BY JEFF CLARK
The Christmas season is traditionally a time of giving and thinking about others. And with the holiday now less than two weeks away, some Lowndes County residents are trying to make Christmas a bit brighter for one local family.
“I was inspired to form our St. Jude Heroes team after learning that a young man from Caledonia named Will Ayers had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and was receiving treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis,” Allison Shackelford said. “I met with Will and his family and they were thrilled at the idea of having a running team raise money, train, and run in honor of Will and his battle with cancer.”
According to Shackleford, everyone on her team registered for the marathon (26.2 miles), half-marathon (13.1 miles) or marathon relay, which was held last weekend.
“There are a total of 18 members on our team, called Will to Win St. Jude Heroes Team. As a team, we have raised a total of $10,125 as of Monday.”
Will Ayers was diagnosed with small round cell tumor in February of this year. He received chemo until June and he had a successful surgery in July. The surgery was able to remove 98 percent of the cancer.
Shackleford said she is familiar with the work of St. Jude’s and that she was honored to do something for the Caledonia family.
“I trained for a total of 18 weeks to prepare for the full marathon at St. Jude,” she said. “I have run as a St. Jude Hero in the half-marathon every year at St. Jude since 2009 and decided I wanted to challenge myself this year and finish a full marathon in honor of Will. I, along with many of my teammates, traveled to Memphis on Friday despite news of the possibility of the marathon being cancelled. We had put in the hard work and we were ready to run! We were especially looking forward to the part of the course that went through the St. Jude campus. Families and patients come out to support the runners who are running in their honor and it is truly a humbling and inspiring experience. It brings emotions in you that you cannot explain to someone. It is truly something that has to be experienced to be understood. These kids are fighting for their lives but they are cheering for you. I used that as my motivation during training.
Although the marathon was cancelled on Saturday due to wintry conditions in and around Memphis, Shackleford decided to make the marathon a personal victory.
“When we received official word that the marathon was cancelled due to weather, everyone was beyond disappointed,” Shackelford said. “We worked so hard during training and now there was no finish line for us to cross. We remained proud of the fundraising efforts and were grateful that all of the money would still be donated to St. Jude and that meant our efforts were not in vain.
Several members of our team ran on Saturday despite the cold temperatures and I decided on our drive home that I was going to run my own personal marathon on Sunday. The weather forecast showed rain all day on Sunday, but I didn’t care. I was going to run 26.2 miles no matter what. I was inspired and determined and I made my mind up that it was going to happen. Only a few close family and friends knew my plan that day and little did I know that during my run, they organized a finish line surprise for me. After running a little over 5 hours in the rain on Sunday I was almost to my finish line, Piggly Wiggly in New Hope. I heard horns honking and cheers and when I realized there was a crowd of family and friends waiting for me, I burst into tears. It made my first marathon finish an experience I will never forget.”
After she completed her first marathon Sunday night, Shackelford thanked her friends and family for their support.
“It was a complete surprise,” she said. “I ran 26.2 miles on Sunday for Will Ayers. His strength inspires me and if what I achieved on Sunday ignites passions and inspires just one person to get out and go for a run or support a worthy cause like St. Jude, then I consider it a huge success. I could not have achieved my goals without the support and encouragement I received from my family and friends. I will be forever grateful to the Ayers family for allowing me to do this for their son. I am truly blessed to have the health and strength to achieve this goal and I will never forget my first marathon finish, even if it was not under an official time clock.”
Shackleford, however, was not the only one to reach out to the Ayers family during the holidays.
Members of the local grilling club Roast N Boast went to Tupelo recently to present a check to St. Jude for $5,000 during a benefit hosted by radio station Miss 98.
“This was the proceeds from the Roast N Boast,” Mike Law said. “We did this for Will and his parents Jim and Angie. This is what were are all about. People think Roast N Boast is just a drunk-fest, but that’s a huge misconception. BBQ is about helping folks out. We were glad we could do this for the Ayers, especially during Christmas time.”
Donations can be made through the end of December at the team’s fundraising page: http://heroes.stjude.org/willtowin.