Natasha Neumann didn’t run in the Heart Mini Marathon last year or walk the 5K course as she usually does. With morning snow and two small daughters, cooler heads and warmer temperatures prevailed.

Which is fine, because Neumann contributed mightily to the event without taking a single step. To Neumann and her family, that day has always been less about the mini marathon than about the heart.

The 2014 Heart Mini Marathon, which will be held March 16, will draw more than 25,000 runners and walkers, organizers say, with a fundraising goal of $2.8 million for the research and education programs of the American Heart Association. Over the past three years, the Neumanns have raised $17,731, putting them among the top fundraising teams.

It’s been a true team effort.

Natasha’s father-in-law’s company, Universal Contracting, gave $1,500. Her sister’s high school basketball team in Zanesville, Ohio, sold t-shirts. Friends and family took donations from other friends and family.

“People are so generous when they know you,” Neumann says.

People who know the Neumanns know the inspiration for Natasha’s involvement lives right down the hall.

Neumann’s older daughter, Lainey, was 4 days old when she had her first open-heart surgery, 4 years old when she had her last.

She was born with truncus arteriosus, a rare condition in which one large blood vessel instead of two leads out of the heart, and the lower chambers of the heart are missing a portion of the wall that’s supposed to separate them.

“It affects kids differently, physically and mentally,” Neumann says. “In Lainey’s case, if you saw her now, you’d see a completely normal 5-year-old.”

Still, doctors had to crack open Lainey’s chest to fix her heart. While it takes six weeks for the breastbone to heal properly, her mother says, “I couldn’t keep her down for two days.”

Taking nothing more potent than acetaminophen and ibuprofen, Lainey was back in preschool at St. Paul in Colerain Township in two weeks.

“She was back to her normal crazy self,” Neumann says. But Neumann knew her family’s experience wasn’t every family’s experience. “Most kids born with heart disease have other issues as well,” she says. “Some have developmental delays. Some have other complications. A lot of them are very, very sick.”

So the Neumanns got involved with the Heart Mini as their way of giving back, and the relationship has grown each year. Each year, between 30 and 40 team members run or walk one of the events. The Neumanns, including Lainey and her sister Kaidence, 2, stay in a downtown hotel the night before. They wear t-shirts with “Love for Lainey” on them.

“She hasn’t stopped talking about it,” Neumann says.

But Lainey recently asked her mother if she’ll always have the long scar on her chest. And that’s when her mother realized that raising money was only part of the equation.

“It was our way of giving back,” she says, “but at the same time it was our way of showing her that she wasn’t alone. She wasn’t the only one.

“She’s at an age now where she knows she’s a little different. We’re trying to make it seem more normal.”