In February, Kayla Riar’s cousin drew a picture of himself participating in Heart & Stroke Jump Rope for Heart. The picture said that he was skipping “for my uncle.”
That was, in fact, Kayla’s father, Herman. He had died suddenly the previous June from a heart attack.
After seeing that picture, nine-year-old Kayla told her mom, Anita, that she too wanted to raise money through the Jump Rope for Heart program at her school, Mitchell Elementary in Richmond, BC. And Kayla drew her own picture, including the words, “I want to jump for my dad because he had heart disease. I love him so much.”
Kayla says seeing that picture from her cousin made her feel happy, and enticed her to join in this fundraiser that involves about a million kids across the country participating in skipping events to raise money for heart research. “It will help kids be healthy,” she says, “so they can live a long and healthy life.”
She knows personally that not everyone gets such a life. Her dad was just 36 when he died. On June 5, 2018, after Kayla and her little brother Kaylum went to bed, Herman headed upstairs for a shower while Anita worked downstairs.
When Anita went up, the shower was still running. She managed to open the door and found Herman slumped against the wall. After calling 9-1-1, Anita did chest compressions with the emergency dispatcher coaching her, helped by the recent CPR training she’d done at work.
Anita had to call out for Kayla to contact her parents, who live close by, and then open the door for the paramedics. “She witnessed it all and she was very brave.”
Herman did not survive, and doctors later told the family he had coronary artery disease. Except for a family history, Herman had no other risk factors for heart disease.
A chance to do something
Now, months later, came the opportunity for Kayla to do something to help. She set up a Jump Rope for Heart fundraising page, and started sharing it on her Instagram account. The Riars have a large extended family that keep in close contact, and many friends.
At first Kayla declared she wanted to raise $150. But when she quickly flew past that goal, she upped it several times along the way, finally setting $5,000 as her target. “She kept sharing it on her Instagram page and she tagged people. And then people started sharing it,” says Anita, clearly impressed with her daughter’s marketing skills.
What’s more important than your kids growing up to be healthy and active?
As Kayla’s success and excitement spread, others at Mitchell Elementary School got involved too.
That included her 12-year-old friend Sara, whose great-grandfather had died of a stroke. “This money will help others who have had a stroke or a bad heart get better,” Sara wrote, and raised over $2,000.
Kayla ended up the top Jump fundraiser in Canada, with a total over $7,000, while Mitchell Elementary was the top school in BC, bringing in over $10,000.
Kayla and her schoolmates did their skipping event on March 5. She says it was fun. She also stays active by jumping on the trampoline with her brother and riding around on his toy vehicles. In nice weather, the family rides bikes together. Kayla recently outgrew her bike, so she’ll use the points she earns from the fundraiser to get a new one.
Now, the family would like to do to more fundraisers with an active focus. “What’s more important than your kids growing up to be healthy and active? And parents taking a stand for that?” says Anita.
Kayla would be thrilled to do Jump Rope for Heart again. “It makes me excited and proud.”