Jessica Gleason (Race Director)
I’ve known Josephine since before she was born; she’s my daughter. Jo is the most precious gift I have ever been given. I have forever been changed by her birth, and also by her death. In the four and a half months of her short life, Josephine showed me what it means to be strong, REALLY STRONG! She fought so hard to stay alive and though I feel weak in her absence, I will always try to be a strong mom because of her. Josephine touched so many lives during her short stay here on earth, so even though it’s been difficult continuing to face each new day without her in my arms, I am determined to help Josephine continue to touch so many other lives, especially those affected by CHDs. This race is my first step in doing that. Josephine had a village supporting her and us (my husband and me) through all her doctor’s appointments, open-heart surgeries, and time in the hospital trying to recover. Josephine’s village was full of caring people, so I knew they’d support me in my efforts of organizing a 5K. And by registering for this race, you all are becoming part of Jo’s village. A village of people who care about others and want to help those affected by congenital heart defects.<3
(Josephine, it’s mommy, I love you. Thank you for guiding me from heaven baby girl. Thank you for making me a mom and teaching me what it means to love unconditionally. Thank you for showing us that miracles do happen and coming off ecmo and spending more time with us before you took God’s hand. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you and shed some tears, but I cry because I love you, and with deep love can come deep pain. Don’t worry though, I am turning my pain into strength to help others for you my little rainbow warrior princess. I always said you were an angel and now you truly are one. I consider myself the luckiest person to have been blessed to be your mommy and love on you and care for you each of the days you were with me. Your daddy and me are so proud of you and how hard you fought to stay with us, but please know we aren’t mad you became tired and took God’s hand. We’ll always wish you could have stayed in our arms, but we’re so happy knowing that you’re in the best arms of all now. Thank you for not forgetting me from heaven and for sending me signs that you’re thinking of me too. I love you with all my heart darling.<3)
I met Josephine in the hospital with a stomach full of butterflies. The first moment I got to hold her in my arms changed everything for me. My understanding of what love is had just changed entirely. She was my whole world in that moment. We soon developed our own secret hang out time - watching hawaii volleyball on youtube long after mommy was sleeping and when Jo just didn't want to nap. She had me totally wrapped around her finger as she insisted that I bob & dip and never stop moving as she rocked off to sleep while cheering on the wahine. I knew even then that those moments would be special to me for the rest of my life. To me, she could see me and accept me and love me without ever even saying a thing. It was just the way she would get comfortable in my arms that I knew she could feel how much I loved her and that I would do anything for her.
As her dad I wanted to stay strong and positive at each doctors visit, assuring her that soon we could go home and see Cooper. Part of me was always scared, but I wasnt about to let her know that. I was so proud of her always, through all of it, but the night before she came off ecmo was incredible. It was like she could feel my desperation through that tiny little hand as I held it and told her over and over how “you got this - you can do it” & “just keep fighting for me and we will go home soon” each hour as the tests came back and she held strong like never before. Again, she gets me.
Now, I understand that she was telling me to be strong and to not stop fighting and to keep going. So for her, I will keep doing what I can to help the next kid and family to fight through this epic CHD struggle and make it home.
Being part of Josephine’s Village and this 5k is the biggest honor and something I am so proud of as Josephine’s dad. I believe in its mission and I am determined to help move this cause forward. So watch out, Josephine’s dad is motivated to make a difference. I just know she is cheering me on saying right back to me “you got this Dad” & “just keep fighting and I will see you soon.”
I met the Gleason’s a few years ago while working with Jess. Our friendship became inevitable once we realized we shared the same birthday. We have since shared many memories together, and I quickly realized what incredible people Jeff and Jess are. The kind of friends that you keep with you forever. Baby Josephine was so blessed to become part of their family, having parents who hold such strength and kindness. I’m beyond happy to be part of Josephine’s Village 5K, to honor and remember the sweet angel who impacted so many lives! And to support other CHD children and families!
I met Jess and Jeff a couple of years ago when Jess and I were teaching together. Through many professional and social gatherings I got to know them both and see what truly kind and genuine people they are. When I met sweet Josephine I could see the joy she brought to their lives. I was inspired to help with this race because even on the hardest days Jeff and Jess never gave up hope. I believe that Josephine’s Village 5k is the perfect way to celebrate the love that they have for Josephine and to honor such a special little girl.
Becca Cotton Covington
I met Jessica during our 1st year of teaching at Johnson. I threw Jess a bachelorette party at Pippin Hill and was so excited to celebrate her marrying Jeff! Our relationship grew from there, along with my relationship with her new husband! I had quickly learned that Jeff was an awesome photographer and couldn’t wait for him to photograph my family. Since then, they have both been such an awesome and God sent blessing in my life! While Josephine was in utero, Jess and I shared so many memories and milestones together. Even after Josephine’s birth, she was already such a huge part of my life. Her presence and life (although painfully brief) has definitely left a lasting mark on mine. I am a better person because of Josephine Gleason; and I am honored to be a part of Josephine’s Village.
I first met Josephine's Mommy, Jessica, over the phone. A few different friends had put us in touch and I was so impressed that she was willing to reach out to a stranger and allow me to share in her story with Josephine. My son had also gone through open-heart surgery and had a very rocky, lengthy recovery. There have been several times in his short life (he's now almost 4), that have caused us to go to that scary and terrible place of imagining life without him. He has a very rare chromosomal micro-deletion, called Drayer's Syndrome. He was born with less lung tissue than the rest of us and two holes in his heart. Before his surgery, he required 24/7 oxygen therapy. He has needed NG or G-tube feedings since he was 2 months old. His heart surgery (at 2 years of age) dramatically changed his life and ours! We got to see, first hand, how beautifully the PICU nurses, doctors, and staff care for these little ones and are eternally grateful for their care. I am so proud to walk beside Jessica and Jeff on their journey as they grieve their beautiful baby girl. These littlest heart warriors are to be celebrated and remembered in grand style and I am delighted to be a part of their team to grow funding for further support and research for families like ours.
I recently met Jess & Jeff through a local support group for parents of heart angels. My own heart instantly grew when I heard Josephine’s story, which in so many ways mirrored the journey of my daughter Isla, who died of cardiac complications in 2013 when she was just shy of 5 months old. I am incredibly inspired by the Gleasons’ strength and commitment to honor Josephine, their bravery to scale such a complex and logistical event, the grace with which they navigate their unbearable loss, and the incredible love and hope they share with their village of support. This race is a beautiful tribute to all of us affected by CHD - may our little ones continue to touch many lives!
Matt Shields considers running a prayerful act. He has been running competitively since high school and it has always been the thing that helps keep him grounded while allowing him to think clearly about what matters most in the world. I love Jess and Jeff and little baby Josephine. The Gleason family is a blessing to this world and their decision to honor Josephine with a running race will be a blessing to the Charlottesville community.
Sarah Cramer Shields
I love sweet baby Josephine and her awesome parents. I am so grateful that I get to call Jeff + Jess my dear friends and that I had the honor of meeting and loving and holding Josephine. What a gift! I could not be more excited to help this amazing group of people organize the first ever Josephine's Village 5K. The race is going to be wonderful and I love that it's helping to mend broken hearts and support CHD families in the PICU. I love Josephine's family and I love fitness!
I’ve known Jess for my entire life — literally. Growing up as next door neighbors who were constantly together, she was my first friend. We’ve both followed separate paths, but always seem to stay connected in-person for major life events and through our friendship for times in-between. We were so excited to celebrate the love that Jess and Jeff share at their wedding and to cheer them on as they welcomed their beautiful girl into the world! So proud and humbled to watch their strength and resolve as they bravely navigated the time in the hospital — always advocating for Josephine even when they met resistance. It meant the world to me when Jeff and Jess asked if I would help create a logo to use for Josephine’s Village and the race. I can’t wait to see how far Josephine’s message travels around the world and how many people she and her parents will continue to inspire.