Run to Fight Night marks new direction for race

Children's Cancer Network families are honored on court during the men's basketball game at Run to Fight Night in 2019. Run to Fight Children's Cancer is making a move this year from the GCU campus to Salt River Fields in Scottsdale April 5.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

CCN co-founders Patti and Steve Luttrell speak with GCU TV at Run to Fight Night in 2019.


Four little letters.

So immense in meaning.

So loaded with possibilities.

It’s the one little, fragile thing former Grand Canyon University nursing faculty Patti Luttrell and her husband, Steve, held onto when they found out their 5-year-old son, Jeff, had cancer.

That family crisis planted a seed that germinated in the Luttrell family. While they were blessed with the financial means to fight childhood cancer, others weren't as financially blessed. The Luttrells thought that no family should be alone in that battle and formed Children’s Cancer Network in 2005 with a simple mission: Help families pay for food or for gas to get to doctor’s appointments, connect them with other families in the same situation, keep them hopeful.

Grand Canyon University Foundation in 2011 launched Run to Fight Children’s Cancer, which would become not only Children Cancer Network’s signature event but the largest race in Arizona solely dedicated to the fight against children’s cancer.

Cancer-fighting superhero families are introduced at Run to Fight last year.

In its 10th year, and at the launch of a new decade, the 5K and 10K pediatric cancer awareness run is embarking on a new phase. The event, operated solely by CCN after the University handed over the reins two years ago, is moving from its home on the GCU campus to Salt River Fields in Scottsdale on April 5. 

GCU will remain involved as the run’s Honorary Cancer Hero Walk Sponsor.

“We’re happy to pass the baton on and are so happy it’s going to be at its new home,” University Relations Manager Debbie Accomazzo said of the event, which also benefits Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Not that CCN’s relationship with the University will end.

Just look to the men’s basketball game 6 p.m. Saturday at GCU Arena, which will welcome 200-300 pediatric cancer survivors and their families at Run to Fight Night. Those cancer-fighting superhero families will be celebrated on court in the first half of the game. It’s where the new honorary race starter – a child fighting cancer who is chosen to ring the bell to start the race – will be introduced. It’s also where the campus community will be introduced to the run and CCN if they’re not already familiar with the nonprofit. They also can sign up for the event that evening.

“It (Run to Fight Night) is kind of a great kickoff to the season, helping the community become aware of childhood cancer and that it really isn't rare. One in 25 will be diagnosed -- that isn’t rare,” Patti Luttrell said. 

It is the fifth year men’s basketball has welcomed pediatric cancer-fighting superheroes to GCU Arena.

Basketball game attendees in 2019 sign up for Run to Fight.

Run to Fight Night isn’t the only way CCN will remain connected to the University as the relationship of the two organizations evolves and as GCU continues to focus its revitalization efforts in the community to better align with its mission. GCU is dedicated to creating jobs on campus and in west Phoenix, making neighborhoods safer, improving home values and supporting K-12 education.

One integral part of that evolving relationship is how the University is partnering with CCN through education.

“Our partnership is amazing, and we value that partnership so very much,” Luttrell said. “There are so many things, of course (we’re partnering with GCU with). Education is one of them.”

Just as the Luttrells had hope for their son Jeff, now 31, they are sharing that same sense of hope through one of CCN’s educational programs.

In 2016, the College of Education began consulting with CCN on its school re-entry program, called H.O.P.E., or Honoring Our Peers Every Day. The nonprofit organization fans out to Arizona schools to teach children how to honor their peers who have returned to school after a cancer diagnosis. H.O.P.E. representatives talk to students about what fears they might have when it comes to cancer. They also demystify the disease.

Runners begin their sprint in the Run to Fight Children's Cancer 5K in 2019. Although the race is moving off campus, the University and CCN are continuing their relationship in other ways.

“We empower them (students) to be H.O.P.E. Ambassadors,” Luttrell said of the program’s efforts to build compassion. “Although they (a classmate battling cancer) might look different, they’re still their friend. They’re still the same person. So the College of Education has helped us the past few years bring H.O.P.E. into the community.”

Moving forward, Luttrell said CCN is working on offering the presentations virtually so the organization can reach even more students.

“H.O.P.E. is growing and some of CCN’s overall programs are growing where we’re looking at aligning (GCU’s mission) with them in ways beyond Run to Fight,” Accomazzo said.

It’s through the College of Education that CCN learned about GCU’s Making T.I.E.S. (Trauma-Informed Educational Supports) Conference, designed to help educators support students who are dealing with crises in their lives.

“They helped us realize that childhood cancer really is trauma to a family. With post-traumatic stress disorder, you look at things like war and violence. But chronic and terminal illness is the same kind of trauma,” Luttrell said, adding how CCN is looking forward to making its debut at that event.

The GCU softball team adopted a CCN family over the holidays, shopping and wrapping gifts for them.

The University also has a strong presence in Children Cancer Network’s Holiday Surprises Program. In December, a group of faculty and students decorated the organization’s warehouse and turned it into a holiday wonderland for the 65 families adopted each holiday. Also, the GCU softball team adopted one of the cancer-fighting superhero families, shopping and wrapping gifts for them.

“One of the new areas I’m excited about is having GCU interns, whether it’s business internships or health. The students at GCU are just so impressive,” Luttrell said.

Then there are the scholarships the nonprofit awards annually to cancer survivors and immediate family members whose lives and savings have been changed by childhood cancer.

GCE employee volunteers from Quality Assurance set up and decorated Christmas trees for CCN in December.

“This year, I believe, seven of their scholarship recipients are GCU students, one of whom is a former race starter’s older brother,” said Accomazzo. “So that’s full circle, where this young man was so affected by his brother’s experience and his family’s experience being cared for at Phoenix Children’s Hospital that now he wants to go into nursing for the very reasons that his family benefited. He wants to return that care.”

“Our families are so attached to GCU,” Luttrell said.

As Run to Fight is celebrated once more at the men’s basketball game this weekend, and as it moves on from GCU to a new location, Accomazzo said GCU and CCN’s relationship also will keep moving forward.

“We’re excited to learn from GCU and have it be a growing partnership,” Luttrell said of the nonprofit, which has provided more than $4.8 million in programs and services to more than 750 Arizona families since its founding 16 years ago.

The nonprofit has grown alongside the University since those early days of providing food and gas cards to developing programs such as H.O.P.E. and Adopt a Family and providing wigs, basic needs bins, counseling services and more.

“Run to Fight Children’s Cancer is where we met, but combining our missions, from the educational perspective and in a multitude of ways, is where we will continue to reside,” Accomazzo said, adding that “CCN is always going to be part of the GCU family.”

Reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.



What: Run to Fight Children’s Cancer 

When: Sunday, April 5. The 10K begins at 7 a.m., the 5K at 7:45 a.m. and the Cancer Hero Walk at 9 a.m. A post-race festival on the concourse will feature DJ Dizzie and Just Energy Entertainment, vendor booths and family activities.

Where: Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, 7555 N. Pima Road, Scottsdale

Registration cost: $45 for the 10K and $35 for the 5K for registrations completed by Feb. 29. The registration cost increases afterward. Cancer Hero Walk registration is free and open to cancer survivors of all ages.

Note: Registration discount available Saturday on Run to Fight Night during men’s basketball at GCU Arena. Use Promo Code GCULOPES20

Benefits: Children’s Cancer Network and Phoenix Children’s Hospital


Information: Patti Luttrell, 480-398-1564 or


Related content:

GCU Today: “Families stand strong at Run to Fight Night”

GCU Today: “Sound the horn for hugs and hope at Run to Fight”

GCU Today: “Emergency exercise aids Run to Fight”



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