Cam.

She runs a Chicago-area race for Maddox, whose family relocated to that area. And she runs the St. Jude Champaign-Urbana to Peoria run in Alex’s memory. It seemed appropriate since Alex was a patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Blog PhotoOrtiz-Taylor asks for an extra medal from the races she runs in order to send it to her buddy or family. Some races provide them, and others don’t. She often pays an extra entry fee to get another medal, “especially if it’s a really cool medal.”

Ortiz-Taylor runs for all four when she runs an Illinois Marathon race or an I Run 4 virtual race. She can order extra medals for the organization’s virtual races at a small cost. And when she runs at the Illinois Marathon, she often does one of the I-Challenges, which means she receives three medals. After the race, she asks race director Jan Seeley if she can get leftover medals.

“Jan has so graciously given me extra medals,” Ortiz-Taylor said.

“The bling is really cool on the wall. But it’s not about the bling. It’s about doing something good for somebody,” she said. “I can’t bring back Niccole. I can’t bring back Alex. But I can keep their memories alive by doing these things.

“For Cam and Maddox, I can’t take away their physical pain, but what I can do is show awareness of that, of child heart disease and juvenile arthritis, and let them know they’re not fighting this alone. They have people out there that are running for them and other kids like them.”


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at


Photos: Top: Cyndi Ortiz-Taylor races with a purpose in mind -- a group of people she refers to as MANC, Maddox, Alex, Niccole and Cam -- and she usually requests it on her rce bibs. She's run the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon (second photo) and the Pro Football Hall of Fame Half Marathon (third photo, with Cam). Bottom: She displays her medals -- and motivation -- proudly. Photos provided by Cyndi Ortiz-Taylor




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