Run to Fight Children’s Cancer Draws Record Number of Participants
Story by Michael Ferraresi
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Chilly, soggy conditions on Saturday did little to slow GCU’s Run to Fight Children’s Cancer.
Around 3,000 people registered for the 5K and 10K races, with an additional 1,000 or so visitors on campus to support runners and walkers. The festival-like atmosphere around GCU Arena drew cancer survivors, families, groups of people who formed race teams at work, and others with a passion to fight cancer.
Cooper Gokee, a 9-year-old Maricopa boy in his 11th month fighting leukemia, kicked things off around 7:20 a.m. by blowing the air horn to start the 5K race. He laughed as he blasted the runners with Silly String from atop a cherry-picker near the start-line — his touch on serving as honorary race starter.
Jose Moreno, GCU’s community relations manager and race director, said about 1,000 new runners join the cause each year. Moreno added that GCU was close to reaching its goal of raising $100,000 for the non-profit Children’s Cancer Network and Phoenix Children’s Hospital to help families struggling with cancer diagnoses.
For Moreno and hundreds of other GCU employees and volunteers who’ve dedicated their time to growing the run, the early-morning launch of the race symbolized another step toward finding solutions for families who’ve been struck by cancer.
“If there was a cure for cancer we wouldn’t have to do the event — but until then, we’ll keep going,” Moreno announced to runners before the start of the 5K race.
GCU passed out gold shoelaces for runners and gold superhero-like capes for children, marking the color of the childhood cancer cause.
Many participants dedicated their runs to children or family members who’ve died from cancer.
Lil Ashton, a US Airways information technology employee, said she found GCU’s race by searching the Internet for events to raise money to fight childhood cancer. She wore a shirt with a photograph of her late godson, Nathan, who passed away seven years ago after a brave bout with leukemia.
“I honor him every day,” said Ashton, who was joined Saturday by several friends from work.
The race course moved in a rectangle around GCU’s neighborhood, following a route west along Camelback Road, north on 35th Avenue, east on Missouri Avenue and south on 27th Avenue to Camelback.
The top time in the 5K race, at just over 18 minutes, went to Phoenix resident and avid runner Derek Vice, 50, who discovered the race by searching the Internet for Phoenix-area runs. He said he was pleased to help the childhood cancer cause while still getting in some much-needed training for future distance events. But Vice admitted his pavement-pounding race training was easy compared to what childhood cancer patients go through.
Children like race-starter Cooper often have to deal with deep-tissue shots, portable catheters surgically inserted into their chests, side-effects from steroids, and regular chemotherapy treatments. But recovery is possible. The two race starters at GCU’s early Runs to Fight Children’s Cancer — Grace Kostyk, 7, and Olivia Baumgardner, 5 — have both progressed into a more comfortable phase of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The Kostyk and Baumgardner families were joined by dozens of others on their fundraiser teams at the event to help further the cause. Their Team Olivia and Amazing Grace teams, clad in green and pink shirts, were among the more colorful fundraising teams on hand Saturday.
Temperatures lingered around 45 degrees at the start of the race. Some slight moisture hung in the air. But in spite of the cold, GCU employees and other visitors who turned out for the race kept their focus.
“They get up and fight every day,” said Kristen Fraley, GCU’s food service manager, as she stamped her feet and rubbed her arms to keep warm at the start line. “The least I can do is wake up and run a 10K.”
Anne McNamara, dean of GCU’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, said she has seen the race progress from a grass-roots effort on campus into a major community force. Adjunct nursing instructor Patti Luttrell founded the non-profit Children’s Cancer Network to assist families facing similar challenges to the ones hers faced through her son’s battle with childhood cancer.
“It’s such a good cause, I’m just excited GCU has taken it on,” said McNamara, whose nursing students joined GCU athletic training students to work the first-aid booth during the race.
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].