Monday , August 03, 2015 - 1:56 PM
OGDEN – The 2015 “Fight to the Finish” theme “Together” brought nearly 1,500 people -- in 34 teams -- together to support loved ones who are either fighting illness or have passed away.
Ann Smith started the memorial 5k race, Saturday at Weber State University, to connect with others who are also facing difficult trials. Smith’s son Tyler passed away in 2012 at age 15 after a one year battle with liver cancer.
“I’m doing what Tyler expects me to do,” Smith said.
One of Tyler’s final wishes was to not let others forget about him and his fight. Smith feels the F2TF now comes to really “mean something to people.”
With almost 1,500 contributors, the 5k race raised almost $30,000. The money will benefit the Giving Tree donations to help families in need. Nearly all the teams running in the event were once recipients of the Giving Tree.
Smith received a Giving Tree, a tree planted in her yard that blooms every spring, to remind her of her son. They put quotes, cards, and money on the tree to help families in need. Since Tyler’s death 150 families have been recipients of a Giving Tree.
Smith recalls how her son’s life impacted all those around him. “It really impacted the kids (Tyler’s friends) and put their lives in a different perspective,” Smith said. “A mom doesn’t want that forgotten.”
“I could complain, but it wouldn’t change my situation,” Tyler said before he passed. “I can be happy and be sick or just be sick. I choose to be happy.”
During a family vacation to Universal Studios, made possible because of the Make a Wish Foundation, the Smith family captured a photo that encompassed Tyler’s positivity. Smith describes the photo as “everyone screaming or taking cover, but Tyler is just calming smiling, enjoying the ride.”
She has continued her son’s positive legacy by paying forward support she received during Tyler’s fight.
Becky Anderson, the executive director of Anything for a Friend, spoke at the event. She overcame her own fight with breast cancer after doctors diagnosed the disease in December 2010. Her sister started the first fundraiser for her at that time, which lead to many more future fundraisers. “All I could think was to pay it forward,” Anderson said.
Anderson focused on the “Together” theme and asked all participants to link arms to symbolize their connection. She asked participants to think why they came. “I am here to fill a commitment that I made to a 15-year-old (Tyler),” Anderson said. Her commitment was to never forget him.
“If you are here for a dead-dog 5k you might be in the wrong place,” Anderson said. “If you are here to feel a healing balm in your heart, you might be in the right place.”
Smith agreed that the F2TF is not a normal 5k race. “It’s walking the race and honoring all these people,” Smith said.
The event set up posters for each team. The poster included a picture of the person the team was running for and a short description of their fight. Smith explained that doing these events helps “fill the hole of not having Ty here.”
The teams help others to see they are not alone in the difficulties they go through.
Lindsay Page, who is married with four small children, had one of the largest teams in the race with 89 runners all wearing the “Team Lindsay” logo. Page first noticed issues with her spleen in November 2014. Since then she started chemotherapy in February, the same time she became a Giving Tree recipient, and finished the six month chemotherapy process last week.
“This was also a celebration of my end to chemotherapy as well as a huge show of support for me and my family,” Page said. She feels the events help encourage her to talk with people who are going through similar things. “It’s hard to lose your hair,” she said. “But it’s good to have people you can talk to about it.”
Team Jedd ran for a 5-year-old boy who found out he had cancer last year on Mother’s Day. Traci Hansen, Jedd’s mother, said these events “help you to realize that no one fights alone.”
This was their first time running in the T2FT 5k race. They became involved after another team, T-Bone, nominated them for the Giving Tree last Christmas. Jedd is now getting ready to start kindergarten this year.
The F2TF started a new butterfly release tradition this year. Anderson describes one of the final conversations Smith had with her son Tyler. After telling his mom he was excited to pass to the other side because he would know what she taught him about faith, God, Christ, and eternal families is true.
She then required him to tell her once he knew by giving her the sign of a butterfly. Days after Tyler passed, Smith and her family sat discussing his life outside when a monarch butterfly landed on their table. The butterfly release honors that experience.
“Think of the things that symbolize hope for you. Things that are bigger than your pain,” Anderson said speaking of Smith’s butterfly symbol. They continued an old tradition with Casey Elliot singing “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules. Smith feels the lyrics “A hero’s welcome waiting for you” describes the homecoming these “warriors” receive upon passing.
“My hope is that someone’s heart can heal. I know that despair,” Smith said. “We’ve been there. I see it in their face, my hope is that they go away with just a little more peace and hope and healing.”
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