T-shirts by St. Jude Memphis Marathon supporters say it all

Race day gear of patient families highlight bravery and strength, love and loss

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St. Jude Walk/Run team on a playground wearing tutus

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Our T-shirts say so much about us. The sports teams we cheer for and the schools we’re true to. Bands we love, trips we took. The superheroes we not-so-secretly long to be.

And sometimes, as on St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, they say so much more. Sometimes, T-shirts can summon whole lives. In just two or three words, they tell stories of love and sometimes loss, hope and strength, determination and gratitude.

Team SuperSam. Max Rocks. Anna’s Flying Pigs. Allie’s Allies.

Come to Memphis for marathon weekend and you’ll see the T-shirts of hundreds of St. Jude patient family members. You’ll see some hundreds of former patients, family members and their friends on the teeming streets, giving new meaning to the phrase running with purpose.

Some run to honor a daughter, son or sibling saved by St. Jude. More than a few run to remember a child who passed away. Others run for children still in the throes of disease and treatment.

The majority will be raising money for the cause as St. Jude Heroes.

All are united in their devotion to the kids of St. Jude.

Kids like Sam, a spirited little boy who loved knock-knock jokes and school and his friends. He passed away at age 5 from an inoperable brain tumor, but not before treatment at St. Jude gave the family extra time, precious time, with their little boy.


“He ended up living 14 months post-diagnosis. And living,” said Becky, Sam’s mom. “He went back to preschool. He started kindergarten. We traveled all summer long. We went to beaches. We went to Florida to visit family, Georgia to visit family. We were able to do all of that stuff, I believe, because of St. Jude. We didn’t just bring him home and put him in a bed and that was that.

“We made memories.”

Memories of an unforgettable kid — with superpowers.

What else would you call it, the way children cope with catastrophic diseases that are, to some, like Sam, a death sentence? What else would you call that grace and strength and sense of hope, if not superhuman?

So, after Sam passed away in 2008, the family and their friends started a team for St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. They’ve been regulars ever since — and this year exceeded their $21,000 fundraising goal weeks before the marathon weekend.


Team SuperSam, they call themselves, in a nod to the superheroes he loved.

And to the little superhero he was to them.

That’s the essence of St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. These aren’t just races filled with runners, but runners filled with gratitude — especially those wearing the patient family team T-shirts, runners for whom the cause is personal. For them, the cause has a name, a face, a smile, a spirit.

Scout’s Army. Brave Like Brett. Brady’s Bunch. Team Alleigh Cats.

The patient family team T-shirts will be on display at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Health & Fitness Expo, in all their bright colors and creative designs. Some incorporate patient art. Some use inspirational quotes from the Bible, poet Maya Angelou or St. Jude founder Danny Thomas.

Patients are drawn with wings and capes — one of the latter is shown punching cancer cells. Butterflies alight on some shirts, hearts burst and flowers blossom from others. Cartoon animals abound — from elephants to a flying pig. There’s just about everything except — no, wait, there’s Sasquatch.

It’s a gallery of heart.

Also of joy, hope, humor, strength and gratitude.

And then, come race day, the patient families and friends don their T-shirts and run — to honor and remember, to raise money and awareness, to show their love for all the children of St. Jude, past, present and future.

Rock It Reed. Zach Pack. Kaden’s Krew. Team Cha Cha.

You can’t see them and not smile.

Even when, beneath those T-shirts, sometimes beats a heavy heart.

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