A grieving Australian father honored his late son by running a marathon with an empty stroller.
Troy Austin, 36, of Queensland, Australia, ran the 26-mile Sunshine Coast Marathon in August, pushing an empty stroller along the way to raise awareness about stillbirth after the death of his son T.G.
“I got more of an empty feeling,” Austin tells PEOPLE of his emotions during the race. “I heard, ‘His baby is dead,’ a few times and that was pretty hard to take. I never wanted to back out. [But] I never expected it to cause as many questions and discussions as it did.”
T.G. was stillborn on Jan. 21, 2016 at 27 weeks, just days after Austin and his wife, Kelly, learned that their son had no heartbeat.
“The day you find out your child has passed isn’t the day of labor, well not in our instance,” Austin says. “After a few emotionally painful days, you go to the hospital to give birth, knowing that your [baby] isn’t coming home to his room. His clothes are not needed, his cot an empty space.”
Austin says he decided to run the marathon alongside his friend, for his charity T.G.’s Legacy. And while completing the marathon wasn’t a tough task for the triathlete, the emotional strain of the race was more difficult, Austin says.
“There was a group of young ladies in tutus running in the half marathon … as they ran past us they joked about the empty stroller,” Austin recalls. “It wasn’t till my friend said my son was dead that they stopped the jesting … that was tough hearing the words, ‘his son is dead.’ ”
Austin says that during the race, other runners yelled quips like, “Hey, mate! You lost your kid?” and “Are you picking your kid up on the final lap?” He says although the comments were difficult to deal with, his purpose was to draw attention and raise awareness —”I still would have done everything exactly the same.”
T.G. was Austin’s first child with Kelly, a 34-year-old high school teacher. The love birds, who have been married for 13 years, were ecstatic about becoming parents.
“We went along to our normal check-up. When we went we were happy — ready to see out little boy kicking away and active like he always was,” Austin tells PEOPLE. “When the ultrasound started, the doctor went for the heartbeat first. After searching around, he said, ‘I can’t find a heartbeat.’ That’s it. Until that moment, we had no idea about stillbirth.”
Austin says little T.G. was “sweet” and “innocent” at birth, noting that he and Kelly cuddled the baby before the doctors took the boy away. Austin describes his and Kelly’s pain as an “ongoing grief.”
They welcomed their second child, Samuel, earlier this year and Austin says he and Kelly consider themselves to be parents of two. The recent pregnancy wasn’t easy for the couple though. Austin says he and Kelly were “scared, nervous and excited” about welcoming now 4-month-old Samuel.
“We spent most of the pregnancy worrying we would lose Samuel,” he tells PEOPLE. “We know nothing is certain so until I heard him cry for the first time, anxiety was a close friend.”