There were no limits to inspiration at Run to Fight
Story by Karen Fernau
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Nearly 2,000 participants dedicated their legs to the Grand Canyon University Foundation Run to Fight Children’s Cancer on Saturday morning.
Larry Chloupek did it on only one leg.
Using crutches designed especially for athletics, Chloupek finished the 10K in a blazing 67 minutes. But that’s not a surprise — he has run marathons even though he lost his left leg to cancer when he was 7.
“I’m a runner and childhood cancer survivor and will do anything that helps find a cure,” said the 56-year-old Scottsdale resident, who was running the GCU race for the first time.
He joined people running, walking and riding in strollers across the finish line in a race that will raise the total amount raised in seven years to more than $500,000 for Phoenix Children’s Hospital and its research into cancer cures and for Children’s Cancer Network (CCN), a Chandler-based nonprofit that supports children and their families.
They ran for survivors like 6-year-old Jace Hyduchak, this year’s race starter and the unofficial captain of the 100-plus Jace’s Defenders team. Last year, the kindergartener was too weakened by treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia to walk. His parents, George and Ann, took turns carrying him from start to finish.
“The race means so much to us, and it was incredible to see Jace run this year. It’s hard to describe the feeling,” George said. “All the runners, all those who volunteer and work for this race are special.”
A few share their inspiring stories:
When Ryan Fox was 9 and in a Boston hospital battling a cancerous tumor on his brain, he began practicing magic tricks to help regain scrambled motor skills — not easy for a child who had lost his eyesight during treatment.
Thankfully, his magical skills survived and the cancer didn’t. At Run to Fight, the blind 22-year-old survivor and race regular shared his magic tricks in the Survivor’s Tent, a before-and-after race haven for cancer patients and their families.
“I take magic to children with cancer to help them deal with stress,” he said. “And I give them hope because I am a survivor. I was one of them. I am one of them.”
For Dr. Mark Slepain, his team’s name, “Stronger Together,” is more than just a slogan plastered across T-shirts on race day. It’s how his daughter, Kaitlin Slepain, will survive eight weeks of radiation and chemotherapy for cancer in her spine.
His team – nearly 150 strong – ran for Kaitlin, a senior at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, and for a classmate, Lauren Kettell. The teens recently met while undergoing blood infusions for cancer.
“We really are all in this together. It’s how you beat cancer,” said Slepain, a Mesa radiologist.
Kaitlin soon will spend eight weeks in a Boston hospital for treatment, returning home briefly for prom, a dance performance and graduation.
“We don’t want cancer to stop her from experiencing her senior year,” he said. “It’s our way of fighting back.”
Melanie Chapman and Debra Thompson are friends and Avondale teachers who share a flamboyant fashion taste. They raced in matching purple capes.
Chapman, also a GCU graduate student in the College of Education, ran for the same reason that drew many to the race.
“It’s a cause we can believe in,” she said. “We can’t find the cure, but we can help someone else do it.”
Sherri Irby, an administrative assistant at Children’s Cancer Network, arrived early on race day to set up The Survivor’s Wall, a signature feature that profiles children cancer survivors.
A retired Mesa teacher, she said the wall “makes the race personal” by showcasing survivors and their compelling stories of grit.
“The wall tells everyone that cancer is not just a disease. It’s a disease that hits a child with a name.”
Eleven-year-old Weston Hubbard is a cancer crusader. He’s not really sure why, but he recently decided to raise money for kids fighting the disease.
The Goodyear boy has sold lemonade and hot chocolate. He has banged on doors collecting money for research. And, for the first time, he ran the 5K at Run to Fight.
“I just don’t think it’s right that kids get cancer. That’s why I’m here,” he said.
Associated Students of GCU President Slate Herman traded running shoes for masks of superheroes, including Spiderman, Batman and Darth Vader.
And instead of circling campus with other racers, Herman manned the ASGCU-sponsored photo booth, taking pictures of kids, their families and racers in superhero garb.
“We wanted to be a part of a good cause, a worthy cause, and this booth is our contribution,” said Herman, a graduating senior who plans to attend law school.
The booth was a nod to Jace Hyduchak, who channeled Superman or Captain America to fight cancer.
To his parents, however, Jace’s cape-wearing idols pale in comparison to their superhero, the kid who kicked cancer to the curb.
Jordon Cogdell was a junior at Hamilton High School in Chandler when he was hit by skull-crushing headaches.
The diagnosis: brain cancer.
Today, the 22-year-old grocery store employee is cancer free. He’s a survivor, and running is his way of giving back.
“I see people who helped me when I was going through treatment, people who really cared about me and helped me make it through,” he said. “l want to do that for others.”
The race winners:
10K (men): Wayne Sekaquaptewa of Scottsdale, 37 minutes, 20 seconds
10K (women): Allyssa Jones of Mesa, 42:39
5K (men): Ryan McQuillan of Gilbert, 17:46
5K (women): Shayna Weir of Glendale, 20:28
Ernie Heinz arrived at Sky Harbor International Airport for a weeklong project with air traffic controllers and had no intention of running in a race — until the 75-year-old from New Jersey saw a TV segment promoting Run to Fight.
“I was moved and decided to run. I’m a cancer survivor. And my wife and daughter both have had cancer,” said Heinz, a seasoned veteran of 5Ks.
“We really need to find a cure, especially for these kids.”
● Click here to see a slideshow from the race.
Contact Karen Fernau at (602) 639-8344 or [email protected].