Runners Ready to Brave Elements for St. Jude

ERINN FIGG | Special to The Daily News

Despite the looming possibility of winter weather, more than 20,000 people are still prepared to hit the streets this Saturday for the 12th annual St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, a series of races designed to raise awareness of and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

More than 14,000 participants in this year's St. Jude Marathon are registered as St. Jude Heroes, runners who are raising funds through donations to support St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

(St. Jude)

According to the most recent updates from the hospital, race organizers are closely monitoring the weather forecast. As of press time Thursday, the race is still scheduled to take place, with plans and supplies – such as heating stations, blankets, hand-warmers and sand for slick roads – in place to address weather-related issues, if necessary.

As for those people who are willing and even enthusiastic about braving the forecasted freezing temperatures, some participants will run for the sheer joy of it. Others will run to meet fitness goals. And still others will run with a competitive mindset – for example, the 26.2-mile run is a sanctioned qualifying race for the Boston Marathon.

Diane Tabulog, IT recruiter at Vaco Memphis, will run the event’s 13.1-mile half-marathon for more personal reasons. Her mother, Amalia Saavedra, worked in the call center at ALSAC/St. Jude, the fundraising organization of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for almost 10 years before she passed away in early August.

“She was so committed to the children at St. Jude, so she loved her job at ALSAC,” Tabulog said. “She was a superstar producer there and she was there for the kids right up until the very end. St. Jude is such a beautiful place – the employees, the mission, everything they do. I know she’d be thrilled that I’m running for them.”

Tabulog’s family has an additional connection with St. Jude: her late nephew Geronimo Dean “Jerry” Saavedra, who passed away in 1986 at age 7, was a patient there.

“St. Jude has always been so close to our family’s heart. They took care of him in such a beautiful way during his final days. To have someone say, ‘We are here for you. We are here for your child’ is so powerful and comforting. It meant so much to us.”

Tabulog said St. Jude’s financial assistance also helped her family greatly. On average, 7,800 active patients from around the world visit the hospital each year, most of whom are treated on an outpatient basis. It costs St. Jude $1.8 million per day to offer research and care to children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. But thanks to donors and fundraisers, no family ever pays St. Jude for anything.

On that note, more than 14,000 of this year’s participants are registered as St. Jude Heroes, runners who are raising funds through donations to support the hospital’s mission. Last year, St. Jude Heroes broke records by generating about $6 million in donations. This year, they’ve already surpassed that figure. The most recent reports from the hospital show St. Jude Heroes contributions of $6,344,279 million toward this year’s goal of $7 million so far.

In addition to individual contributors, many Memphis companies also support the race as corporate partners. Presenting sponsor Juice Plus, a privately owned Collierville-based nutritional supplements company operating in more than 20 countries, has supported the race financially since its beginnings in 2002; however, this is the first year the company has created a nationwide St. Jude Heroes Team, which already has raised more than $50,000.

Tabulog is running as part of the Vaco Memphis Corporate Partner team, which so far has collectively raised about $4,200. She’s one of three people on that team who will be running in a marathon for the first time, and she’s been training with help from a more experienced coworker since her mother’s death in August.

“I don’t think I’m going to win any medals, but I do think I’m going to make it without dying. I’m actually kind of geeky, so it came as a shock to many people that I was training for it,” she said. “I went from being a couch potato to training for a half-marathon, and the running really helped me handle the grief after my mother’s death. I’m very committed and excited to be running in memory of my nephew and in honor of my mother and her love for St. Jude. She really is the coach in my head when I feel like I can’t go any farther.”

Saturday’s events will include the 26.2-mile St. Jude Memphis Marathon, a 26.2-mile St. Jude Memphis Marathon Relay, a 13.1-mile St. Jude Memphis Half-Marathon, a Memphis Grizzlies House 5K, a Kids Marathon, and a Family Fun Run. Although the races are sold out, the public is still encouraged to attend and cheer on the runners.

“We’ve added some new inspirational elements, including directing the marathon route through the St. Jude campus twice, Jumbotrons featuring our patients cheering on the runners and more cheer stations and bands along the course,” said Richard Shadyac Jr., ALSAC CEO. “Additionally, it’s a huge event for the city as we welcome more than 60 percent of the participants from outside of Memphis. Just as they have in years past, we encourage the communities to come out in large numbers to help cheer the runners across the finish line.”

In addition to the St. Jude campus, the course includes landmarks such as Sun Studio, the National Civil Rights Museum and Beale Street. Earlier this year, Runner’s World magazine named St. Jude’s half-marathon as one of the best half-marathons in the country.

For more information, including the schedule and more details on the course, visit Runners who wish to receive mobile updates on the weather and other important race information can text RACE to 785833.