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A colorful Redmond run for the American Heart Association | SLIDESHOW

When Nadia Luqman was born, she had a heart defect that left holes in her heart and the valves not working properly.

She had open-heart surgery at 2 and a half years old to repair this and now lives with a pig valve inside her chest. As she got older, the Sammamish resident became an advocate for heart health.

Currently, the 15-year-old Eastlake High School (EHS) sophomore is an intern for the American Heart Association (AHA) Puget Sound. It was through her work there that she connected with her peers in Redmond to help organize an event to raise money and awareness for heart health.

The first-ever Color Run for Heart 5K run/walk was held last Saturday at Redmond Town Center (RTC) and was organized by leadership students at Redmond High School (RHS) with help from the AHA Puget Sound — and by extension, Luqman.

THINKING BIG

The event came about through Dawn McCutcheon, the youth market director for AHA Puget Sound, who has been working to raise heart-health awareness at the high school level. She said this usually manifests in the form of a “red out for heart” event in which people wear red to a sports game to show their support for heart health. When she teamed up with the leadership class at RHS in the fall of 2013, McCutcheon said the students wanted to expand things beyond their school walls to include the community.

The result was the Color Run.

“I was very excited that they wanted to do it bigger,” said McCutcheon, who is a sudden cardiac arrest survivor.

She said the students reached out to other schools within the Lake Washington School District to promote the community event and McCutcheon said their efforts were rewarded. The Color Run had about 250 participants and they have raised more than $6,500 so far, with more money coming in from donors. McCutcheon said high schools usually raise an average of about $2,200 in their fundraisers.

“They did really well,” she said about the RHS leadership team. “It’ll be one of the top fundraising high schools in the state.”

A PERSONAL CONNECTION

Elaine Wang, who was co-head for the Color Run along with Evan O’Neill, said they wanted to do a color run because they thought it would be a fun way to spread awareness about an important issue. But things became more impactful for the RHS senior and her classmates when they met Luqman and heard her story. Wang, 18, said knowing someone so close to their age affected by heart disease really opened their eyes to how far-reaching it is.

Luqman said young people need to know how important heart health is because heart disease does not just affect older people.

“I’m just like them,” she pointed out about her peers, adding that parents need to be aware that it could happen to their children, as well.

For Luqman, seeing her peers work to get the community involved in a cause she believes in so much was a humbling experience — especially as she was already good friends with one of the RHS students before they began planning the Color Run.

“For her to step up…I thought it was a really great thing,” Luqman said.

That friend was senior Noor Awad. The 17-year-old and Luqman have known each other for about 12 years through their families but it wasn’t until the last few years that Awad knew more about her friend’s heart condition. Awad didn’t know she would be working with her friend on the Color Run until Luqman came to their class with McCutcheon. When she showed up, Awad said she was excited to work with Luqman because the cause became more personal for her.

“It was a great surprise,” Awad said.

WORTH THEIR EFFORT

For the students, organizing the Color Run was a lot of work and involved more than they had realized going into it.

“There were so many permits we had to get,” Luqman said.

In addition, she said they had to have insurance for participants, get vendors, sponsors, publicity and more.

Wang agreed that there was more to making the event happen than she expected. Before this, she had been part of the youth advisory committee for a Relay for Life event, but the Color Run was much more involved.

“It was much more overwhelming, but much more gratifying,” she said, adding that O’Neill and their fellow Color Run committee members really came together to make it happen. “It was really a joint effort and a committee effort.”

Despite all of this work, Luqman agreed that it was gratifying and said she would absolutely be part of it again if the Color Run becomes an annual event.

“It really just made it worth it,” she said about seeing all the participants as well as sharing her story and leading off the run. “I thought that was really cool.”

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