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From first-time participants to 25-year veterans, a family of 171 runners gathered July 31 to set off on a journey that binds them to one another and to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The 465-mile Memphis to Peoria Run was begun by Peoria County Sheriff Michael D. McCoy and Gene Pratt in 1982 to raise funds for the hospital. Peoria is also home to St. Jude’s first affiliate clinic, which opened in 1972, and the community has been a great source of support to St. Jude.
The original run has inspired 31 satellite runs from other cities—mostly in Illinois—to Peoria. This year, the satellite runs and the Memphis to Peoria run culminated in Peoria August 3 and raised more than $3.4 million. In 32 years, the runs have raised $31.8 million for the children of St. Jude.
Dave Garcia of Peoria, a 25-year veteran of the Memphis to Peoria Run who was recognized for his years of commitment, recalled the loss of one brother at age 5 to cancer when “they didn’t have a St. Jude to take care of him.”
Despite two knee replacements, Garcia is committed to continuing the run as long as possible.
“This is a fantastic organization, thanks to Mike (McCoy). Raising money for the kids is a fantastic way to spend your life,” he said at a pre-run ceremony at the hospital.
Bob Beschorner of Washburn, Illinois, received the Les Chambers Runner of the Year Award, which recognizes someone who exemplifies the spirit of Chambers—a St. Jude survivor who went on to marry, run a business and live a life of community service. He died of cancer in 1995.
Beschorner joined the run 14 years ago after hearing about a local boy, now doing well, who was being treated at St. Jude. Beschorner said he was overwhelmed by the honor of being named runner of the year.
“There are lots of other heroes. It’s about everybody else and helping one another,” he said.
Scholarships for patients
Runners also award scholarships annually to St. Jude patients or patient siblings to help them complete their college education. The recipients of the Michael D. McCoy scholarships were recognized at the pre-run ceremony.
One recipient, St. Jude patient Kyle, told the runners that he plans to pursue an education as a physical therapy assistant. “I want to work with St. Jude in helping kids with cancer get back to a normal life like I did,” he said.
Kyle was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 2, just 19 days after his father—a firefighter—was killed in the line of duty.
Although he relapsed once, Kyle has been cancer-free for 13 years.
“I want to thank Dr. (Ching-Hon) Pui for giving me a life that 16 years ago seemed impossible,” Kyle said. “I will never give up hope that one day childhood cancer will no longer exist.”
An inspiring committment
Richard Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC/St. Jude, the fundraising organization of St. Jude, lauded the runners—and the community of Peoria—for their tradition of commitment to St. Jude.
"You guys are so inspirational to me. Just to hear your stories and your passion for our mission is truly humbling,” he said.