At times it seems that the best way to ease your own grief is to help others get through theirs.
In 2008, Rik and Lindsay Zortman of Avoca, Iowa learned the devastating news that their youngest son, Armstrong, had glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer.
At just three years old, their beautiful, bright-eyed little boy was a true joy to be around. “He had blonde hair, blue eyes and if you saw his face, he would melt your heart in a second,” Rik said.
But within a few months, Armstrong lost his battle with cancer, leaving his family to pick up the pieces from their heartbreaking loss. Rik and his wife divorced not long after Armstrong’s death, and Rik found himself searching for a way to remember his son, while still healing his soul from the loss.
When Armstrong became sick, a local group had organized a 5K race in his name. They proceeded with the run after the boy’s death, and Rik decided to take part in it as a way to honor his boy. As his feet pounded against the pavement, Rik found a sudden solace that he hadn’t expected. Not only was the physical exertion a good way to improve his health and emotional state, he felt closer to Armstrong with every mile he ran.
Armstrong had loved to run, and now his father decided to pick up where his son left off. “I thought if I could just do one thing that he liked to do, I am going to continue doing it,” Rik said.
Running soon became Rik’s saving grace, and he’s now run two triathlons, 19 half-marathons and countless 5Ks and 10Ks. One day in 2017, Rik was fiddling with the GPS on his cell phone when he had a flash of inspiration. He quickly sketched out a running route that followed each letter of his son’s name, forming the complete “Armstrong” name when he’d finished.
By the time he finished that first run, Rik had an idea of how he could help other families who are coping with cancer. After he shared a screenshot of the running route on social media, people started reaching out to him to ask if he’d run their loved one’s name too. He set off with a modest goal of running 100 names in 30 days to raise awareness during childhood cancer awareness month, but as more names poured into his inbox each day, he knew his mission would have to expand by a great deal.
To date, Rik has run more than 475 names in 8 states across the United States. After each run, he shares a screenshot of the name on Facebook, and he tags the loved ones who requested the run.
Rik now calls himself a “human Etch-a-Sketch,” and he’s decided to keep running names until there are no more names to run.
“Everybody has a purpose in life, and the purpose God gave me for Armstrong was the fact that he got me running,” Rik stated. “Because if he was still alive today, I wouldn’t know anything much about cancer (and) I wouldn’t know any of the parents that have kids that passed away.”
The way that Rik has embraced his new mission as a method of helping others has surely eased his own pain. His selfless actions are further proof that sometimes helping others provides us with the purpose we need to carry on.
Learn more about Rik’s journey below, and be sure to share this inspiring message with others.
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