Often in sports, athletes will dedicate games or competitions to someone or something as a way of honoring the memory and doing what they do best with something greater in mind.
That was the idea behind the “Who Do You Run For” campaign, an event put on by the Whitman Cross-Country team, in an effort to raise money and awareness for cancer research. Though a simple concept, the event has garnered significant support from both the Whitman community as well as the greater Walla Walla community. For 24 hours straight, members of the team work various shifts, some in the early morning hours, and run in solidarity for those who have lost, or are fighting battles with cancer.
Colleen Bell, now the Resident Director of Lyman, ran Cross-Country in her years at Whitman. Having a personal connection with someone affected by cancer, Bell and some of her teammates decided to put together an event to raise awareness and show support for the hardship that so many people, often loved ones, endure.
“Last year when I was on the team, a group of us seniors came up with the idea that we wanted to do something in support of both people we knew personally, and others in the community that were battling cancer,” said Bell.
With the help of the rest of her team, they decided on a date and started to spread word of the event. And though it was the first event of it’s kind, last year’s Who Do You Run For was more popular than anyone thought it would be.
“We were blown away by how significant it was to so many people and how many people from the community in Walla Walla and at Whitman came out,” said Bell.
Though Bell and the other seniors that thought up the event had graduated, runners on the team this year wanted to see the event continue, and worked hard to gather even more support.
“We tried to do more community outreach this year. We put flyers downtown and contacted a local running group in Walla Walla that our assistant coach is a part of. And last year being such a success has made a lot of people at Whitman excited about it this year,” said Ellie Patterson, a junior on the team.
Though the team asks for donations from those participating, fundraising was also improved upon this year, involving more opportunities for those who couldn’t participate, but wanted to help out.
“We created a donation page online so I think that has led to more donations this year. And I think that since so many people’s families have been affected by cancer, we’ve seen more donations from parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles,” said Emily Williams, another junior runner.
With a tent set up on Ankeny and runners constantly doing laps around the grass, the event is widely known and supported.
“It’s special that it’s in the middle of campus because it’s very visible. And so that alone gets people talking and thinking about it, so even if they don’t participate, they know what’s going on and might participate in years to come,” said Williams.
Though Cross-Country runners are running constantly, anyone who wants to run is encouraged to donate some money and put on a nametag with someone that they would like to run for.
“The idea behind â€˜Who Do You Run For’ is that as cross-country runners, we often dedicate races to something or someone and besides just runners, everyone has someone that they metaphorically run for. So that’s where the idea behind the name tags came from,” said Patterson.
An important aspect about this fundraiser is that the money raised goes to a specific research group, and every year, that will change depending on which runners on the team have a personal connection to a specific type of cancer and want to support that cause.
“We like to pick something specific. So last year the money we raised went to the Multiple Myeloma Foundation and this year it’s going to the National Brain Tumor Society,” said Patterson.
Although this event is specific to the Whitman team, and they are the first group to do something like this, those central to the planning would like to see the event adopted by other teams as well.
“We were talking about wanting to extend it to other cross-country teams, at least in our conference to start, and have it become something where different teams do it on the same day at the same time,” said Patterson.
But regardless of results, this event remains an important one for numerous runners on the team, as well as students at Whitman. Not only is the running symbolic of honoring loved ones, but it also helps those runners themselves, as running, and exercise in general, is therapeutic to many people.
“I think running is a really good stress reliever and a way to cope with something. I always enjoyed the conversations I had with my teammates on runs. Some of them were distracting conversations that took my mind off of something more serious that I was dealing with and some were about those more serious things,” said Bell.