(QUEENSLAND, Australia) — As if running a marathon weren’t enough of a feat, one dad pushed a stroller the entire way.
For Troy Austin, an Australian man who is an Ironman competitor and triathlete as well as a marathon runner, the exertion of pushing the stroller wasn’t so much physical as emotional. Because the stroller he pushed was empty.
Austin ran the Sunshine Coast Marathon with the empty stroller last month in honor of his late son, T.G. The boy was stillborn in 2016 at 27 weeks, three days after his parents had learned through a sonogram that he had no heartbeat.
“The day you find out about your child has passed isn’t the day of labor — well, not in our instance,” Austin told ABC News. “The day after our devastating news, we had to go back and have a time of death recorded.”
Following the terrible news on the sonogram, Austin said his wife was given medication to help prepare her body to give up the baby.
“After a few emotionally painful days, you go to the hospital to give birth, knowing that your bub isn’t coming home to his room,” he said.
T.G. would be more than 1 year old now.
“Three days after we heard those horrible words, ‘No heartbeat,’ we got to meet our boy. He is beautiful,” Austin said.
“He is still and innocent. We smile through the heartache because we have our first child. We are a family. His grandparents came to meet our son and for a cuddle. We stayed with him all night. He was born too late for a photographer to come, so we held him ’til the sunrise only to have to say goodbye as a nurse wheeled him away.”
“Next time we saw T.G was at the funeral home, wrapped so innocently,” he said.
After the ordeal, Austin said he coped by throwing himself into physical fitness, which was already a major part of his life. His wife, Kelly, worked to handle the loss by preserving everything she could about T.G., he said.
The stroller was one of the first purchases the couple had made when Kelly was pregnant. Until this marathon, it had been sitting in the garage unused.
One of Austin’s friends was running his first marathon to raise money and awareness for the Austin family charity Everyday Hero, which raises awareness and offers support to families who had a stillborn child.
Austin paced himself to run with his friend, but while the race wasn’t terribly difficult physically, it took an emotional toll.
There were people along the route who joked about getting a ride in the stroller, and an announcer who said over the loudspeaker, “‘Here comes old mate, and it looks like he has lost his kid,'” Austin said. He estimates there were a hundred comments made about the empty stroller through the course of the race.
“They weren’t trying to be mean; it was just the Aussie humor. Stillbirth was the furthest from their mind, and I understood that,” he said. “I kept answering the onslaught of questions and shout-outs with, ‘That’s the point,’ and, ‘Yes, I have lost my son and I’m not getting him back.’ “
He said he got a mixed response from people who understood the point of his pushing the empty stroller. “A fair few didn’t get it,” he said. But he said he’s glad the event raised awareness of the issue of stillbirths.
The couple now have another son, Samuel, but still deeply miss T.G., Austin said. They honor his memory at family functions with a small giraffe and give photos of him to his grandparents. And T.G.’s stroller will race again, bringing more awareness to the issue of stillbirth.
“I just want to help. I want T.G to play with the other kids in heaven and know we are helping their parents down here,” Austin said. “I would like to let the community know it’s OK to talk about stillbirth, to mention the children we have lost. Parents that have lost a child want to hear their children’s name. They want to know that they are counted.”
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