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Project Me – A journey into self-discovery, shift in mindset and personal growth.

This post was submitted by Disney Princess Half Marathon Runner Laura O’Connor for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals through


In 2012, my husband and I were excited to start a family, however, our first pregnancy ended early in miscarriage. Six months later, it happened again and I fell into darkness I didn’t know existed. Someone then introduced me to Infants Remembered in Silence, an organization that helps to grieving families with the loss of a baby or child. It was October and they had their annual Turkey Trot race fundraiser on coming up on Thanksgiving Day. I decided to run, share my story and help raise $1,000 for the cause. It was the first race I had ever done and I may have been the last person to cross the 10K finish line but I did something I didn’t know I could do with my husband running by my side.

The following year, we had our son William. He was born almost four weeks early at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. He was able to receive care there for sleep apnea and pneumonia. In 2015, our daughter Ella joined our family, also a preemie who was born at 33 weeks at the same hospital. She needed even more care in the NICU (the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and was on oxygen and a feeding tube. While I felt blessed to hold my babies, a small part of me felt broken and responsible for not being able to carry full term. My self-image suffered during this time silently while I just tried to focus on my family. In 2017, I found out we were going to have a third child and while I was excited for another addition to the family, I was terrified each day of the pregnancy. I was more nervous than ever. With progesterone, I was able to carry her full term and she was able to join us at home right away.

Being married to a farmer and having three children to take care of at home (all under the age of 5), I found myself always taking care of others and somewhere along the way, I lost myself. In 2019, I looked in the mirror and didn’t know the person who was looking back at me. I was tired, lacking in self-care, and didn’t feel healthy. I knew I wanted to make a change but didn’t know where to start. I remembered the days when I worked at an advertising agency as a Project Manager and how we worked as a team to make sure we met deadlines. So I decided to “project manage” myself and created a Facebook Group called Project Me.


I printed out calendars and began creating a one year plan. I thought about how much strength it gave me to run that 10K and help raise money for an organization that had helped me through a difficult time. I knew this goal had to be big and it had to be fun. I remembered working at Disney World back in 2001 with the Disney College Program and watching the marathon runners run through the Magic Kingdom one early morning while I thought “that would never be me”. I started researching the different Run Disney races and when the Disney Princess Half Marathon came up on my screen, I knew it was the one for me.. not only because I would get to transform into my favorite Disney Princess, but also because I could raise money for an organization that was near to my heart – CMN Hospitals. I got to work right away with a plan to start strength classes at our local gym, signed up to run five 5k races over the summer and the 10K Turkey Trot for IRIS in November, followed by the Disney Princess Half Marathon in February. I met each goal, one at a time and surrounded myself with a network of support through Project Me and within the community.

Raising Funds Becomes Motivation

As the summer of 2019 arrived, I was experiencing an injured left foot and running became really painful so I shifted gears to fundraising for CMN Hospitals, setting my goals high at raising $10,000. Knowing I couldn’t simply ask my friends and family to help reach that goal, I created a kid’s event focused on a healthy lifestyle where sponsorships and ticket sales would go to the cause. I hired a nanny to watch my children from 9 am-noon five days a week and began planning the Kids Challenge Course. Two weeks into planning the event, my two-year old broke her leg. My husband and I took her to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St Paul, which also happens to be a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. They gave her such wonderful care and realized first hand what parents all across the country were experiencing – the moment when their child needs a children’s hospital.

My mission to raise money for CMN Hospitals became even greater as I spent each morning going business to business asking if they would support this family-friendly event with an obstacle course, a dance party, a hula hoop interactive show, healthy food options and it was all for a great cause. August soon arrived and over 400 people lined up to the event. There were firefighters, gym teachers, police officers, personal trainers, restaurant owners and volunteers stationed at each obstacle, cheering the kids on, offering support and making sure they were safe. Parents witnessed their children crawling, climbing and conquering obstacles. We raised $5,000 that day.

As fall approached, my injury healed and two out of my three children were headed to school, I researched gyms that had a childcare option so I could train each day for the Disney Princess Half Marathon. I found the YMCA in a neighboring city and my two year old fell in love. She begged me to go each day and while she played with new friends, I ran. I started to see a shift in how I approached fitness. I started to fall in love with running. I visualized the finish line at Disney World every single day but also wanted to reach my fundraising goal.

In January 2020, I decided to run a full marathon (26.2 miles) within a week and asked friends on Facebook to support me by donating $26. I posted each running session each day and my children cheered me on as I completed the final mile and crossed the ‘finish line’ on a treadmill at the YMCA. We raised over $1000 that week.

When I look back at this past year, I am filled with emotion. I see the race bibs on my bulletin board, the medals on the shelf, and feel more full than I have in a long time. I spent 6 years living in fear and feeling broken. This race and this cause have given me the healing I deserve, purpose again and a reminder to always focus on self-care to be the best version of myself.