Area runners participate in St. Jude Run in honor of loved ones

From left, Anna Bokus, Mallary Phalen, Mallary Setchell, Olivia Phalen, Abby Phaeln (back) and Baylee Tillman participate in the St. Jude La Salle/Peru to Peoria Run on Saturday. The group ran in honor of Anna’s brother, Ben, who died in March after a battle with Leukemia.

The Hy-Vee parking lot saw wide eyes, smiles, half-closed eyes and yawns Saturday morning as runners, supporters, volunteers and drivers met to begin the 35th St. Jude La Salle/Peru to Peoria Run at 5:30 a.m.

But when the run began, the 30 runners, 24 can shakers, three van drivers and three volunteers were ready to knock out the 66-mile course to support St. Jude patients and their families.

For soon-to-be Mendota senior Anna Bokus, the run was a roller coaster physically and emotionally as she ran for her brother, Ben Bokus, who passed away in March after battling Leukemia.

“I was extremely proud to represent him in the St. Jude Run,” said Bokus, who visited Ben when he was at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. “He was an incredible person and he deserved so much more, but being able to represent someone like him made the day a lot easier. Being able to help give back to St. Jude even a little to help other kids and families in the same situation is an amazing opportunity and I’m fortunate enough that I was able to raise over $5,000 for St. Jude.

“Honestly, I was expecting it to be a lot harder than it was. There were a couple times when it got tough but being around all the friends I was with helped to keep my mind off of things and just focus on running for the kids and their families.”

The Bokus family was fully represented as Anna’s parents, Mike and Kaela Bokus, were at the sendoff. Mike was a chase van driver who followed with drinks and transported the runners to exchange points and Kaela and younger sister, Lily, were in Peoria as Lily held the banner with Anna as they reached the final destination of the Peoria Civic Center.

During the run, Anna was surrounded by friends as she ran with Mallary Setchell, who is one of two cancer survivors who ran along with Madison Schaefer. There were a total of 12 people from Mendota who were Anna’s friends, classmates or neighbors.

Sam Becker, a close friend of Ben’s, was also part of the Mendota group that helped raise $20,000 of the $57,000 the La Salle/Peru to Peoria Run raised.

“When we run into Peoria, the streets are lined with people, including, families, patients, survivors, doctors, nurses and other people who are just there to support,” said Anna Bokus, who also ran last year with Setchell. “They cheer you on and give you high fives as you run past. That’s the easy part. But it’s hard to run into the Civic Center and see all the kids with hospital masks on and think that that’s where Ben was a year ago and that he should have been there too, as a survivor, waiting for us and cheering us on, and maybe next year running with us.

“I started to tear up when we ran in from thinking about it, but I held it together pretty well. It’s always hard to see people who are sick, but knowing that what we did that day can help them in so many ways makes it so worth it. That’s what I kept telling myself — just because some lose their fight doesn’t mean the fight is done.”

Dave Hancock, a St. Bede alumnus, former coach and Bruin assistant or volunteer at just about every SBA function — sports or academically — took to the pavement for the first time this August.

He ran for Lily Rosploch, who lost a battle to cancer at 5 years old in 2015.

Hancock was ushered off by Lily’s parents, Mike and Maria, and sister, Mya, at Hy-Vee as they were all wearing the purple Rally for Lily T-shirts.

“My main motivation and inspiration to do the St. Jude run was Lily,” Hancock said. “After I committed to be a runner for St. Jude, we reached out to each other. I’ve been involved in a lot of Lily’s events in the past. I wanted to wear the purple Rally for Lily shirts during the run, which I did. I had two of them. They also brought a bunch of the shirts for the rest of the group.

“For Lily I’ll do anything.”

Hancock, who runs half marathons and has been a member of the Starved Rock Runners for five years, was a part of many of the fundraisers leading up to the run.

Now he is hooked and ready for the 2020 track to Peoria.

“There is nothing like it. I posted on my Facebook page, ‘This is one of the greatest things I’ve ever been involved with.’ I mean that whole heartedly,” Hancock said. “When we were lined up behind the Memphis group, there was nothing like waiting in that line and seeing all of the kids lined up on the way to the Civic Center.

“The kids are high fiving. The parents are holding signs. They’re ringing bells. There is just nothing like it. I ran 22 miles and when I got to the Civic Center, I was so pumped up I could have probably ran 22 more miles. I’m ready for next year.”

St. Jude La Salle/Peru to Peoria run co-coordinator Juanita Edgcomb and treasurer Tammy Humpage were excited about the run since there were five more runners than the average and there was a $12,000 increase in donations from last summer.

Another standard was also held up. No one was hurt during the run.

“What’s really important is 100 percent of every dollar that is donated to a runner goes for research, care and treatment for the children,” said Humpage, who along with Edgcomb has been running to Peoria for seven years. “If you donate directly to St. Jude, there are some expenses that are taken out. Every dollar donated to a runner goes for research, care and treatment. They don’t take any expenses out of that.”

Along with chase vans — which were also drove by Lou Guerrini and Harry Breen — following to keep runners hydrated and safe, policemen from District 17 and District 8 escorted the runners for safety.

“You have to listen to your body,” said Edgcomb, who is a co-coordinator with her husband Joe Edgcomb and Jim and Kelly Schaefer. “At some point your body is going to say, ‘You know what, I’m done.’ Your brain is saying you can keep going, but your body is saying no. Sometimes we get stubborn, but you have to listen to not only your body but to everyone else who can see you.

“You might not be noticing that you’re slouching or giving off other body language that shows fatigue. The drivers in the chase van are paying attention to every little single thing. They’re protecting you from over doing it and they’re protecting you from the traffic.”

With this year’s run in the books, the attention is shifted to the 2020 run.

There is a fundraiser already scheduled as Senica’s Oak Ridge Golf Course will be the site for Dueling Pianos on Jan. 18, 2020.

The runners are always ready and are looking for as much support as they can gather.

“We would love if people could come,” Edgcomb said. “I know it’s hard for people to get up that early, but I know our runners would really love if people would come and cheer us up. We see signs throughout the route from other counties where they say, ‘Go St. Jude runners.’

“Every year we’re like, ‘We really wish our community would get more involved and really support our runners.’ It takes a lot from them. They have really worked and put a lot of love and dedication into this run. I think that would push it even more.”

Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or sports@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.

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