Four years ago, I ran the New York City Marathon after making a commitment to Delta’s NYC team that I would run the marathon when Delta became New York’s No. 1 airline. When that milestone was achieved, I used the opportunity to raise funds for the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research(Rally). It was my first and, I pledged at the time, my last marathon.
In the years that followed I have remained a strong supporter of Rally, and through their outstanding team, I got to know an inspiring young woman named Grace Bunke, a high school freshman and Paralympic athlete who was not only battling cancer, but spoke out publicly about her struggle to inspire and worked to support other young people going through the same ordeal. An avid runner and soccer player, Grace turned to swimming to get back in shape following chemotherapy treatments, with her friends and teammates adopting the motto “just keep swimming” to cheer her on.
Grace’s spirit, courage and enduring positive outlook despite her circumstances moved me deeply. And like many of us, my own life has been touched by childhood cancer – my younger brother was diagnosed at age 15. He lost a leg to the disease but is a survivor and has dedicated his life to building prosthetics to help people live to their fullest.
So, despite my memories of the torture that 26.2 miles can inflict on my aging body, I found myself committing to Grace that I would once again run the NYC marathon in her honor, and again in partnership with Rally.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy – serving as Delta’s CEO is a 24/7 job and finding the time to train would be challenging. And as I occasionally admit to myself, I’m not getting any younger. But when I think of people like Grace who do so much more in circumstances so much more difficult, it feels like a very small sacrifice.
Many are surprised to learn that funding for childhood cancer research comes from the private sector, not the government. In fact, less than 4 percent of the NIH’s cancer budget is designated for childhood cancers. I’m running to raise funds for research to help bring hope to all these kids that so bravely battle this disease. My pledge to Grace was to raise $1 million through running the marathon; my personal hope is to raise much more.
Rally is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that empowers volunteers across the country to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research to find better treatments with fewer long-term side effects and, ultimately, cures. For every dollar Rally raises, 93 cents goes directly to funding childhood cancer research and providing hope for kids with cancer.
We lost Grace in March not long after I told her of my plan to run the marathon again in her honor. In her short life, she had an enormous impact on the people around her and the community. She wrote this in a post for Rally: “Although it might seem to others that I am just a very small fish in a very, very big and often unforgiving sea, I can still make a difference. I can make a difference by sharing my story and raising money desperately needed for research. Please don’t feel sorry for me. I believe one-way God loves us is to let us love others. To provide hope to others. You provide me great hope. Your generous financial support for Rally allows my life to have an impact. Together, we will change the outcome for kids with cancer. I am hopeful and believe that you and I, and researchers, with God’s help, will one day give all kids fighting cancer a bright, long future.”
So, I’ve been pounding the pavement all summer, getting into shape for the race in November. It’s been painful, but every single time I run I think of Grace. I think of my brother. I think of the Rally Kids worldwide who endure challenges beyond measure, and their need for more research into better treatments with fewer side effects.
I would be honored if you would join me on this journey. $1 million is a lot to raise so any amount you can contribute is appreciated. Please donate.
Thanks to all of you for your support. Together we can make a difference.
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