News

News

March 9 Run to Fight Children’s Cancer Aims for Record Entries, Funds

January 17, 2013


By Michael Ferraresi

GCU News Bureau

 

The first race brought in 900 runners. The second race raised $40,000. Now, in its third edition, GCU's Run to

Cooper Gokee, 9, will serve as honorary "race starter" for the March 9 Run to Fight Children's Cancer. Like past race starters, Cooper suffers from leukemia. Fight Children's Cancer is reaching more families and is expected to raise more money than the previous races. The event has become one of the most important of GCU's community-outreach programs. Funds raised through the race benefit a Valley-based non-profit dedicated to helping families cope with the stress of childhood cancer.

The 10K/5K races and cancer survivors' walk could draw several thousand runners, walkers and other visitors to campus on March 9.

Planners also hope fundraising efforts by race teams will raise proceeds upward of $100,000 for Children's Cancer Network, an organization founded by a GCU assistant nursing professor whose son survived childhood leukemia and multiple cancer recurrences, and Phoenix Children's Hospital, which partners with the non-profit on programs to assist families with children undergoing treatment at its Thomas Road medical center.
  "The fundraising aspect will be huge this year," said GCU's community outreach manager, Jose Moreno, adding that 16 teams - some with specific children they're racing for - already have registered for the race.

Most signups come closer to the race date, Moreno said, although the total number of registered runners is currently around 1,300.

Like Moreno, Office of Public Affairs and Communications Vice President Bill Jenkins, a cancer survivor, Public Relations Manager Meghan Walbert and Communications/Public Affairs Specialist Sussely Morales are now veteran race-planners. They say they're getting more feedback than ever from the community.
"It's cool when you talk to people about it and they say, ‘Oh, I can't wait to do your race,'" Moreno said.

Like many from the GCU community, they've seen how raising money through the race truly helps benefit people.

Children's Cancer Network provides financial, emotional and educational support to children ranging from preschoolers to high school teens. The organization's founder has said it provides 91 cents on every donated dollar to connect families with resources to ease the anxiety of getting a child through the seemingly endless list of medical visits required of cancer patients.

The non-profit organizes fashion shows to boost kids' spirits, helps teen girls get fitted for wigs to raise their self-esteem, and generally assists families with everything from prepaid gas cards to toiletries to make their hospital stays less stressful.

Maricopa Boy, 9, Is New Race Starter

In the past two years, GCU organizers selected girls ages 4 and 6 to represent the race as honorary race starters. This year, 9-year-old Cooper Gokee will blare the traditional air-horn and get racers moving on the course around GCU's west Phoenix campus.

Cooper was diagnosed in March with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, one of the most common types of childhood cancer. Both previous race starters, Olivia Baumgardner, now 5, and Grace Kostyk, now 7, also have ALL. The disease often requires chemotherapy, deep-tissue shots and other regular, unpleasant treatments.

The three children have become spokespeople for the childhood cancer cause, which is generally marked nationally with gold memorial ribbons. According to National Cancer Institute, more than 10,000 children younger than 15 were diagnosed with cancer in 2007, and the disease kills more than 1,500 children annually.

Cooper's dad, Jeff Gokee, said his family - including son Ben, 12, and wife, Patti - is aware of the stats. They have seen ups and downs since receiving Cooper's diagnosis in March. And in spite of the challenges and angst of managing cancer, the family wants to share their journey with the community.

The Gokees say Cooper is a normal kid, like any childhood cancer survivor. He enjoys playing sports, watching basketball and skateboarding, although his ability to play is based on his condition.

In fact, he is known around Phoenix Children's Hospital for his high-energy, unwavering spirit - and for the time he attempted to ride his IV stand like a scooter.
Race organizers believe GCU's March 9 event will draw more the 3,000 runners the event drew last year.
"Our world changes week to week," Jeff Gokee said. "There are weeks when he's totally fine, others when he's throwing up ... and everything changes.

"As a family, we've adopted this term: ‘Don't waste the pain.' Joy is a powerful thing."

Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or michael.ferraresi@gcu.edu.