You and your sweet daughter are such an inspiration, Shelly. Thank you for letting me share your story! And congrats on your marathon – you are amazing!

Shelly's Story

My name is Shelly, I am 32 years old, I have three kids, and I started running two and a half years ago. On my 30th birthday, the summer of 2012, one of my close friends passed away suddenly from bacterial meningitis. She was 32. She had 3 kids, the age of my kids. Our community and church family was heartbroken. She was (is) the type of person who inspired everyone she met. She lived her life so deliberately and was an incredible mother, wife, and friend. She had just run a marathon in March of that year. Some friends decided that we should run a 10 mile race in her honor. I had never been a regular runner – only trying it out a few times, and slowly at that. Some of us decided were going to become runners together. We had the support of a few close friends who were accomplished runners (one ran for her university), and they kept us going and helped us reach our goal of running 10 miles.

After that race, I decided if I can do 10, I can do a half marathon, and if I can do a half marathon, I can do a full marathon. So, I signed up for my first marathon to be ran 7 1/2 months after I started running. I was able to finish at 3 hours 53 minutes with the help of friends who ran alongside me as we trained together. I had lost weight and felt great.

Shelly's Story

I decided after the first marathon, that I wanted to do that again, but the next time I’d like to run for a cause. The first and only thing to enter my mind was raising money for The Spina Bifida Association. In 2009, while pregnant with my third child, I found out that she would be born with spina bifida. Spina bifida is the most common serious birth defect and affects the brain, nerves to the legs, and nerves to the bowel and bladder. Suddenly, our world crashed down around us and we felt the life we once knew was over. We prayed for comfort, peace and acceptance. After softening my heart, I realized what I needed to pray for was gratitude for our sweet daughter and child of God. As soon as that prayer was offered, I had the realization that she was not our trial, she was our blessing. When I was 24 weeks pregnant, I was able to have prenatal surgery through a clinical trial called the MOMS study. They did a c-section and closed the opening in Kailtyn’s back that was exposing her spinal cord causing damage to her brain, nerves to her legs, and nerves to her bowel and bladder. They closed us both back up and I was pregnant (very uncomfortably pregnant) for another 10 weeks.

Kaitlyn Ava was born to our family September 23, 2009. The prenatal surgery remains the only surgery she has ever had. We catheterize her 4 times a day, she has physical, and occupational therapy every week, and took her first steps at 2 years old. She has fought hard for each new accomplishment and it has been incredibly fulfilling to see her reach her goals. Because things haven’t come easily or naturally for her, we could not be prouder when she reaches a new milestone.

Shelly's Story

On March 1, 2014 I ran my second marathon in honor of my daughter Kaitlyn. Myself and a team of other runners ran the full, half, relay, and 5k all wearing, “We Run For Kaitlyn,” shirts. Between our team and fundraisers, shirt sales, charity prize money, and website we had raised $24,011 for The Spina Bifida Association. We had a flood of blue shirts at that race, and it was incredible running to honor my daughter who may never be able to run a marathon, but has already accomplished so much.

Shelly's Story

This year, I am running the same marathon on Saturday, February 28, 2015 for the third year in a row. I decided to do a smaller fundraising effort focusing on the Spina Bifida o fHouston Gulf Coast, where we live. We have already raised $3,625 and should bring in almost $900 more in shirt sales. Our website is:

Shelly's Story

Running will always be part of my life. I love the relationships I’ve formed and the strength and sense of accomplishment it brings me. It has been beautiful to be able to honor my little girl and raise money for great causes while doing it. Through watching Kaitlyn do things we never thought she could do, I know that I can do things I never thought I could do. She is my hero.

Here is a video we made last year about Kaitlyn’s journey:

Also, as an update, I was able to run my third marathon last Saturday! I finished it in 3:58:09 (with the help of my Boston-qualified friend Dani, who stuck with my all 26.2 miles), barely getting my sub-four goal, and, more importantly, we were able to raise $7,937 for The Spina Bifida Houston Gulf Coast, which earned us the third spot in the Charity Challenge giving another $1,000 for SBHGC. So, nearly $9,000! It was amazing and I was honored to Run For Kaitlyn again.

Shelly's Story


18 Responses to Shelly’s Story

  1. Katie says:

    I’m wondering if you have shared more about your experience with Kaitlyn. I’m where you were when you had just found out about her Spina Bifida.

  2. Karalyn says:

    I regularly follow Mel’s blog and love her recipes! I had never checked out the running section of her blog until today, the anniversary of my sister’s death three years ago. To my surprise I came across Shelly’s story. Shelly references her close friend who died of bacterial meningitis that inspired her to start running, well that friend is my sister. I can’t express how grateful I am that people still remember and pay tribute to her amazing life. I miss her everyday and I am so grateful for her influence in my life. I am so happy I cam across this story.

    • Mel says:

      Karalyn – thank you so much for leaving a comment! The timing of you reading Shelly’s story is uncanny – my heart goes out to you with the loss of your sweet sister. It sounds like she was truly an amazing person and influenced so many for good. Thank you for sharing today.

  3. Shelly Burr says:

    Thank you all for your kind words. It is humbling to share your story, and feels so great to get a response. I recently guest blogged a little more about our story if you want to check it out:

  4. Tanya M. says:

    What an amazing story and such a sweet little girl!!! I’m so impressed that you ran a marathon after 7 months of training! Wow! Thank you for sharing your family’s story! Best of luck to you all and especially your darling little daughter!

  5. Heather bell says:

    You are an inspiration!

  6. JessK says:

    Shelly is truly an inspiration. Her kindness and determination to help her family and friends comes out through her running. I have been with her through some of the low points and some of the triumphs and heard about the points in between, but her story never fails to bring me to tears.

  7. Liz says:


    Hoo…I say HOO-RAH!!!

  8. Carolyn Ferrin Leavitt says:

    Thank you for sharing my daughter Shelly and granddaughter Kaitlyn’s story. They continually inspire me. Miraculously, Kaitlyn can walk and even run on a treadmill. She has a beautiful little singing voice. Shelly and Kendall have shown me and so many others that when life gives you lemons, you can make delicious lemonade. I’m sure you have a great recipe for that on your website. 🙂

  9. Courtney says:

    Such a beautiful story! It brought tears to my eyes! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Shelly.

  10. Shelly Burr says:

    Thank you so much for sharing my story Mel! I have loved following your running updates, and am so honored to see my Kaitlyn’s face on your site. Keep going and inspiring all your readers along the way!

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