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Mother's Day for Sarah Harbaugh comes with extra meaning this year

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Jim Harbaugh and his family started celebrating Mother’s Day early this year. That’s probably a good thing, according to his wife, Sarah, who says Harbaugh sometimes is too caught up in his coaching duties at Michigan to remember the day of the week, let alone any holidays sprinkled into the calendar.

“Are you kidding?” she joked. “I don’t think [he knows Sunday is Mother’s Day].”

Being the wife of a coach -- the mother of four young children and stepmother to Jim’s first three -- is not an easy gig. Sarah Harbaugh said she used to scoff at the people who told her that marrying into the football world would be difficult, but she quickly learned what they meant. She said that experiences such as watching her months-old son baptized in Vatican City a few weeks ago and the opportunity to help others make the demands worthwhile.

The Harbaughs were co-chairs of the ChadTough Foundation gala in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Saturday night, kicking off a mom-centric weekend with an event designed to raise awareness and money for pediatric brain cancer. Nearly 1,000 people gathered at Michigan’s indoor practice field and raised more than $1 million in the memory of Chad Carr, the grandson of former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr.

Tammi Carr, Chad’s mother, said it was no coincidence that her organization’s first fundraising gala fell on the eve of Mother’s Day.

“The thought of losing a child is something that resonates with every mom out there because it’s nowhere anyone wants to be,” she said. “We figured it would be appropriate.”

Sarah Harbaugh said she vividly remembers when Tammi texted to tell her that Chad had died in November 2015. She fell to the floor and started crying. Her 7-year-old daughter asked what was wrong and then provided Mom with some wisdom and direction.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, Chad’s good now, but what about his mother?'”

Sarah, who had a brother diagnosed with cancer as a child, has since become an outspoken advocate for the Carr family’s foundation. She said she’s not very comfortable being one of the public faces of an organization, but the importance of helping was driven home again this past winter when her newest son, John, had to spend time in the NICU after he was born prematurely.

John, now approaching the normal size of a 4-month-old, made his first international trip last month when Michigan’s football team toured Italy for a week. He was baptized in a small chapel in Vatican City, which comes with a rare distinction. Because he was baptized there, the Harbaughs’ youngest son is now technically a citizen of the smallest country in the world.

“That was something I could never in a million years have imagined would happen,” she said. “The whole thing, you felt like you were in a different world. You were just there in the moment and it was beautiful.”

Experiences like that one, and watching her husband do anything he possibly can for his kids, make it pretty easy to take it in stride if a Mother’s Day card shows up a day late, Sarah said. Oh, and that reminds her, she had better make sure Jim remembers to sign the card she got for his mother, too.