GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Amway River Bank Run is all about inspiration. 

That inspiration should come easy to anyone watching 3-year-old Natalie Quakkelaar, her mom Roseli Quakkelaar and her grandpa Larry Quakkelaar run the River Bank 5K Saturday.

“When we run and I get to see her face smile back at me, I get to hear her laugh, that pushes us,” Roseli Quakkelaar said.

Natalie was born with thrombocytopenia absent radius, or TAR. It’s a rare genetic disorder that reduces blood platelet counts. Natalie had to go through hundreds of platelet transfusions to help with blood clotting early in her life.

She’s endured heart surgery, strokes, seizures and a host of other medical challenges.

But her mother refuses to let those challenges define Natalie.

“I thrive to make sure that she has the ability to do whatever she can do. I don’t want to ever hold her back,” Roseli Quakkelaar said. “She loves music. She loves to dance. She loves the playground.”

And she loves running. 

When runners in the River Bank 5K step off the line Saturday morning, Natalie, her mom and her grandfather will be right with them.

“We run so that Natalie can enjoy life. I run because she can’t run at this time, so I do the leg work for her,” her mom said.

While it will be her first River Bank Run, it won’t be Natalie’s first race. She, Roseli and her grandpa are regulars on the local race circuit.

“It’s a rewarding experience just to be able to run with my granddaughter and with Roseli, and the smile on her face tells it all,” Larry Quakkelaar said.

“I want to give her every opportunity. Even though she’s not able to walk, she should be able to participate in anything anybody else does. And that’s always how I have thought of her,” her mom said.

As Roseli and Larry Quakkelaar run and Natalie smiles back at them, her mother hopes she sets a tone for the rest of the course.

“I hope they see determination. They see somebody that never gives up,” Roseli Quakkelaar said. “I hope they enjoy her smile just as much as I enjoy her smile.”