Lori Cook and Ashly Copenhaver are all in for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
The mother-daughter duo from southern California came to Memphis to run the half marathon together as St. Jude Heroes during the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend in 2015. But they upped the ante in 2016 — running the full marathon of 26.2 miles.
“It was actually my mother’s idea to do the full. And I decided if she can do it, there is no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do it,” said Copenhaver, 30. Her mother is 59.
Copenhaver, who works as a nurse, has gotten progressively involved in supporting St. Jude since her teen years, when she began donating to the hospital through a St. Jude radiothon. She became even more interested in St. Jude during a pediatric oncology internship in college. And after she saw the marathon highlighted on St. Jude’s Facebook page, she convinced her mother to join her in the race as a St. Jude Hero, raising funds and awareness for the St. Jude mission: Finding cures. Saving children.®
That half marathon was their first real long-distance race, and they crossed the finish line holding hands. Together, they raised more than $5,000 during their first year as St. Jude Heroes, and they enjoyed the event so much that they brought friends with them to take part in the 2016 race. “We had such an amazing experience that we wanted to share it with others and get other people involved,” Copenhaver said.
Maintaining the motivation to train for and run a full marathon can be tough. For Cook, the impetus comes from gratitude for the health of her children and her five granddaughters. “This is just one little thing I can do to help families who are not as lucky as I have been.”
Copenhaver finds her inspiration in St. Jude patients. When she ran the half marathon, a teenage St. Jude patient was among the runners in her time slot. “To know that a kid who was actively going through treatment was also running was just really humbling,” she said. “It’s for the kids and for their families.”
The women began training for the full marathon in June, resolving to run three to five miles daily during the week and doing longer runs on the weekend. Because Copenhaver works nights, they only trained together on the weekends. “We do our long runs together even if I have to get off work and go straight into a 20-mile run after working 12 hours,” Copenhaver said.
Together, Cook and Copenhaver raised more than $6,000 for St. Jude this year. “We knew that 26.2 miles would be harder, and physically it was, but emotion kept us putting one foot in front of the other as rain came down,” Cook said.
Although the mother-daughter team emphasizes that 2016 was their first and only marathon, they plan to make the trip to Memphis an annual event to continue running the half marathon as St. Jude Heroes.
“Last year we made a choice to join a family, and family is life-long,” Copenhaver said. “As we ran through the campus, high-fiving the children that came out to cheer us on, we couldn't help but wipe tears of gratitude from our cheeks. These children were thanking us, but at the end of the day, it is us who owe them thanks. They are the epitome of strength and resilience, bravado and love, naivety and hope despite struggle. They are the reason that we run.”