A cross-country journey to inspire hope and awareness for cancer survivors will reach its conclusion Thursday, Aug. 2, in Rehoboth Beach. Over the last six weeks, cancer survivors and supporters have banded together to run more than 160 marathons and about 4,000 miles from the Pacific to the Atlantic in effort to raise money and promote healthy living.
The Million Dollar Marathon was the idea of Des Moines, Iowa, resident Steve Cannon, an extreme athlete who has previously run the length of Iowa and around Lake Michigan. He said the idea for the transcontinental trek came to him while crossing Iowa in 2009.
“Cancer fighters and their families have shown me the true meaning of life, the value of those people closest to us and that each moment is to be cherished,” said Cannon on his website. “This run is for all of us; all of us that have been touched by cancer.”
Money raised from the event will benefit Des Moines-based organization Above + Beyond Cancer, which focuses on reducing the new cancer cases and the recurrence of cancer through programs that emphasize on diet and exercise. Research has found that one-third of all cancer deaths are caused by poor diet and lack of exercise, a number equal to the number of deaths associated with tobacco use.
Michele Smith-Jones, a friend of Cannon who grew up in Hockessin but now lives in Iowa, was inspired to participate by family, friends and colleagues who've courageously battled cancer.
“I had a really great friend who died of cancer who is one of those people I wanted to honor,” she said.
The name of every person being honored during the race is placed on a prayer flag in a baton each participant runs with. The conclusion of the final leg of the cross-country run will take runners down Baltimore Avenue and to the ocean, where they will cast the prayer flags to the sea.
Smith-Jones attended A.I. DuPont High School and then Neumann College in Philadelphia. Growing up, she always visited Dewey Beach with her family, and, she said, she is looking forward to coming back to the Cape Region. She is a cyclist and a runner, but has yet to run a marathon.
“I’m doing this run to challenge myself to do something that I never thought I could, to support my friend who is fighting cancer and to remember some truly amazing and inspirational people who faced even more difficult challenges in life than I could imagine,” she said.
The final day will feature two marathons, beginning in Tuckahoe State Park in Queen Anne, Md. A GPS tracker will show each runner's progress on the run's website. Smith-Jones hopes to complete her marathon in four to five hours, putting her in Rehoboth by late morning to early afternoon. Many runners who competed in earlier legs of the trek will be on hand to cheer on their colleagues as they reach the Atlantic, and a party will be held at the Atlantic Sands to celebrate the run's completion. One of the people Smith-Jones is looking forward to seeing at the finish line is an old high school friend who was recently diagnosed with colon cancer.
“We're just trying to bring awareness for support for when you're going through treatment,” she said. “The organization does a lot of work around that. I'm really excited.”
She said many of the organization's support groups are designed to highlight a life after cancer, including taking survivors on trips to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
The goal was to raise $1 million during the journey. To day, the effort has fallen a little short, raising just about $500,000. Smith-Jones encouraged anyone willing and able to donate to the cause by going to coasttocoastforcancer.org. In addition to Above + Beyond Cancer, proceeds will also benefit the American Cancer Society, Livestrong, the Colon Cancer Alliance and Catholic Health Initiatives.