Running for change
Sydney Beason’s Instagram feed, @sydneystrides, shows just how much this 2022 Furman grad is on the move. One day she’s dipping the toe of her running shoe into Baltimore Harbor, the next she’s crossing from Pennsylvania into Ohio. Two days later, she’s standing in a corn field in Indiana, then under the iconic Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, in Chicago.
Beason ’22 and six teammates are making those miles by foot, running a route that started June 26 in Baltimore and will end 4,000 miles later, on Aug. 13 on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. They’re running to raise money and awareness in the 4K for Cancer, a project of the Ulman Foundation, a group dedicated to helping cancer patients who often fall between the cracks of pediatric and adult care.
For Beason, it’s personal. In 2017, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She was 17, but sometimes found herself in a pediatric unit adorned with butterflies, and at other times waiting to get blood drawn in the Duke Cancer Center with people old enough to be her parents or grandparents. “I was surrounded by patients I couldn’t relate to,” Beason said. There was no focus on older teens or young adults, a time of significant physical, emotional and social change.
When she learned about the Ulman Foundation, Beason jumped at the chance to help spread the word about their resources, which range from advice on choosing a medical team and information about cancer therapy’s effects on fertility, to scholarships and meet ups designed for young adults. There are also resources for healthcare providers and caregivers.
Fully recovered from her therapy and in remission, she signed up for Ulman’s 4K run in 2019. Then the pandemic hit. She ran her share of miles anyway, about 600 of them, in 2020 while she worked a summer job in clinical research for Javara Inc. She would wake up, run, go to work, run at lunch, work some more, run after work, and Zoom with her teammates. She ran her last 26.2 miles in a marathon.
Wanting the real cross-country experience, Beason signed up for this summer’s run and trained her senior year at Furman, spreading the word about her mission and raising $12,455 for Ulman.
On June 23, she arrived in Baltimore and met the rest of her relay team, which includes another cancer survivor, two men, five women, ages 19 to 24, from seven states. After two days of training they set out from Baltimore Harbor. They run in two or three pairs for about 15 miles, then another group hits the pavement. They wake up at 5 in the morning and run from 7 a.m. to about 5 p.m.
Teammates alternate driving a van ahead to connect with pre-arranged hosts – churches, gyms, community centers, families, campgrounds – who have offered to provide a place to sleep. For two nights just outside of Chicago the team stayed with a woman named Mary who has terminal cancer, and three daughters ages 7, 9 and 10.
“Mary hosts the 4K every year because she’ll never live to see her girls grow up to be our age,” Beason said. Mary’s house was full of laughter and joy, and helped put a physically hard 16-mile day into perspective. “I have noticed that oftentimes, the people who give the most to us are the same ones who have also lost the most to cancer,” Beason said.
Beason’s route will take her through Boulder, Colorado, then down through the deserts of Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park, over to Lake Tahoe, and finally crossing the Golden State to San Francisco. She will doubtless remember many of the miles and landmarks, but she said the cross-country run will be most meaningful for the people she’s met and the experiences she’s felt, and for not letting cancer define her.
“I want to use my experience to help other people,” Beason said. “Everyone you meet has a story. If you take time to listen to them, all of our stories become a little sweeter. I want to inspire people to find something they’re passionate about and encourage them to take a step towards a seemingly unachievable goal. And while we are all working on our own dreams, we can each continue to use these next four words to hopefully inspire others to take another step forward: ‘I believe in you.’”