PUBLISHED SEPT. 29, 2016
By LOIS KINDLE
Three years ago a group of school-age children gathered to organize an event to celebrate the life of Austin Bradley Coates. The 4 year old had passed away in June after a grape lodged in his throat during lunch.
Austin’s sisters, Aubrie and April, and their friends Roxy Morrison and Kennedy and Hunter Warbritton came up with the idea for the ABC Superhero Fun Run, a casual, one-mile run/walk in his memory. Their mothers helped put the fundraiser together, and the first two years’ proceeds netted a total of almost $8,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“Austin truly saw himself as a superhero,” said Melanie Rimes, a close friend of Maria Coates, the boy’s mother. “So this year we decided to honor the community’s real superheroes, the men and women of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, by giving the proceeds to the Lynn Sowers Memorial Foundation.”
Established in memory of Deputy Lynn Sowers in 1995, the nonprofit organization provides financial help to HCSO employees who’ve suffered catastrophic loss.
Rimes said the idea came from a comment made during Deputy John Kotfila’s funeral service earlier this year. Kotfila died last March when he put himself in harm’s way to save a woman’s life as a wrong-way driver sped towards her car on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
“The person speaking called the deputy a superhero, and in that instant I made the connection,” Rimes said.
This year’s ABC Fun Run also has a new venue. The event will take place Oct. 8 at East Bay High School, 7710 Old Big Bend Road, Gibsonton. Registration is at 9 a.m.; the opening ceremony and run starts at 10 a.m.
The cost is $15 per person or $25 per family, regardless of size, and includes one lunch per walker/runner and a beverage.
Austin’s mother said the event is held each year to honor Austin’s short, but incredibly special life.
“As a family, we do this to keep his memory alive and also to help others in their time of need,” she said. “He was very outgoing and full of fun, and he’ll always be our little superhero.
“And it’s an honor to be able to support our community’s real superheroes who put their lives on the lines for us every day. Austin would have liked that.”
Rimes said she feels the event has been therapeutic for Coates.
“As Maria’s friend, I see and understand the horrible grieving she’s gone through,” she said. “As a mother, I notice how her face lights up when we begin planning this event every year. It’s like planning a birthday party for her child. She wants to make it special in every way, and doing (the ABC Superhero Fun Run) helps remind her of Austin’s incredible spirit. As long as she wants to do it, I’m in.”
With the Lynn Sowers Memorial Foundation as its new beneficiary, both women hope more people than ever will participate.
“We want to personally invite all Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office personnel and their families to come participate in the ABC Superhero Fun Run,” Rimes said. “It’s a great opportunity for members of law enforcement and the community to strengthen their ties.”
To register in advance for the 3rd annual ABC Superhero Fun Run, go to eventbrite.com or visit the event’s Facebook page. For additional information, call 813-645-1366.