VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — On Saturday morning, Brandon Prater proudly raced through the finish line of the Operation Smile Shamrock Final Mile.
The 10-year-old boy was not running to compete. He was running to help other children like him.
Brandon was born with a cleft palate and had to have surgery at a young age.
He and children from 5,000 elementary schools participated in the race with a goal in mind: to help raise money for the ‘Be a Smile Hero’ Program. The money raised helps children from around the world who are born with a cleft lip or cleft palate can have surgery.
“This was important, 'cause I wanna help Operation Smile,” said Brandon.
“I like helping others, and I don’t want other kids to doubt themselves.”
Pete Hansen, Student Programs Southern Region Associate for Operation Smile, said the ‘Be a Smile Hero’ program is new this year.
“The wonderful thing about the race today is when you see a cape in the race, that symbolizes a surgery that’s going to a child in another country,” said Hansen.
Brandon stood tall as his bright green cape waved in the wind. He raised enough money for one and a half surgeries.
His parents, Nicole and Adam Prater, stood by his side Saturday morning until the race kicked off.
“We are so proud of Brandon every day, but we’re especially proud of him today,” said Nicole Prater.
His dad said it was Brandon’s first time running in the race.
“I like that he’s taking the leadership role and he wants to inspire other kids that have cleft lip and cleft palate to get out and do things,” said Adam Prater.
“I’m very proud of him.”
On Saturday, the family shared a special moment that happened by coincidence.
Before the event kicked off, the family sat together for a family breakfast near the Oceanfront.
That’s when a realization kicked in.
“We realized we were sitting at the same table at the same restaurant that we were at when we told our parents about adopting Brandon from China,” said Adam Prater.
That was nine years ago.
On Saturday, the family celebrated their special boy with a heart of gold.
“It makes me feel happy that people know that I’m here,” said Brandon.
This year's goal at the Operation Smile Shamrock Final Mile was to raise enough money for 240 surgeries.
Hansen said the turnout was great and they’re on track to meet their goal.