While many people support the fight against cancer, some UCF students are taking their aid to the next step by traveling more than 4,000 miles across the country to help raise money for the cause.
4K for Cancer is a fundraising program of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, “changes lives by creating a community of support for young adults, and their loved ones, impacted by cancer.”
The program involves relay teams of college students running or biking their way across the country, all to try and raise money for young adults affected by cancer.
Each student must go through an application process and be selected for a team, one of four biking teams or one of two running teams. Every team is made up of 30 people, and each team member must fundraise a minimum of $4,500, the majority of which goes into supporting young adults with cancer.
The rest of the money raised is used to fund the students on their trips. Places like churches and recreation centers host the teams overnight, where they stay on the floor in sleeping bags and are trained in how to get food through donations.
This summer, some UCF students are planning to participate in the program’s 15th year, giving up their summer vacations to travel across the country one step at a time.
Kristen Brightwell, a junior majoring in sports and exercise science, will be one of the students running the relay. After discovering the program on Instagram last year, she said she was blown away by what people her own age were able to do.
“When I found out about it, I read through every page of information … three times over. I was just really fascinated by it,” Brightwell said.
Brightwell said that she first started running just to lose weight. But what started out as an awful chore has grown into an overwhelming passion.
“It was absolutely miserable at first,” she said. “I hated it with every fiber of my being. It took me about eight months to actually enjoy running, but once I enjoyed it, I was obsessed.”
That obsession entails a lot of training. She runs five days per week, plus cross training and exercise classes at the Recreation and Wellness Center.
Brightwell credits her ability to stick with the rigorous workouts to her motivation behind signing up for it in the first place — her grandparents. She has lost two grandparents to cancer, and said that witnessing the suffering of her family and others in her community made her want to do something to help.
“Cancer has touched the life of everyone I know in some way, so I am running in their memory and honor. When my motivation runs low, I remember who I’m running for and I am able to keep going,” she said. “I always remind myself that I have a finish line and then the pain and discomfort will end. Cancer patients have no finish line.”
Her hard work will pay off this summer, when she will run in a relay from San Francisco to New York City in just 49 days. When she reaches New York, her boyfriend Asa Gentry, a junior majoring in film, said he is planning to be there to offer his support.
“She’s always been someone who I know can rise to a challenge, no matter how big,” Gentry said. “I was pretty worried about this particular challenge at first, but she’s since proven to me that she’s more than capable of doing this.”
Elizabeth Youlio, a junior majoring in pre-clinical health sciences, also attributes her strong support system to helping her with the challenges presented by the program. She will be biking from Baltimore, Maryland, to Seattle, Washington, in a 70-day journey in honor of her grandfather, who had colon cancer, and the others she has seen affected by the disease.
“A ride like this stands for such a bigger cause – it is bigger than all of us. I will be able to see parts of the states I have never seen before while making a difference in the cancer community,” Youlio said. “It keeps me motivated knowing that I am doing this for those who cannot.”
Like Brightwell, this is the first time Youlio has attempted a challenge of this magnitude, but she said that she hopes that her journey will inspire others to try and make a difference as well.
“I want others to take away that you never know what people may be going through in their lives and if you have an opportunity to help someone, even if it may be difficult, take it,” she said.
Deanna Ferrante is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future.