Whenever she's out of breath and feels like she wants to quit running, Mette Earlywine thinks about her 3-year-old daughter.
And then she keeps going.
“Running a half marathon is challenging,” said Earlywine, a 34-year-old Olympia resident. “But it’s nothing compared to the marathons these kids are going through.”
Earlywine is talking about Rally Kids, the name she and her fellow runners have given children waging a life-and-death battle against cancer. Earlywine is one of dozens of members of Rally Northwest, runners from Tacoma, Olympia and Seattle who train, race and raise money in honor of these kids.
Before she discovered Rally Northwest, Earlywine wasn’t a runner. “I wasn’t even an athlete,” she said.
Becoming a runner is just one of the many ways her life has changed since her daughter, Zoe, was born in 2007. Shortly after her birth, Zoe was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor called an Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid. The diagnoses came with a frightening prognosis – a 10 percent chance of survival.
Just six months old, Zoe needed brain surgery, six months of high-dose chemotherapy and radiation treatment. Because she was so small, the Earlywines had to travel to Boston to receive a new, specialized proton beam radiation treatment.
“Ten years ago they couldn’t have done a lot of those treatments,” Earlywine said. “She would have just died.”
So when Earlywine heard that the Rally Northwest team was raising money specifically for childhood cancer research, that’s all the motivation she needed to become a runner.
Rally Northwest is part of the Atlanta-based Rally Foundation, created in 2005. The Northwest team started last year with 84 members, none of whom is likely to win any of the races they enter.
But that’s not the point.
They raised more than $94,000 for research at Seattle Children’s Hospital and found a purpose to propel themselves toward better fitness.
The team is now recruiting runners and walkers to start training Feb. 5 for either the May 1 Tacoma City Half Marathon and/or the June 25 Seattle Rock-N-Roll full or half marathon.
The team provides coaches to guide members through workouts and help them with everything from choosing shoes to nutrition to breathing techniques.
The runners’ responsibilities are simply to raise money and run.
Each runner chooses a child to run in honor of and the Rally Foundation will give them that child’s picture and story. In many cases, the runners can even meet the children.
Kathi Clarke of Olympia started Rally Northwest after her niece, Kelsie McKune, died in 2007. McKune of Buckley was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma when she was 14, and she died five months later.
“She was old enough to ask questions like, ‘Why is there nothing you can do to help me?’ ” Clarke said. “It’s hard to watch and it’s heartbreaking.”
Clarke said she and her family felt helpless watching Kelsie’s short battle, and after she died, they looked for ways to honor her.
They briefly considered starting a foundation and pondered other ideas before they heard about the Rally Foundation. When they heard that the foundation didn’t have a team in the Northwest, they knew what they had to do.
As hopeless as they once felt watching Kelsie, her family and the Rally Northwest team have helped deliver hope to other families faced with similar situations.
Zoe Earlywine’s scans no longer show any sign of the brain tumor; in three more years, doctors could declare her cancer-free.
But she has battle scars. The tumor damaged the part of her brain that controls speech. The chemo was so hard on her, she stopped eating and continues to need a feeding tube. And treatment damaged her hearing.
Mette Earlywine is one of several Rally runners around the nation running in her daughter’s honor. This year, she plans to run the Tacoma and Seattle half marathons and hopes that her fundraising contribution will play a role in research that will allow kids to not only survive cancer, but do so with fewer side effects.
She shares the dream of Dr. Michael Jensen, a scientist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who is working to re-engineer T-cells so they can find and destroy cancer. In a September television program about childhood cancer that featured Zoe, Jensen said if he is successful, “being cured of cancer may have no worse side effects than feeling like you had a cold for a couple days.”
That’s the dream that keeps Earlywine and Rally Northwest running.
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 Craig.firstname.lastname@example.org Blog.thenewstribune.com/adventure
This fitness column runs Sundays in The Olympian. Please submit questions and comments via craig.hill@thenewstribune. com, facebook.com/adven tureguys or twitter.com/ad ventureguys. Also get more fitness coverage – including a 12-week marathon training guide – at blog.thenews tribune.com/adventure.
Rally Northwest Team
The organization: Rally Northwest is part of the nonprofit Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research. The organization, founded in 2005, helps train its members to participate in running events. The members run in honor of a child who is battling cancer. They also raise money for cancer research.
Teams: There are training groups based in Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle.
Events: Members of the team are training for the May 1 Tacoma City half marathon and the June 25 Seattle Rock-n-Roll full and half marathon.
Training: Begins Feb. 5.
Fundraising: Kathi Clarke, Rally Northwest’s coordinator, says 93 percent of all money raised goes directly to research. Rally Northwest raised more than $94,000 in 2010.