On Nov. 13, Peter Halper stopped running for the first time in four months and dipped his toes in the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Henlopen State Park.
After two straight days of thick clouds and rain, the sun came out on cue as Halper ran down the boardwalk at the park's bathhouse to finish the final steps of his cross-country trek.
His wife, Robin, walked with him into the water and the couple embraced for several minutes.
Halper had completed the 3,100-mile Emery's Thunder Run, which began July 6 in Dana Point, Calif.
And every step was personal to him. He was running to raise funds for enhanced treatment for neuroblastoma and to support families with children battling the cancer.
The run was coordinated by Emery's Memory Foundation, named after his grandniece Emery who died in 2017 at the age of 3 from neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer affecting 800 new children every year in the United States.
“Emery inspired me every step of the way,” Halper said.
As Halper walked out of the cold ocean water, he said he didn't feel like his mission was complete, even after running across the country. “There is a lot of work to do still, and I'm just a small part of it. A lot of families need a lot of help,” he said.
Through the Thunder Run, Halper and the foundation have raised more than $133,500 for kids with cancer. The funds will be donated via Emery’s Memory Foundation to Beat Childhood Cancer.
COVID-19 affects run
Halper, a carpenter from Fond du Lac, Wis., began planning and training for the run two years ago; he was scheduled to start in April 2020. But the start was postponed due to COVID-19. After months of waiting and delay because of the virus, Halper chose to start his trek in July with the pandemic still in full swing. He is often asked why.
“I'm not running despite a pandemic. I’m running because of it, more or less, because the parents who are going through neuroblastoma with their kids, their issues don’t go away. It’s just compounded everything for them. So it’s even more important that we continue on,” he said.
The pandemic did impact the run. Halper said some routes had to be changed because of road closures due to shutdowns of parks and public lands. Some towns had strict curfews he was obliged to follow. “What was missing was close interaction with people. This event lends itself to a lot of hugging and handshaking and tears, especially when we met some of the families I was running for,” he said.
In addition to the virus, his run was filled with unforeseen challenges including shoe-melting heat in California, a bear encounter, and wildfires in Colorado.
A marathon a day
Halper ran the equivalent of a marathon six days a week, taking Sundays off as a recovery day. He slept most nights in a camper transported by his crew. He wore out 15 pairs of shoes along the way.
“This is just one run, but it has inspired so many acts of kindness,” Halper said. “The run was beautiful and it's created a lot of memories. But this was just one runner supported by countless people.”
Halper ran with a rotating crew of volunteers, organized through the foundation. The run was broken down into 19 segments with sponsors and crew for each segment. In addition, each segment was run in honor of a specific child suffering from the disease.
The Halpers are back in Fond du Lac. They have a wedding upcoming in the family, and Peter has a new grandson he hasn't met. “I've got my business to attend to, but this far from over. I've had 3,100 miles to think of what I'll do next,” he said.
About the foundation
Foundation founder and mother of Emery, Jenna Smith said, “I am dedicated to bringing awareness to childhood cancer, and to providing funding for research and for families with children who are currently fighting their own battles, because I have been there. I know what it is like to watch your child fight so very bravely but at such a disadvantage from the start. I also know what it is like to have no choice but to watch as your child takes their last breath.”
Emery was diagnosed with the disease when she was 2 years old.
The funds raised provide family assistance and care packages for those currently in treatment for neuroblastoma, and fund research trials through an organization called BeatNB, which currently runs trials in more than 50 hospitals nationwide. In order to maximize donations, many elements, such as the truck and camper, were donated or were provided by volunteers and families of other children affected by neuroblastoma.
To learn more or donate, go to emerysmemoryfoundation.com/thunderrun.