For many Winona High School team members, the race was part of a personal mission to help cancer patients and their caregivers.
Several Winona residents traveled to Memphis on Dec. 3 to take part in the 2016 St. Jude Memphis Marathon.
The race course takes participants through downtown Memphis, including the campus of St. Jude.
“That is a very overwhelming and emotional time,” said Amber Austin, marathon participant from Winona. “Seeing the children and parents waving and cheering for us provided me with the endurance I needed to pick up my pace and motivated me to finish. I can’t wait until next year.”
Austin has had many family members who have been affected by cancer.
“I lost my father in 2011 to cancer,” Austin said. “If there is anything I can do to help prevent this awful disease from causing pain to another family — adult or child, I feel obligated to do so.”
In May, Betsy Tompkins and Austin decided to form a team with coworkers in order to reach a monetary goal for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend. Some of the team participated in the 10k (6 miles), and others did the half marathon (13.1 miles). Each team member raised individual amounts and the Winona High School team raised over $2,000. Others from the Winona area also participated in the Marathon Weekend and raised over $500 each, including Chris McRae, Angela Palmertree, and Matt Surrell.
Austin said she has always enjoyed exercise and working toward a goal motivates her.
Some of the team members would get together when they could to train for the December event. Rachel Flowers Watkins and Austin met many mornings at 4:30 a.m. to get their miles in.
Becky and Erica Dees were also among the team members who participated in the Memphis Marathon. The Dees girls worked hard to finish the race in memory of their loved one, Greg Dees, who died from leukemia in April 2015.
“Walking in the St. Jude 10k was one of the most awesome feelings that I have ever experienced in my life,” said Erica Dees. “Finding a cure for cancer is something that is very near and dear to my heart especially after losing my brother, Greg.”
Erica Dees said participating in this event is something she will continue to do as long as she is able.
“I participated because I take every opportunity that I can to raise money for a cure for cancer,” Erica Dees said. “My brother was a very strong-willed person who pushed me to work hard everyday, even when he was lying in the hospital bed for seven months. Exercise used to be a chore but now it’s a stress relief.”
Due to a busy schedule, Erica Dees said she did not train as much as she should have in preparation for this event. She did some minor walking but basically no training at all.
“I made it through the entire race repeating my brother’s famous words to me, ‘suck it up buttercup!’” Erica Dees said.
Becky Dees said she didn’t train nearly enough. She said she walked a lot in September, but with the first anniversary of her son Greg’s passing on November 5, she said October was a pretty emotional month for her, and she didn’t get much walking in.
In November, Becky Dees said her training picked back up. She said she tried to walk four to six miles a day to prepare for the 13.1 mile half-marathon.
“Since Greg was diagnosed with leukemia in April 2015, cancer patients and their caregivers have become very near and dear to my heart,” Becky Dees said. “The proceeds from the St. Jude race go towards the needs of the patients, caregivers, and the hospital itself, so I felt strongly about helping raise money for this worthy cause. I don’t want any more mommas and daddies to have to bury their children because of cancer. Every step I took helped raised money to meet the needs of these families.”
Becky Dees said she has been so blessed to have support from many friends and family who contributed to help her raise over $1,700 for St. Jude.
“I am thankful for St. Jude and the fact that it helps families in OUR community keep their children alive, happy and healthy,” Dees said.
Other Winona residents participating in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon include Rachel Watkins, Mike Kotecki, Amanda Holly, Lexie Flowers, Betsy Tompkins, Carson holly, Shoni Montgomery and Belinda Morrison. Chris McRae and Matt Surrell registered for the race before the Winona team was formed. And even though Murry Catherine Alderman is under 12-years-old, she raised money and participated in the Children’s Race portion of the Memphis Marathon.
Walkers and runners who fundraise for St. Jude while training for the Memphis Marathon Weekend are called St. Jude Heroes, a nationwide alliance against childhood cancer. With more than 22,000 participants, the Memphis Marathon is the largest single-day fundraising event for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. While registration fees offset the cost of the race, the funds raised by St. Jude Heroes go directly to the hospital.
For more information about the Memphis Marathon, go to https://www.stjude.org/get-involved/at-play/fitness-for-st-jude/memphis-marathon.html or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, go to https://www.stjude.org.
See this story in the December 15, 2016 edition of The Winona Times.