Runners prepare for relay to Peoria

Runners prepare for relay to Peoria

CHAMPAIGN — For Ed and Kathleen Smith of Champaign, an annual relay run from Champaign to Peoria to raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is one way they show their gratitude.

They've got a healthy 6-year-old daughter, Ed Smith said, and the money raised in this run helps sick kids who haven't been so lucky.

"It's a major deal," he says. "We've got a little 6-year-old daughter who is healthy, and we're paying it forward for other families."

The St. Jude Memphis-to-Peoria Run is a 465-mile charity run for the Memphis, Tenn. children's research and treatment center which has a Midwest affiliate in Peoria. Dozens of affiliate runs, including the one in Champaign, originate from other communities with runners who also head for Peoria.

Before his wife ran in this relay run in 2010, Ed Smith said, he'd never heard of it. Now he's not only participating with her — he's working to get this fundraiser better-known in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Each runner is required to raise at least $750, all of which goes to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Smith said.

Local organizers have already raised the $2,500 in expenses for the runners, including food and a charter bus, Smith said, but they hope to raise more money from the community to contribute to St. Jude.

Some smaller communities raise as much as $100,000 he says.

"The last couple of years, despite all our efforts, we've been sitting at around $20,000," he said.

That may have to do with lack of awareness, Smith said.

In the past, the runners have departed from a grocery parking lot, but this year, they'll run the first mile together, leaving at 6 p.m. Aug. 2 from First Street and University Avenue in Champaign. Then they'll run through downtown Champaign past restaurant and bar patrons, Smith said.

More than 32 local runners from the Champaign County area participate in this race, and they won't be hoofing it all the way to Peoria, Smith said. The charter bus carries runners part of the distance.

Some run a few miles. Some run more. Someone is always running at some point along the way, but nobody has to run more than he or she wants, Smith said.

"We don't assign who runs what," he adds.

At several points along the way, people in area communities set out welcoming snacks, and a woman in a farmhouse north of the McLean County village of Stanford has greeted the team with a $100 check each year, Smith said.

Last year was a bit different, he said. She greeted the runners with the usual check — plus tears in her eyes and words about someone's young daughter who had recently died of cancer.

"I think it's about finding a cure so nobody has to lose a child like that," Smith says. "To me, it's a powerful message."

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