Family and well-wishers gathered Tuesday morning to bid farewell to about 150 runners who will participate in the St. Jude Memphis-to-Peoria Run.

 


 


 


The first time Frank Stash ran the St. Jude Memphis-to-Peoria run 23 years ago, he wanted to do it for himself.


 


Then he arrived in Memphis, Tenn., and visited the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.


 


"That changed my mind about raising money for the kids," he said.


 


More than 150 runners gathered in 19 motor homes early Tuesday at the St. Jude Run office on Sheridan Road to begin the drive to Memphis for the 26th annual run with a single mission in mind: Do it for the kids.


 


It’s a mantra that will keep them going as they run the 465 miles back to Peoria in either 6-mile or 3-mile shifts as members of the Gold or Blue Team.


 


"Did I mention I’m doing it for the kids?" asked Charlie Gibbons of Peoria, now logging his 16th Memphis-to-Peoria run.


 


In fact, he had.


 


"When you get to Memphis and you see children of all ages, and the things that they endure every year … after the first time, you’re hooked," he said.


 


Jon Schwind of Roanoke remembers seeing the runners in Memphis for the first time when his sister was a patient there.


 


"They gave a lot of hope to my sister," who lost her battle with leukemia in 2001, he said.


 


Schwind said the event brings out an array of emotions, even as he participates in his sixth run.


 


"Once you’ve been to the hospital, it’s really dramatic," he said. "My family knows what it’s like to be down there so we know what they’re going through."


 


Runners each raised at least $3,000. To date, the run — along with runs from other cities — has raised more than $13.5 million for St. Jude, which serves seriously ill children.


 


Once in Memphis, the group will gather for a meeting to stress safety, especially for the more than 30 runners making their first trip.


 


They’ll tour the hospital at 8 a.m. today before beginning the trek back at noon. Runners will arrive in Peoria about 5 p.m. Saturday, along with two motor homes of cooks and two with Memphis crews.


 


Former Peoria Mayor Jim Maloof, a friend of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, spoke to runners and their families and friends as they gathered about 7 a.m. Tuesday.


 


"Twenty-six and counting," he said. "And we’re going to keep counting ‘til some day the doctors say, ‘Go home. We got a 100 percent cure rate.’"


 


Current Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, who will lead the teams along with run co-founder Peoria County Sheriff Mike McCoy, sent the group off with a prayer, asking for guidance and protection.


 


"Let’s really take time to think about all the kids that have fought the fight," he said. "The pain we feel is nothing compared to what the kids are going through."


 


Stash, wearing a T-shirt reading, "While you sleep, we run," said the motor homes are crowded and the run takes people out of their normal routines.


 


"You put your body through so many irregularities you don’t normally do," he said.


 


But it’s worth it.


 


"There are so many people that come together as a family," Stash said. "After the run, we’re still a family. It’s a lot of work. It all pays off in the end."


 


Jacqueline Koch can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or jkoch@pjstar.com.