A year ago, Joe Urban chose to do something for a co-worker’s young son with cancer — run 100 miles, nonstop, in the Colorado Rockies. To raise money for a fund set up in the boy’s name.
“Yes, it is crazy to run 100 miles, I realize that,” he said. “It is not natural, it doesn’t seem to be what the body was designed to do, but neither is a child being diagnosed with cancer at two years of age.”
The boy’s name was Austin Taylor. He lost his battle with cancer on July 1. He was 9.
Before Austin’s death, Urban would present the medals he’d earned as he trained for the biggie to boy — a 5K, a 10K, a 37-mile ultramarathon, a 50-miler in Alabama, and a 60-mile prep run in Leadville, Colorado, to learn some of the 10,000-foot-high course he’s running this weekend.
Urban said he’d “intended to give him the Leadville awards as well,” but with Austin’s death he’ll present the awards to the boy’s family, instead.
Urban is probably running as you read this. The race began Saturday in Colorado, and 30 hours will carry him well into today. He’s set out with a goal to raise $10,000 for a fund set up in Austin’s name. He reached that long ago, “faster than I had ever thought was possible.”
Urban said he “learned a very important lesson – don’t limit yourself, whether it is the belief that you can achieve something crazy like running 100 miles, or raising $10,000 for a charity in a year.”
The money will go to the Cure Child Cancer organization.
Urban, from Atlanta’s northern suburbs, works at Bard Medical in Covington with Austin’s mother, Rhonda Taylor. Urban is Bard’s director of global marketing for international urology.
Austin had neuroblastoma, stage IV, and early treatment reduced his cancer to NED stage (no evidence of disease) in November 2008. But in December 2012, cancer was diagnosed again. It opened Urban’s eyes.
“Through Rhonda, Austin and the Taylor family, my family has become more aware of the challenges that face children battling cancer, the lack of pediatric care available, and the lack of research and support available for families,” Urban said.
The Atlanta-based Cure Childhood Cancer organization is dedicated to targeted research and support of families and patients. Here are some scary facts from the organization’s database: Cancer is the foremost reason for death by disease in children; three of five children suffer long-term side effects from cancer; and just 3 percent of federal funding is focused on childhood cancers, which are different from adult cancers.
Urban signed up for the Leadville 100 on Jan. 1.
“You may be wondering why I chose one of the world’s hardest 100 mile races to run. Why not a marathon? Or even two marathons? Quite simply: Because I can,” he wrote on the Austin Taylor Challenge website at www.firstgiving.com.
“‘I can’ is a statement I have come to understand as the blessing that it truly is. And if Austin ... can fight cancer for the second time in his life and go through rounds of treatments and bone marrow harvesting, all while being the sweet, wonderful kid he is, then I can run 100 miles.”
It’s not been easy – not even close.
“Early morning and late night runs, dietary and nutritional modifications, injuries, time away from the family to train, but it was Austin’s bravery and courage … that was so inspiring. At times, when I was exhausted or hurt, I thought of Austin and how tough he was to face cancer head on day in and day out.”
Austin’s death is tragic, but doesn’t change Urban’s plans: “I made a commitment last year to fight for Austin, and now I am making a commitment to continue this fight.”
Bard director Debra Griffith still can’t quite believe what Urban has pulled off.
“When Joe first told me what he was going to do, I felt certain it was one of those 100-miles-in-five-days kinds of events,” she said Friday. “Then when he clarified ‘Nope, it is 100 miles in 30 hours’ I was rendered speechless due to the sheer enormity of that task and to his commitment to the cause.
“What a remarkable gesture for one human being to do for another. Though he will be there in spirit, I wish Austin was still with us to meet Joe at the finish line in person on Sunday!”
Rhonda Taylor, Austin’s mom, could not be reached for comment.
On the firstgiving.com website, Austin’s grandparents, Caroline and John Taylor, donated $100 and wrote: “‘I can’ was his (Austin’s) idea of life, trying anything and now (he) has a sport on the Angels’ team. He was an awesome grandson whom we love and miss.”
Stefano and Kimberly Carbonara also donated, $250 in their case: “We appreciate being a part of your heroics Joe! Good luck to you and God speed!”
Speed is important. Endurance is more – both when it comes to running 100 miles and defeating childhood cancers.