Why would six avowed “non-runners” go all the way to Tennessee to run a half marathon?
Because they wanted to save lives.
Over 12 weeks, the six women, all members of Knox’s Delta Delta Delta chapter, trained and raised $7,000 to run in the St. Jude Country Marathon and Half Marathon as St. Jude Heroes. St. Jude’s Children’s hospital is the focus of Delta Delta Delta’s charity efforts.
“When we were training for it, I did not think I was going to make it,” senior Steph Nuñez said. Although Nuñez is a basketball player, she said she did not do any long distance running before she decided to take part in the marathon. That did not deter her.
“You can’t say 13 miles is hard,” Nuñez said. “Anyone can do it.”
She said the team did not have any real goals about placing; they just wanted to finish for the St. Jude kids.
“We didn’t want to let them down,” she said.
Nuñez felt better after she saw a man juggling while he ran, since, if he could do it, anyone could. All of the runners on the team managed to finish the race.
Her teammate, senior Clara Volker, was also initially unsure about the marathon.
“I’m a swimmer, not a runner,” Volker said.
While she was running, she had the thought “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die.” She is still glad she ran.
“We love St. Jude so much, we’re willing to go the extra mile, or 13 miles,” she said.
Volker said two girls she saw at a St. Jude pasta dinner the night before the race impacted her more than anything else did. Although one girl had long hair and the other girl had none (she had lost it during her treatments at St. Jude’s), both girls were wearing matching headbands. A live band was playing country music, and the young sisters were dancing together. As she looked at the girl with no hair, all Volker could think was “without St. Jude, she wouldn’t be there.”
During the pasta dinner, the CEO of the American Lebanese Syrian Associated charities, the fundraising arm of St. Jude’s, introduced himself to the Knox team.
“It was so unbelievable that he sought us out,” senior Stephanie Sorensen said. “He thanked us! How can [he] thank us when [he’s] done so much?”
Sorensen was the only member of the team who had run a half marathon before, the Rock ‘n Roll Chicago where she raised money for the American cancer society as a member of Team Determination.
Sorensen said raising money for the marathon was much easier than some other fundraising efforts that just ask for money.
“When you’re doing something, making a visible commitment … people are much more willing to donate,” she said. “It is an action and you can see that you’re putting in your time. Your passion spreads.”
The team sent out letters, posted St. Jude facts on their Facebook walls and bagged groceries at Hy-Vee to garner donations.
“We had a lot of generous people in town that helped us,” Nuñez said, who raised $2,000, but jokes that it is more like she “annoyed people for $2,000.”
Sorensen did not want to sign up at first because she did not want to commit unless she knew she could devote the time it took to train and fundraise. Oddly enough, it was a Leap Day coupon that promised her a cheaper registration price that got Sorensen to run.
“Money off? Sure, I’ll train for two months!” she said, laughing, as she remembered her thought process.
The run itself was especially personal for Sorensen, who had interned for St. Jude over the summer, since her boss and former coworkers were watching the race, supporting them. Despite this, she did not get emotional until a woman on the sidelines singled her out to say “thank you, hero.”
“It hit me at that moment,” Sorensen said. “To these people, you’re making a difference. That’s indescribable.”
The day after the marathon, a Sunday, the team got up early to drive to the St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. The hospital was mostly empty since it was closed on the weekends — the team had to have special permission to be there — but runners, still tired and sore from the day, thought it made everything worth it.
“I can’t feel my toes, but I don’t care,” Nuñez said, remembering her thoughts during their tour.
In 2006, Delta Delta Delta set a goal of raising ten million dollars for St. Jude in ten years. After meeting the goal four years later, they decided to raise the bar by pledging to donate $15 million in five years. Because the sorority is a big backer for the hospital, the runners said they saw delta symbols and colors everywhere.
Volker said she felt passionate about St. Jude ever since she joined Delta Delta Delta, but seeing the hospital made that enthusiasm even stronger.
“When you visit that place you’re working so hard for, it cements it for you,” she said.