By Jen Rodehaver 

Left Hand Laurel: Denise Dollar


Courtesy Photo Denise Dollar, at right, founder of Heart Strides, with visiting advocate.

Mother’s Day is a special holiday for Denise Dollar, not only because she values her role as mother to her two children, but also because motherhood is the theme of the community service endeavor she created three years ago.

Denise and her husband Tony Ricke relocated their family from Wisconsin to Boulder County in 2013. Their son has Type 1 diabetes and is on the autism spectrum. As the stay-at-home parent, the responsibilities of having a child with multiple disabilities fell mainly on Denise. She concentrated on the needs of the family, spending her time managing medications, therapies, and medical appointments.

This routine left her feeling isolated at times. Never particularly athletic, Dollar pushed herself to start walking and biking. The fresh air and exercise did wonders for her outlook and she signed herself up to run for important causes such as the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), blogging for motivation and networking in social circles with other parents.

Dollar remembers clearly the moment when, standing at the kitchen sink in her Heatherwood home, an inspiration struck her. Parenting automatically comes with difficulties and rewards, but adding in chronic illness, as well as serious medical and cognitive issues, creates a challenge that no mother should have to face alone.

Dollar knew from her own experience that self-care is the first thing to go when balancing the needs of others and that something as basic as a good pair of running shoes seems like an unjustifiable extravagance. What if an organization provided athletic shoes to moms of children with disabilities? That “aha” moment was the inception of Heart Strides. “Even the name popped into my head,” she laughs, recalling that pivotal experience.

Support came from private donations, Facebook promotions, a feature in Women’s Running magazine (July 19, 2016), support from a partner organization Another Mother Runner and a dedicated team of volunteers. Called Advocates, they spread the word about the organization and identify recipients through personal connections. Special education teachers in school districts are a frequent source of referrals. Currently, there are 52 domestic advocates and even a few abroad.

Not to lose sight of the mission, Dollar mindfully packs each box of shoes with a personal note and “always some chocolate.” Often swag from organized races and fun runs are included in the gift box. Socks, T-shirts, stickers, etc. find their way to a woman as a tangible form of encouragement.

An important aspect of Heart Strides is learning to let go of results. “People are naturally generous - the trick is to give without expectations,” Dollar said about the no pressure philosophy of the nonprofit she founded.

Although many recipients find their way into local running clubs, Dollar claims much of the support is symbolic of moving forward in life. “We don’t care if they run or if they simply admire the shoes in the box. The message is we are all here for you. You are not alone. ”

The shoes are a visual reminder that just like their child may not look like a typical student, Mom may not look like a typical runner. For a mother spending hours at a hospital, the contact with Heart Strides may get her moving and more aware of her own well-being. Feeling included and having a structured system of women in a similar situation is the crucial emotional support lacking for many moms, regardless of well-meaning friends and family.

When asked how Heart Strides has affected Dollar’s own family, she responded that her husband has never questioned her drive to volunteer and help others. “Tony is the rock,” she admits, acknowledging that the demand of promoting the organization sometimes takes her out of town.

It seems that Heart Strides has become a family activity. The kids, Logan (14) and Zoe (12), are less dependent and more able to help with the project.

If you know someone who could benefit from a Heart Strides care package or if you would like to donate or volunteer go to Facebook or check out


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