Ripple Run Ends September’s Running aHEAD of Cancer Series on High Note

By Drew Haig

(PHILADELPHIA) – The HEADstrong Foundation’s Running aHEAD of Cancer Series powered by Glaxo Smith Kline continued to flourish in 2020, despite the obstacles related to the current national pandemic. For the last several years, HEADstrong has used the month of September for the running series that encourages individual and team participants to share their fundraising pages with their respective communities during the lead up to the physical race. With many of the races going virtual to ensure the safety of those running and operating the event, the goal of September pivoted from hosting physical runs to creating an environment that would still engage the competitors. The running series remained a successful fall highlight, raising nearly $30,000 and engaging close to 400 unique participants.  

“This year was certainly different,” said HEADstrong’s Director of Community Engagement, Jeff Baxter. “We love to host the runs, because it is an opportunity to connect and spend time with our HEADstrong supporters and their families. When it became clear that most of the events would be held virtually, we shifted our mindset to creating a fun online environment that would still give runners a sense of purpose and community.”

During a typical fall, the HEADstrong Foundation would host at least a dozen runs, and co-host or act as the beneficiary for several more races as part of the series. The Swarthmore 5k, previously called Run the Park, is the flagship event of the season with over 200 runners weaving all around the hamlet of Swarthmore in 2019, and the Swarthmore College serving as the start and end line, while Nick’s House contributed as the perfect backdrop for race day. This year, all of the Swarthmore 5k participants competed virtually by creating their fundraising page, mapping their run, and self-timing on race day. They generated nearly $15,000 in support of HEADstrong’s mission to improve lives affected by cancer. The group gained a sense of community by sharing their times and post-race photos online using #OutRunCancer. Many runners chose to start and end their virtual race at Nick’s House in Swarthmore, tipping their cap to the foundation during their participation.

Not all of the events were held virtually, however. The Hill Creek Farms 5k presented by Inspira Health takes place annually in Mullica Hill, NJ on a private farm. This venue allowed for some flexibility and ingenuity while planning an in-person cross country race that explores just a portion of the 63-acre apple orchard and vegetable farm. With COVID-19 protocols top of mind for the event, dozens of runners came out for a rain-soaked race on a chilly but exciting Saturday morning at the end of September. The run/walk featured competitors of every age group and demographic, and each family left with up to 10lbs of apples and vegetables as part of HEADstrong Day at Hill Creek Farms. More than one car was also weighed down by the outrageous Apple Cider and Apple Cider Donuts made directly from the produce surrounding the quaint market at the center of the farm. 

In support of the Running aHEAD of Cancer series, several Fighter Families and external groups dedicate their virtual events to the HEADstrong Foundation mission as well. Ben Libby, a past recipient of HEADstrong community support, is an exceptional college lacrosse player from Texas. After a difficult battle last year, he is currently in a hopeful remission and rallying his community to support the foundation. His friends, family, and teammates significantly helped elevate the final fundraising totals.

Likewise, the E-MAC (Exelon- Militaries Actively Connected) division of Exelon also participated as a separate fundraising group, and ran their 5k during the middle of September while continuing to spread the mission in their newsletter, and fundraise throughout the month. 

Finally, the Cullinan family of West Chester, PA continued their efforts through the Ripple Run, an annual 5k that honors the life and legacy of the late Coach Pat Cullinan. Coach Cullinan spent his career as a mentor and educator, with over 20 years of coaching at the high school and collegiate level, including seven years at the helm for Division I St. Joseph’s University. The 4th annual Ripple Run was led again by the Cullinan family, who collectively organized the event as a celebration of Pat’s life and in remembrance of his untimely death due to cancer. This race closed out the Running aHEAD of Cancer series with an impressive final of $9.5k raised with 150 racers!

Although COVID-19 has brought about many changes to our events and activities, we are committed to our mission. The team at HEADstrong would understandably prefer to spend time meeting and joining supporters as they tackle their race, but the necessary precautions and the sheer size of the planned events simply would not allow it. Instead, HEADstrong worked relentlessly to find creative ways to keep the community engaged, and the continued support was able to generate necessary funds to keep Nick’s House open for guests, and to get the ball rolling on the upcoming meal drive for patients who will spend the holiday season in the hospital.

Thank you to all for your continued support, and we look forward to returning to the pavement in September of 2021.