“Sometimes we almost don’t know if we’re running the right race, working with the right charity, raising money for the right cause, but this cause feels pretty awesome,” said St. Jude Hero Nikitas ‘Nik’ Tsoukalis.
For Nik, the “right cause” is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and the right race is the famous Boston Marathon, which he ran in April as a St. Jude Hero for the second year in a row. He and a friend raised $20,000 as St. Jude Heroes to help ensure that families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
This year there were 10 St. Jude Heroes running in the Boston race, twice as many than in any other year, and together they raised more than $150,000. The runners also became close as they trained for the race. “We would get together every Saturday to do our long runs,” said Nik, “and we became like a family.”
It was the story of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas that spoke to the 34-year-old entrepreneur and father of two, drawing him to the mission of St. Jude and inspiring him to run. “The spiritual side of things really struck a nerve with me,” Nik said. “I’m an Orthodox Greek and Danny Thomas, in his worst moment as an entertainer, got down on his knees and prayed to a saint, which I’ve actually had to do that in my life quite a few times. I really connected with his story, I just thought it was so pure and beautiful.”
On race day, using Facebook Live, he stayed in touch with his donors, walking them through the day from waking up that morning to having coffee, from starting the race to crossing the iconic yellow and blue finish line. When his Fitbit battery died halfway through, he lost the ability to track his time and chucked the device into the woods. It was a moment of perspective and he made the second half of the race about the St. Jude mission, about reaching out to his donors via social media and stopping to greet spectators along the route. “I ran about the same time as last year, but I had a blast doing it and I feel like I raised a lot more awareness for St. Jude as a result. So it was a real success. I felt very blessed to be a part of the whole thing.”