Crossing the finish line of a marathon is a highlight of most runners’ lives. It’s hard to forget the flood of emotion that comes from seeing your time, hearing the supporters cheering and feeling the undeniable relief of accomplishing a major feat. For St. Jude Heroes® across the country—a nationwide alliance of supporters who help raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital® while training for a fitness race—there has always been an added layer of meaning to their medals and running bibs, knowing every dollar they raised leading up to the race directly impacts kids fighting childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
This year, the COVID-19 crisis has drastically changed what it looks like to be a St. Jude Hero, as many in-person races around the United States and across the globe have been postponed or canceled to abide by physical distancing guidelines.
While the races later in the year are in flux, DC-based St. Jude Hero and former St. Jude patient Philip, has embraced the challenge of thinking strategically about how to fundraise and train while in quarantine. Since he began running as a St. Jude Hero in 2012, he has participated in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and the BMW Berlin Marathon – all to benefit the hospital that saved his life. He is currently registered to run the TCS New York City Marathon alongside a group of friends and fellow fundraisers dubbed the “Dudes for Jude.”
“This unusual time has just provided ample opportunity and motivation to train. Going out to run and getting to be outside for an hour or two is now the favorite part of my day. It’s been helping to keep me sane,” Philip says. “The need to fundraise through these races hasn’t been reduced. We still need to fund the research to save kids’ lives.”
Philip’s ties to the hospital are stronger than many St. Jude Heroes. When he was 12 years old, his family turned to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital after Philip was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma. At St. Jude, his treatment included 51 weeks of chemotherapy, seven of which involved receiving radiation daily. To this day Philip has a deep appreciation for the team members at St. Jude who did everything they could to treat his cancer and make him feel at ease during such a difficult time.
As a way to give back, Philip’s dad became involved with the St. Jude Heroes program as a runner, and encouraged Philip to do the same while he was in high school. The high school team Philip organized for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon® Weekend went on to raise $65,000 in just two years. Now 25, he uses his free time in DC to enthusiastically raise awareness and funds for the hospital that helped save his own life.
“The people who make up St. Jude have this devotion unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a group of people working toward a common cause,” Philip says. “In the years that have passed since I was a 12-year-old patient, my appreciation and respect for their devotion has only increased. St. Jude saved my life, so I have to do everything I can to keep them able to save other kids’ lives.”
ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, works closely with St. Jude Heroes like Philip to help bring in donations required to operate St. Jude. Because even in this time of uncertainty, one thing will not change: Families will never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food, because all families should worry about is helping their child live.
Key for the ALSAC DC market’s near- and long-term success is the swift and strategic shift to virtual engagements with fitness event volunteers and participants, including St. Jude Heroes. In light of many races in the area not taking place as planned, the ALSAC DC office has encouraged its local St. Jude Heroes to run solo in their neighborhoods. In recognition of their hard work and training, the St. Jude Heroes also received a digital race bib and medal. These St. Jude Heroes have found community with each other online by posting photos of their run times, bibs and fundraising efforts in the St. Jude Heroes—DMV Facebook group.
And for upcoming races, including DC’s iconic Marine Corps Marathon through which the St. Jude Heroes program was launched 20 years ago, the status of in-person events remains unclear. But the ALSAC DC team is continuing to innovate new ideas to motivate and inspire the fitness community to run for a reason.
“The overall health and wellness of our patients, families, and supporters within the communities we serve is fundamental to our mission at St. Jude. These challenging times have required us to think creatively about how we come together with our donors and partners while staying apart,” says Reed Hartley of ALSAC. “Thankfully, tools like Zoom and social media allow us to virtually connect with one another and with the St. Jude mission. Our focus has been checking in on people, seeing how they’re doing, and thanking them for all they’ve done for St. Jude because we consider them part of our extended St. Jude family.”
An ever-committed member of the St. Jude family, Philip has helped the DC ALSAC team with their virtual efforts. In late April, he shared his experience during a virtual tour of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for other local St. Jude Heroes and volunteers. By sharing his passion for supporting the kids of St. Jude, he reminded his fellow supporters that when they work together, nothing is impossible.
“To me, my story of being a St. Jude Hero isn’t remarkable. My cancer experience is ingrained in my life,” Philip says. “What’s impressive to me are all the other fundraisers and Heroes who are choosing to carve out time in their lives that they could be spending on any other hobby, and using that time and energy to contribute to this greater cause of saving children’s lives.”
For more than 50 years, St. Jude has made a promise that it will be there for the patients who depend on the hospital’s treatments and research. Cancer doesn’t stop, so neither will St. Jude. The finish line for this current crisis may not be in view yet, but with support from donors and Heroes like Philip, St. Jude can continue its lifesaving mission: Finding cures. Saving children.®