Team Tutu: It’s no sweat helping St. Jude

Follow along through September as writer Karina Bland recruits her ‘virtual’ St. Jude Walk/Run team, dons a tutu, and raises money for a mission that matters.

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

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I run my mouth, run by the store and run out of patience. But I don’t actually run. Not feet pounding the pavement. Not unless the ice cream truck comes down my street.

I don’t have to, Jessica Hall, who organizes the annual St. Jude Walk/Run in Arizona, told me. (Good thing. I’d spill my coffee.) I still can participate and raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Plenty of people do run it. The fastest time clocked for the 5K course (that’s 3.1 miles) in Arizona was 15 minutes. But most participants take it at a slower pace, walking with friends and family.

“It should be fun,” Jessica said.

The last time I did something like this was in 2015, it was the Tutu 5K in Tempe, Arizona, where I live. Participants received T-shirts that said, “I (heart) tutus.” (Who doesn’t? Pull on a tutu and you suddenly feel magical.)

For that 5K, we wore tutus over our leggings, seven of us, chatting as we walked and stopping to scale the climbing equipment on a playground along the route. By the time we were done, organizers were dismantling the balloon archway marking the finish line.

St. Jude Walk/Run fundraising team in tutus pose doing the can can

But there’s more to me wanting to participate in the St. Jude Walk/Run than fun.

It was easy to sign up online. I scanned the list of team names for inspiration. Willa’s Warriors in Kentucky. Team Dagger DogVinci in New York. Seattle Sole Mates.

Team Tutu, I typed in. I donated $100 (that gets me an official T-shirt) and set a fundraising goal of $1,500. Next, I need to recruit team members and donations.

I’m a chubby middle-aged woman, not in great shape. I tap dance twice a week and play pickleball. It’s still blazing hot here. But I’m determined to do this.

Since the Sept. 25 event is virtual this year, we can do this together, no matter where you live. Register in every state and Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Guam.

Imagine raising money for kids with cancer while strolling around Elliot Bay in Seattle, wandering The Freedom Trail in Boston, or scampering around Prairie Dog Town in Lubbock, Texas.

I could tap dance the distance.

Maybe I’ll meet new people. (Like the paramedics who’ll rescue me if I pass out.) I’ll work this 5K into every conversation for the next year like my runner friends do.

I’d known about St. Jude from those heart-tugging ads on TV. But I didn’t understand the extent of what St. Jude does until I started work as a writer for American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the exclusive fundraising and awareness organization for  St. Jude.

Since it opened in 1962, treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to more than 80 percent. Not only do families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food, it freely  shares its research discoveries around the world to impact even more kids.

I’m meeting those kids as I write their stories. Kids who got to live. And kids like Juan Salas of Phoenix who got six more years than doctors predicted because of St. Jude. His mom Amelia and brother Javier are participating in the St. Jude Walk/Run, too.

photo of deceased patient Juan Salas on a hospital bed at St. Jude

Because there’s more work to be done.

I want to be a part of that. Please pull on a tutu and join me.


Karina Bland's columns will appear each week in September as she recruits team members and trains for her first St. Jude Walk/Run. Then watch for her on race day: She'll be the one in the tutu.

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