It was chilly as more than 400 runners took off from the football field at Eagle River High School headed into the nearby woods in at the second annual Maddy’s Run held on Nov. 5.
But not nearly as cold as it was last year when the inaugural race was held in negative ten degrees Fahrenheit temperatures to raise funds to help a then local 10-year-old diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
A few snow flurries added to the morning’s crispness last Saturday but did not dampen the spirits of those gathered this year to honor the memory of a beloved and spirited student whose smile is etched into the collective memory of the Homestead Elementary School community.
“I am just so happy to see this continue,” Nick Brandl said. As Maddy’s father, his wait this year at the finish line was bittersweet. He cheered each racer with encouraging words as they crossed the finish line. He was elated to see so many young children and families participating in memory of his precious daughter. He occasionally fought back sadness that she was not there, but he looked toward the community spirit surrounding the second Maddy’s Run for his own salve to ease the heartbreak of losing a young child. “This year, Maddy’s Run will help three other kids. She would have liked that. Maddy liked to help people and we are continuing that.”
Maddy Brandl died last spring after a nearly two-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was diagnosed long before she would have entered puberty. Her doctors simply could not explain how this came to be. According to pathology information obtained online from the Mayo Clinic based in Rochester, Minn., only five percent of all ovarian cancers occur in children less than 13 years of age.
Teachers at Homestead and others from the area’s education community simply could not let Maddy’s memory fade. They wanted to honor her tenacity and create a yearly event slated to help others facing childhood cancers.
“Maddy was a selfless, amazing girl. She inspired so many people around her to be better and do better. This event is a tribute to Maddy and her courageous outlook on life,” Dana Johnson, a second grade Homestead teacher, said. “Even in Maddy’s own struggles she hoped that the race would continue to help others. It takes a really special person to be able to do that.”
All three of this year’s beneficiaries – Brandon Cramer, age 12, and Ashton Fischer, age 10, both of Eagle River, and Natilynn Matos – were on hand Saturday. Cramer ran the race with his friends and his older brother, Keith, at his side.
Cramer has had two surgeries in his fight against cancer. He’s been hospitalized more than 50 days since February of this year. He regularly fights nausea during treatments, but was feeling ready to run on Saturday. His cheeks were rosy and his smile big and bright as he and classmates from the Birchwood Christian School chatted and jumped up and down to stay warm while waiting for the race to begin.
“I am doing good,” he confidently said prior to the race.
After his race, Cramer snagged some hot cocoa and a cupcake – one of Maddy’s favorite treats that was generously supplied by Leslie’s Cakes of Eagle River for Saturday’s event.
Fischer is a student at Fire Lake Elementary School. He is diagnosed with Juvenile Nasopharyngel Angiofibroma. It is an aggressive vascular tumor that grows in the back of the nasal cavity. While rare, it most often occurs in pre-adolescent males. It often requires tumor removal as is the case for Fischer who has undergone procedures in Seattle.
His principal, Christine Garbe, manned a section of the woodsy trail along with Katrina Duft and Courtney Sloan – both Fire Lake teachers – and Sarah Quilinderino, school administrative staff, to cheer runners and direct them toward the final turn before heading back on to the track at ERHS.
“You are almost there,” Garbe yelled out repeatedly in an effort to encourage each participant.
Carter Gladwill, an ERHS sophomore, was waiting for Maddy’s Run participants as they entered the ERHS track from the woods. He is a member of the school’s cross country team and he ran back and forth to the finish line with many of the elementary-age runners.
“I think he has probably done four miles already,” Jacob Bera joked.
Bera is the ERHS cross country coach and a major supporter of Maddy’s Run. Bera and his team of high school runners set up the course last year and this year.
“I think last year, it was such a good thing for Maddy to see all of this support for her,” Bera said. “So, this year, it benefits three. I really believe in bringing the community together and this is a tremendous way to show support.”
Run organizers did not have a final tally as of The ECHO News deadline.
Donations are still being accepted online at https://runsignup.com/Race/AK/EagleRiver/RunforMaddy.