Dash for Smiles 5K Brings Cleft Community Together

By Emily Maxwell
July 14, 2022
For young mother Cassandra Rocha, running became a ritual to process a day’s events and cope with the challenges of parenting a toddler and an infant born with a cleft lip and palate.
“Not having community was incredibly difficult. I didn’t know where to turn beyond the Internet, and the Internet can be very scary,” said Rocha. 
A cleft lip and palate is a birth defect in which the lip palate doesn’t form during pregnancy. It occurs in the first six weeks of pregnancy when most women aren’t aware they’re expecting. Multiple surgeries are typically required to fix the condition. 
“Within the first three months, he had his first lip surgery and it was a lip revision,” said Rocha about son Isaac. “Then at eight months, he had a palate repair.”
Years later, through a friend of a friend, Rocha connected with new mother whose child was born with cleft palate. It was the first time Rocha spoke with another cleft family. A short time later, she met a second parent through a Facebook group who lived close by. The three mothers wanted to find a way to bring the cleft community together and build a support system for other families, so they created the Dash for Smiles 5K.  
Twelve years later, the charity event has raised more than $120,000 that goes to help families with such expenses as purchasing specialized nipples and bottles for their newborns and sending their young children to Cleft Camp. In addition to the race there are activities for children, a beer garden for adults, and representation from local health clinics. The run takes place every July in honor of Cleft Awareness Month. 
Hear more from Rocha about her family’s experience and the success of Dash for Smiles in this I Am Denver video. To sign up for the 5K race visit DashForSmiles.org.

Emily Maxwell is a multimedia journalist and producer for the Denver Office of Storytelling. You can reach her at emily.maxwell@denvergov.org.