Supercross champion Ryan Dungey was 15 when his grandmother, Barbara Dungey, lost her battle with liver cancer.
He decided then that he wanted to make a difference in the fight against cancer, leading him to become a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
“For me, it was about what can I do to help these families and everybody who is going through this situation?” Dungey, now 26, said.
Dungey’s support means the world to St. Jude patients like Cameron, who faithfully watches Dungey on TV every Saturday night when he races.
In 2014, when Cameron had the opportunity to meet Dungey at a race, he gave Dungey a special gift: a photo of Cameron standing in front of an elephant sketch by Dungey that hangs in the St. Jude Target House. One wall of the hospital’s long-term housing facility for St. Jude families is lined with elephant sketches drawn by celebrities. Two of those were created by Dungey.
“Cameron was able to tell Ryan how grateful he is that Ryan is a St. Jude supporter, and that he would be cheering Ryan on,” said Dawn, Cameron’s mother.
Dawn recalled that Dungey had some kind words for Cameron. “Ryan told Cameron, ‘You’re an inspiration to me, too. I don’t know if I could do what you had to do.’”
Cameron, 11, is done with treatment for aplastic anemia, a condition where the bone marrow’s stem cells do not make enough new blood cells, and returns to St. Jude for annual checkups.
As part of his support for St. Jude, Dungey created the St. Jude Ride MN Major, a bike ride featuring distances of 20, 40 and 60 miles, and a 5K run through the Afton Apple Orchard in Hastings, Minnesota — Dungey’s home state. The event, created in 2012 in honor of his grandmother, takes place this year on July 17, and has raised more than $263,000 for St. Jude.
Dungey, who visited St. Jude in 2012 and 2015, wants to grow the popularity of the St. Jude Ride MN Major and continue to make visits to the hospital.
“What St. Jude is doing is amazing,” Dungey said. “With their knowledge and experience, and ... cancer research toward finding cures ... I just would like to get behind that.
"It’s hard, you watch a family member pass away from something that you try everything in your own power to beat. The less people who have to go through this, the better. St. Jude said they’re not going to stop until they find a 100-percent cure, and I think that’s amazing.”