Writer, Colleen Walsh
This past summer, I ran from San Francisco, California to Baltimore, Maryland with a team of 28 college students for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. We covered fifteen states and 4,000-plus miles in 49 days.
“You’re doing what?” was the only thing I heard over the course of the six months leading up to my trip. Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into.
While scrolling through my Facebook feed one morning, I came across an advertisement for the 4K for Cancer, a running relay that is held by the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, a nonprofit organization that supports young adults with cancer.
The Ulman Cancer Fund was founded by Doug Ulman and his parents in 1997. While preparing to begin his sophomore year and Division I soccer season at Brown University, Ulman was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma. Within a year of his first cancer diagnosis, he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma as well. During this time, Ulman faced several struggles specific to his age. He became frustrated with the lack of resources and support provided for the unique needs of young adults battling cancer.
Today the foundation is multi-dimensional, consisting of several different programs to support and fundraise for young adults facing cancer, including the 4K for Cancer.
In order to participate in the run, we were required to raise $4,500. I reached my goal through generous donations from family and friends, hosting restaurant fundraisers and selling t-shirts. Initially, I was intimidated by the large fundraising requirement, but soon I realized that many people have been touched by cancer at some point in their lives and are consequently willing to give back to the community.
We began the run on June 14 by dipping our toes in the Pacific Ocean excited that in 49 days we would be able to dip our toes in the Atlantic Ocean.
A typical day would involve waking up at four o’clock in the morning, sometimes five if we were lucky enough to sleep in. We would pack up our bags and perform our daily assigned chores. After making sure that the area was cleaned up, we would meet together for our dedication circle. During this time, we would write the names of loved ones, friends or those met along the trip who had been affected by or were currently fighting cancer. We would then come together and share these stories as a reminder of why we were running.
We would then split into two vans and hit the road. Runners in the first van would hop out and start running immediately, covering the miles up until the halfway point, where runners in the second van would pick up from there and start running to that night’s end. We would run two- to four- mile intervals in a relay style with an assigned partner. Each day, we would run anywhere from eight to sixteen miles.
During our rest days, we would visit local cancer treatment centers and provide chemo care bags to patients. These bags would include things like fuzzy socks, word puzzles and mints. It was so nice to be able to sit down and chat with the patients to help their time to pass more quickly. They were all so appreciative of the work that we were doing for the cancer community. We also had the opportunity to present a scholarship to one of the recipients during our stay in Chicago.
The 4K for Cancer was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am so grateful to have participated in. The countless memories and experiences were worth the endless Advil and ice baths.
A Mason senior, Jennifer Allen is currently fundraising to participate in next summer’s 4K for Cancer. Visit the program’s website to help fund her run.