Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Karen Gilbert and her daughter Brandi sport their home-made Tripp Halstead Superman capes while participating in the Tripp-A-Doodle's Trot 5k and Fun Run to benefit Tripp Halstead at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville Saturday. The Gilbert's of Cartersville have never met Tripp but closely follow his story on Facebook.
Tripp-A-Doodle's Trot 5k
Fifteen hundred people participate in the Tripp-A-Doodle's Trot 5k and Fun Run which benefits Tripp Halstead at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville Saturday. Halstead, 2, was critically injured in October when a large tree branch fell on his head while he played outside his Barrow County daycare.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Support for Tripp Halstead has come from around the world, from places like South Africa to Australia. It's been measured in more than 700,000 Facebook "likes," and hundreds of daily emails to the family's inbox.
But on Saturday, the support was shown on a picturesque, sun-splashed morning as 1,500 runners, a sell-out for the race, took part in "Tripp-A-Doodle Trot" at Coolray Field, a 5K fundraiser for the family of the 2-year-old who has captivated the region and many around the world. It's nearly eight months since the Oct. 29 accident when a heavy tree limb fell on Tripp's head outside his Barrow County day care, which caused severe brain damage.
Tripp's father, Bill, ran the 5K as one way to thank the thousands of supporters who ran in honor of his son.
The money raised at the event, and through several donations collected at Saturday night's Gwinnett Braves game, dubbed Tripp Halstead Night, allows Stacy to stay at home with Tripp as he's provided a lifetime of care after the traumatic brain injury.
"It's awesome seeing it firsthand," Bill told the Daily Post. "Seeing it on the Facebook page and people offering their support that way, but then when you're actually here and they come up to you, and there are people that come up to you and tell you that they're praying for your son, or have Tripp on their mind. It's heartwarming, it's a great feeling."
Race director Rob Goldsmith, whose company, FundRacers, put on the event, said he organizes 5Ks for nonprofits and families in need, but Saturday's event was the largest he's done. Goldsmith estimated based on emails he received that about half of the runners signed up to run their first 5K, and were not necessarily avid runners.
"People just come out in droves to support the Halsteads," he said. "So many people can relate to their situation. So many people send their kids to day care and pick them up that afternoon and think, 'Hey, that could have been my child.' That's a little bit of it. The way his mother, on Facebook, just pours out her heart, people connect with that."
Lisa Taylor of Suwanee is one of those people who connected with Stacy because a picture of Tripp at 7 months old reminds Taylor of her son, Andrew, who she pushed in a stroller on Saturday.
"He looked just like my son, so it made me feel emotionally attached," Taylor said. "When you become a parent, you're more empathetic toward situations like this."
Taylor said the power of social media has kept Tripp on the minds of so many people.
"You don't hear about a kid having a tree branch fall on his head every day, and now to see him pull through it," Taylor said. "Now everybody's emotionally invested, they want to see him get back to being a kid."
Barbara Jones of Buford said community support at events like this offsets some of the bad news in the world.
"That's the kind of thing that can happen to anybody," Jones said. "You definitely feel for the kid, but also what the parents are going through. This shows them support, that the community does think about them."
Among the cluster of tents at the event was one run by close friends of the Halsteads, Brett and Katie Riney and their realtor Kimberly Harkey, who sold T-shirts to benefit the family.
Katie Riney created the world famous Facebook page, "Tripp Halstead Updates," after she and her husband were one of the few non-family members in the intensive care unit. Riney said she realized that the Halsteads needed a central location to spread information instead of repeating it over a long list of phone calls.
"We didn't want Bill and Stacy, when they did come out of the room, to sit there and call people and tell the same story over and over, because every time they would break down," she said. "I was just there and it was the least I could do to help them. When we hit 50 people (who liked the page), we were like 'What?' So now it's unbelievable."
In recent weeks, Halstead's parents have posted pictures of him in pools and at beaches relaxing with relatives to that Facebook page, which has more than 750,000 "likes."
As the Halsteads were at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston and Scottish Rite for more than five months, Stacy Halstead shared a range of emotions with her virtual friends around the world. Sleepless nights, unanswered questions for doctors, medication that didn't seem to work fast enough and yet another surgery, scheduled or not. They learned her son's nickname, Tripp-A-Doodle, her favorite television shows, and weekly updates of the family's choice for Friday movie night. And those supporting the family are called "Team Boom," which is splashed across T-shirts that also have a lightning bolt. Team Boom is a reference to the toddler's affinity for fist bumps and accompanying sound effects.
The pictures offer a stark contrast of Tripp before the accident, smiling and riding a red bike with training wheels, and after, connected to tubes and machines.
He had 13 surgeries in six months, including the last one when his galbladder was removed in early April, shortly before he left the hospital for a second time.
In mid-February, Tripp was diagnosed with life-threatening bacterial meningitis, had an emergency surgery and at one point had been awake for 51 straight hours.
On March 14, Tripp left the intensive care unit at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.
As he recovered, Stacy said her son was similar to an infant, and in a post earlier this month, she shared a video of Tripp reaching for a toy, which showed remarkable progress.
When Tripp left the hospital, he went home to a grandparents' house in Jefferson while the family's new home is remodeled by the Roswell-based nonprofit Sunshine on a Ranney Day. The family sold their Winder home to find one that was wheelchair accessible.
The "reveal day" for the Halstead's newly remodeled home is an invitation-only event on July 13.
"We gutted the house and there are so many surprises that we're not telling anybody until the day of the reveal," said Holly Ranney, who created the nonprofit about a year ago with her husband. "It's pretty much beyond 'Extreme Home Makeover.' Bill and Stacy have not seen anything (inside) at all. They're going to freak out."
As the family prepares to move, Bill said Tripp's progress is measured in inches, not miles.
"We live for him to wiggle his toes when we ask him to wiggle his foot," he said. "Or if he blinks his eye when we ask him a question."
MOBILE USERS: Click here to view the video.