Runners rally to support teammates

runners
Participants raised about $1,800 for the Multiple Myeloma Foundation, and in the process, they ran about 1,000 miles.

Two members of the women’s cross country team have family members diagnosed with multiple myeloma. A 24-hour relay raised awareness for the rare form of cancer.

By Edward Weinman

In below freezing temperatures, Allie Willson ’14 ran 71 laps around Ankeny Field, which is about 35 miles.

Willson ran one lap for each of her father’s 71 years. Her father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Unless you’re an oncologist, you’ve probably never heard of multiple myeloma. Unfortunately, the women’s cross country team knows all about this rare but serious form of bone marrow cancer. The mother of another member of the cross country team, Colleen Bell ’14, was also diagnosed with the disease. Those afflicted live an average of three to four years after diagnosis.

To fight back, the team planned Who Do You Run For?, a 24-hour relay run around Ankeny Field that took place in frigid weather, from noon to midnight Dec. 5-6. The event was held to raise awareness and show support for those who are battling, or have battled, cancer.

“Cancer can make you feel helpless,” Bell said. “We all want to do anything we can to support people affected by cancer, and this is just one small way we can bring awareness and show solidarity and support.”

Bell said it’s important to have the support of friends and family when coping with cancer, which is why Who Do You Run For? is primarily about forming a community rather than fundraising.

“Cancer can make you feel helpless,” she said. “Since hearing the news, my team has been an incredible source of support. Every day I think about how lucky I am to be part of this team. It’s an amazing community.”

The event was open to the public, but the Lady Missionaries had at least one of their teammates continuously running laps around Ankeny Field, which is about a half-mile per lap. The men’s team also participated.

Athletics Director Dean Snider said the event showed the positive impact Whitman students have on their community.

“I am proud of the way our students respond to real life issues,” Snider said. “They are making a meaningful and impactful response to the challenges facing their teammates, families, and so many other families in our community, our nation and abroad. I just simply want to thank them.”

For one dollar, a donor could purchase a nametag and could write the name of a person for whom the team to run 10 laps around Ankeny. They raised about $1,800 for the Multiple Myeloma Foundation, and in the process, participants ran about 1,000 miles.

“When we race in competition, we tend to write the names of the people we want to run for on our arms, to make it about something bigger than ourselves,” said Annie Watters ’14, a senior captain.

“Running has been an important way members of our team have coped while our loved ones deal with cancer.”

The women’s team has not only been hit hard by multiple myeloma, but their coach, Scott Shields, is a cancer survivor, and numerous runners have lost friends and loved ones to cancer.

Alyssa Goard ’14 said that having the cross country team as a support structure has taught everyone on the team the value of solidarity.

“Running requires a positive, upbeat outlook as a sport. You have to tell yourself to keep going, to try harder than you think is possible,” Goard said. She ran the 3 a.m. shift.

“Running requires a positive, upbeat outlook as a sport. You have to tell yourself to keep going, to try harder than you think is possible. We’ve learned as a team that optimism is much easier to foster in a supportive community,” she said.