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'Footprints in the Forest"' Couple plans run/hike event in daughter's memory


October 13, 2010 - 'You will be challenged - no flat, paved straightaways on this course - and you will conquer…'

The words come from a flier advertising Footprints in the Forest, an upcoming four-mile run/two-mile hike on the trails of Bald Mountain State Recreation Area.

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Jeff and Michelle Aisthorpe, with Elizabeth, two-and-a-half, and Jack, 17 months, lost their first child, Emma Lee, in 2006. Photo by Laura Colvin (click for larger version)
But, whether they meant it that way or not, those words metaphorically represent the lives of Lake Orion residents Jeff and Michelle Aisthorpe in recent years.

Thirty-two weeks into her first pregnancy Michelle Aisthorpe was unpacking baby-shower gifts, getting ready for Christmas and looking forward to childbirth classes when she was confronted one morning by an out-of-the-ordinary, uneasy feeling.

"When I woke up, something didn't feel right," said Michelle, a Clarkston Community Schools' teacher. "Not bad, really, but I was just tired, and the baby didn't seem to be moving as much as normal."

Worried, but not panicked - the pregnancy had been perfectly healthy, after all - Michelle made an appointment with her obstetrician the following day. Just to ease her mind.

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But the doctor's face clouded as she looked at the ultrasound, and although she noticed the doctor's worried expression, Michelle didn't anticipate what came next. Not for a second.

She can still hear the words her doctor spoke nearly four years ago. It was Dec. 4, 2006.

"She said, 'There's no heartbeat.'"

Just like that, the world stopped.

Michelle hadn't wanted to worry her husband, and hadn't even told Jeff she's made an appointment. When he finally arrived at the hospital, doctors were ready to induce labor. With it, an incomprehensible sense of loss.

Devastated, yet overwhelmed with love for the little girl they'd already named Emma Lee Aisthorpe, Michelle and Jeff spent the rest of the day with their stillborn daughter.

And when it was time, they went home without her.

But even through their grief, one thing seemed immediately clear; the couple couldn't bear the thought of going on as if Emma Lee had never existed, and searched for a way, somehow, to immortalize her, to have her name known to others in a meaningful way.

"We decided that, as educators, the best way to honor our daughter's memory would be to have her touch the lives of children," said Jeff, an elementary school teacher in Utica. "We created a scholarship fund in her name for prospective teachers through Wayne State University."

In 2007, the first Emma Lee Aisthorpe Scholarship was awarded for $500.

Over the past several years, the Aisthorpes have funded the scholarship through events like barbecues and walking road rallies in the Village of Lake Orion, where they live.

This year, since both like to run and both enjoy the beauty of Bald Mountain - complete with meandering streams, babbling brooks, an abundance of wildlife, they decided to organize the race, instead.

But whether funding comes from a race or a rally, continuing the scholarship is important to Michelle and Jeff on many different levels.

"It gives us a way to talk about Emma without it feeling so heavy," said Michelle, acknowledging she understands how difficult the topic is for friends and family.

Jeff agreed.

"The coolest thing is that Wayne State has gone from matching our donation to tripling it to now quadrupling it," he said. "So, we put up $500 and a student gets a $2,000 scholarship. One person will win the scholarship, but as a teacher, that person will touch a lot of lives - so Emma will continue to touch, inspire and bless the lives of others, too."

Race-day staging takes place at the trailhead near Predmore Road at Harmon in Oakland Township. Registration and packet pick-up (includes T-shirt), begins 8 a.m.; Start is at 9 a.m.

Entry fee is $17 until Oct. 16, $19 until Oct. 21 and $25 on race day.

Prizes will be awarded by age groups.

"We also have serious swag for a raffle, which any race entrant can win," Jeff said, noting gift cards to Hanson's, Hamlin Pub and much more would be among the loot.

For more information, visit www.footprintsintheforest.org. Register online at www.runmichigan.com or www.active.com

Lake Orion Review Editor
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