This weekend runners will lace up their sneakers in Marietta for an annual 5K race benefiting needy children born with cleft lip and cleft palate birth defects. The Hot Lips Hustle raises money for life saving surgeries through the international organization, Smile Train.
Local race founder Ryan Ernstes of Marietta took on the mission of helping other children even as she struggled herself to overcome her own facial and oral disfiguration.
By age 12, Ryan had already undergone several surgeries, and years of orthodontic treatment to correct the birth defect of cleft lip. Cleft lip is a physical split or separation of the two sides of the upper lip and appears as a narrow opening or gap in the skin of the upper lip. This separation often extends beyond the base of the nose and includes the bones of the upper jaw and/or upper gum.
As a pre-teen, Ryan was mature enough to realize just how fortunate her family was to have both the access and financial ability to pay for great treatment. She decided she wanted to help other children who could not afford the treatments to correct a cleft lip or a cleft palate, which is a split, or opening, in the roof or bony front portion of the mouth.
From that seed of concern for others bloomed the beautiful annual 5K race known as the Hot Lips Hustle.
Explaining how the idea came about Ryan said, “My mom and I, being big runners, decided we could figure out how to organize a 5k race and give the proceeds to help less fortunate children born with cleft lip and palate”.
Saturday, September 14 will mark the 9th annual Hot Lip Hustle race to benefit Smile Train. The event begins at 8 a.m. at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church located at 2922 Sandy Plains Rd in Marietta, GA.
Over the years, the now 21-year-old Ryan, her mother Robin, older sister Casey, and father Joe have worked hard to make this race a success. To date, the Hot Lip Hustle has raised enough money to pay for more than 200 children’s’ surgeries correcting cleft lip and palate.
All proceeds raised during the 5K event go towards Smile Train, a non-profit organization that performs the free surgeries worldwide.
Pleased that so many children’s lives are being saved through her family and community participation Ryan points to the fact that, “In many countries, children with cleft lip and palate are abandoned and starve, or are shunned and not allowed basic things like going to school. However, thanks to The Smile Train, a life changing surgery costs only $250, is free to the child and their family, and can literally save a child's life in 45 minutes”.
Robin Ernstes offers words of encouragement to parents with children experiencing cleft lip or palate. She says while the correction process may be long, the malformation is completely correctable.
“How each child with cleft emotionally handles their condition likely has much to do with how the family reacts to it”, said Robin. She also adds, “More important, cleft children are just like other children in every other way and left untreated, what they endure both physically and emotionally is awful”.
Robin is not surprised by her daughter’s motivation. “Something I have grown to believe is that there is something inherently compassionate about cleft children. They seem to have a kinder heart and a want to help others”, said Robin.
23-year-old Casey remembers how hard it was growing up watching her sister Ryan go through the surgeries. However today, Casey takes away a personal inspiration from Ryan and her family as a whole as they demonstrated a willingness to fight on no matter how hard.
“I hope that our story has inspired other families or friends to stick together and fight for a cause that they believe in as well”, said Casey.
Ryan vows to continue her mission with Smile Train and helping as many children as she can.
“I think the most important lesson the race has taught me is how much positive change can be accomplished when you set your mind to a cause you are passionate about”, said Ryan. “I hope anyone who hears of our event is inspired to serve others in some way that is as equally meaningful to them as the race is to us”.
For more information about Saturday’s Hot Lips Hustle 5K race or Smile Train call 212-689-9199 or visit http://www.smiletrain.org/ .