The Smilin’ Rylen Foundation & A Mama On A Mission
**Blog originally posted last Spring. The 2020 5k Smilin’ Rylen Run registration will open up in January. Follow along on their website and if you’re a business, be sure to check out the sponsor section to see how you can be involved**
Some may say it’s simple coincidence that the month of April is Rylen Cowan’s birth month, as well as National Organ Donation Awareness Month. But not for Rylen’s mom Kristen Cowan. No, she knows that’s just another Rylen Wink, as she calls them – little signs from Rylen in heaven that everything is by design, just as it should be, and that he’s looking down on her, letting her know he’s OK.
Many of you may have heard of God Winks, there are books about them, and Kristen says she get them all the time, some signs big, sometimes little. But almost every day since Rylen’s passing two years ago, Kristen and her family see the color orange, Rylen’s favorite color, everywhere, it the most random places, and especially in times they need to see that color most.
Rylen earned his angel wings on June 5, 2017, at only 13.5 months old, after a battle with Bacterial Meningitis. Through tears, Kristen shared some of the details of her precious final days with her son and it touched us to our absolute core. Kristen has to be one of the bravest mamas we’ve ever known.
And Rylen, Little but Mighty as they call him, did not leave this earth without touching so many people. Even two years later, he’s still blessing others and impacting those who learn of his story. Thanks to the medical advances in organ donation, Rylen was able to save 5 lives. It’s as if Rylen’s sweet smile lives on in these five people, who just needed a little more time. Rylen gave them that gift, the gift of time, and that is what keeps Kristen going.
We’ve followed along with the Cowan family and their mission with their foundation since running in the The Smilin’ Rylen 5k Run last April, which was also our first 5k to ever run. Neither of us had run more than two miles in our life, but signing up for this race was on our hearts. We ran across the finish line together, holding hands, and immediately sought Kristen out after the run to give her a big hug and thank her for sharing her story and allowing us to be a part of such an uplifting event honoring her sweet son.
Hearing from the Cowan family and all the beneficiaries who they support speak before the race struck us to our core and truly what we believe helped us finish that 3-mile run. Rylen’s little face on the back of t-shirts in a sea of orange gave us the most unimaginable motivation.
And almost one year later, we’ve never forgotten about the Cowan family. Maybe it’s because we’re moms, and moms just get other moms. Maybe it’s because if we were to lose a child, we know the support of other moms would mean the world to us, too. Or maybe it’s because Kristen is just that lovable and genuine.
Whatever the case, when April was quickly approaching we knew we wanted to learn more about Rylen’s story and play a bigger role in this year’s run. So a few weeks ago, we got to sit down with Kristen at a local cafe in Katy, sharing smoothies and stories of sweet Rylen for close to two hours. We cried, laughed and smiled talking about Rylen and their mission with their foundation. We were truly honored to sit across the table from such a strong, kind, brave woman and get to listen to her open her heart and talk about her sweet son, gone too soon from this earth.
What struck us most about our meeting with Kristen was how even when speaking about something so hard, a point in her life that we’re certain was hell on this earth, she still found reasons to be joyous and grateful. She said even in the depths of hell they were walking through when they lost Rylen, there was joy in being able to see all the beauty God had placed around them in that moment. That moment, as horrible as it felt, allowed her to see so clearly God’s design, which included the most supportive group of family and friends, as well as the non-profit organizations that helped them through their toughest days.
A beautiful part in this, is the Cowan family turning tragedy, grief, and loss into a mission by creating The Smilin’ Rylen Foundation where their mission is to raise awareness about organ donation and to assist families in crisis.
Their foundation allows them to give back to several charities that meant the most to them when they were in their darkest hour in June of 2017. And these 5K races allow them to give back in a big way. Last year, they raised over $30k to give back to organizations like The Ronald McDonald House, LifeGift, Donate Life Texas, Emma’s Hugs, and Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
This year, the run will take place on April 27th in the Cane Island neighborhood of Katy and not only are we running this year, Katy Moms Network is a sponsor! We are honored to give back to a cause like this and help in any small way to honor Rylen’s name and his story, as well as be there for his sweet family.
Today, Rylen lives on in the 5 individuals he saved. His Heart to a 3 year old boy named Gannon in Alabama, his liver to a 3 year old girl in Texas, one of his kidneys to a 41 year male, the other kidney to a 45 year old male, and his intestine to a 9 year old boy. This perfect, tiny 13.5 month old little boy saved the lives of five people!
Kristen got to travel to Alabama last year and meet the little boy who holds Rylen’s heart in his chest. Using her bright orange stethoscope, Kristen, her husband, and her son, were able to listen to the heart that once belonged to their Rylen. A heart that gave a little boy the gift of life and gave his family the gift of more time.
If you aren’t a donor yet, now is the perfect time, as April is National Organ Donation Month. And if you’re not already signed up to participate in this year’s Smilin’ Rylen Run, there’s still time to register. If you’re a Katy area business, you also have time to sign up as a sponsor. We hope this cause will touch your hearts as much as it has ours.
Click HERE to register for the run!
Click HERE to read more about the charities they support with the money raised!
Click HERE to be a volunteer for the run!
Click HERE to donate directly online!
Click HERE to learn more about being a sponsor!