Payton Dewitt is a sweet, happy, 7-year-old girl, just special enough to have a charity named after her. What makes Payton even more special is that she is living with mitochondrial disease. Through Payton's Race for a Cure, the organization founded by her mother, Michelle, members are raising money and awareness, and helping researchers to find a speedy antidote.
Payton's Race for a Cure started four years ago as a way for Michelle's 11-year-old son to take part in finding a cure for his sister. Michelle turned his dirt biking hobby into a regional fundraising extravaganza that continues to grow each year. Participation is so large in fact that the group had to move the event from its original Cedar Springs location to Grattan Raceway.
This year, Payton’s Race for a Cure will take place on July 21. Click here to download an event flyer.
Mitochondrial disease prevents the natural process of food being converted into energy for brain functions and heart muscles, Michelle explained. Those suffering from the disease find it difficult or even impossible to walk and talk. Payton only started walking a limited amount recently, and she seizes constantly–a side effect.
“I’ve raised a normal child, and when he took his first step it was amazing. But it’s so different (for Payton); it’s a different feeling,” Michelle said.
Organizing the event takes a board of dedicated volunteers, like Melissa Quesada, the board’s web administrator.
“Just seeing the way Michelle and all of her friends and family came together to put the event on, I wanted to know what I could do to help out more,” Melissa said.
She developed the organization’s website and manages its social networking channels. The Internet has helped the group’s presence to grow into surrounding communities.
“It went from word of mouth to now a website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked In. It’s been the main influence,” Melissa said.
Michelle gets involved in every local event she can to help promote the group and raise awareness about the disease like the Lowell River Walk Festival and Relay for Life.
“It’s just a matter of getting our name out there. We operate under the theory that if one more person knows, we’re one more step closer to a cure,” Michelle said.
Proceeds of the motocross event go to two main organizations. The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation focuses on finding a cure and raising awareness of a relatively mysterious disease. They primarily provide research grants and work with legislatures. Mito Action is the second organization with which Michelle and Payton’s Race for a Cure are closely linked. It provides support for families and works to education and helps loved ones cope.
Michelle knows a thing or two about balancing her home and work life. As a full time employee, she manages a schedule of day-to-day work, event organization, taking Payton to her frequent hospital appointments, and being a mother to her son as well as a dedicated wife.
"I don’t just have one child, I have two. I have to make sure the other child is loved just as equally. It means my husband and I being separated a lot of times. When Payton goes to University of Michigan, I take her, and he stays at home with our son,” Michelle said. “It’s a constant battle, but the rewards are just so great. You learn to truly value the little things in life.”
Written by: Erika Fifelski was born and raised in West Michigan, and after a brief stint on the sunrise side, she's home and loving it. Erika enjoys cooking, sewing, vacuuming, and discovering new ways to live sustainably and support local businesses.