Nearly 200 runners departed the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, just before noon on August 2, starting the first of the 465 miles separating them from their destination in Peoria, Illinois.
They were split into two groups, running relay style for hours on end with each leg a 3-mile or 6-mile jag, their eyes on one prize — raising millions of dollars for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. A team of 10 chefs traveled in two RVs and an ice truck, leapfrogging along the route and stopping at rest areas to grill steaks and fries, flip omelets and build sandwiches.
The St. Jude Memphis to Peoria Run is not only a test of will for participants but a testament to their dedication and commitment to supporting St. Jude.
This year, the Memphis to Peoria Run, and its 36 satellite runs, raised more than $5 million, pushing the total over its 36-year history to more than $50 million in support of the lifesaving mission of St. Jude.
On Aug. 5, Peoria may have been one of the brightest spot in the country. The runners’ routes marked a sunburst on the map with the longest rays touching Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, and Mattoon and Quincy, Ill.
In downtown Peoria, supporters lined the streets and participated in day-long RunDay FunDay activities, followed by the runners crossing the finish line into the Peoria Civic Center and then the 40th annual St. Jude Telethon at the Civic Center. “It’s just overwhelming,” volunteer Dave Vaupel said of the run’s conclusion. “It’s amazing to see each satellite city with its own color of shirt.”
The telethon raised a record $10.1 million, which included the run’s total, bringing the historic total to $118.5 million 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.
“The hospital does such great work and I know a few people who have been here,” said Kerry Willey, a four-year volunteer. “I also have six healthy grandchildren, and I do it for them.”
Mindy Norbom, a nine-year volunteer, said the runners and the community of volunteers who support them along the way draw strength during the run from their own St. Jude stories and their annual visit to the hospital. When the runners came in — tired, hot, hungry and wondering just where on the map they were — it was Norbom, Willey and Vaupel and a host of others who lifted their spirits and kept them energized and engaged.
“We try to put a smile on the runners’ faces,” said Phil Zuercher, an eight-year veteran behind the grill and in his fifth year running the Bartonville to Peoria satellite run. After he finished his volunteer duties early on Aug. 5, he planned to trade in his apron for a pair of sneakers for the last leg to the Peoria Civic Center. “It’s a good time.”