2018-01-31 / Local News

Cherry Hill college students will run across country to fight cancer


ALANA OKUN & SAM SNYDER will be running across the country to raise money for cancer research. ALANA OKUN & SAM SNYDER will be running across the country to raise money for cancer research. Since Alana Okun was in middle school, running has helped her through hard times. A competitive runner throughout high school and into college, she has laced up her sneakers more than a few times to deal with an occasional bad grade, to think through hard decisions, and even to make friends when she transferred colleges after her freshman year.

In contrast, Sam Snyder never understood the appeal of running. Although that changed last year when, stressed out about an upcoming exam, he decided out of the blue to take a late night run to clear his head. Instantly, he got it: Both the mental health benefits of the rhythmic exercise and how it could actually be enjoyable. It is a newfound passion.

Knowing this about these 20- year-old longtime friends helps to explain the appeal for them of spending their summer break before senior year on a 49-day, 4,000 mile run from San Francisco to Boston with the 4K for Cancer. As believers in the numerous benefits of running, Okun and Snyder are excited to join up with other college-age adults in the cross-country run created to inspire hope and unite communities in the fight against cancer.

Okun, a junior at the College of New Jersey, said it best on her online fundraising page: “This trip exemplifies that same concept that I have always thought about towards running. Running has the power to change, to alleviate and even to heal,” she stated.

The 4K of Cancer, now in its 17th year, is a program of the Ullman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. Based in Baltimore, the non-profit organization provides free support and resources for young adults through all stages of cancer, from diagnosis to remission. Initiatives include scholarships, counseling and even a Cancer to 5K program that reintroduce survivors to physical activity.

Participants are expected to raise $4,500 each and help organize food donations and lodging throughout the trip. From June 17 through Aug. 4, some 30 students will be running an average of 10-12 miles per day. On rest days, which occur every three to six days, they will stop at cancer treatment centers along the route to either volunteer or talk up their experiences. Their runs will take them through large swaths of open road but also to destinations like the Golden Gate Bridge, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone, Chicago and Lake Placid.

The volunteer aspect of the trip also appealed to the friends, both of whom are active in Jewish organizations on their respective college campuses and have declared their intentions to go to medical school.

Before Okun brought up the idea of the trip to him, Snyder was considering applying for a medical research internship for the summer. But it wasn’t sitting quite right with him.

“I have only one more summer before medical school to do something I genuinely want to do,” said Snyder, a Rutgers University student active in the campus Hillel. “I love to travel and now I am very into running. And I liked the aspect that we will spend our one day off from running to volunteer at different research centers and cancer treatment centers.”

Okun agreed.

“Instead of working with bacteria in a lab, we are going to get to see and meet actual patients and people treating them, which I think is really important for premed students to experience,” she said.

For both, fighting cancer is personal.

Snyder noted that he was named after his grandfather Stanley Boise, who died from Glioma brain cancer when his mother was just nine years old. His grandmother, who raised three children while working after his passing, is currently being treated for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“I will be dedicating my run to my grandfather’s memory and my grandmother’s current battle,” he said.

Okun too grew up aware of cancer. Her grandmother Sandy has been diagnosed and treated for cancer three times within 30 years. Sandy has been in remission for breast cancer since 2009 and is thankfully thriving.

“I was really young when all the cancers happened so I didn’t get a chance to understand much firsthand besides visiting her,” she said. “So when I called her and told her I decided to do this, she gave me a lot more information about the experiences.”

With her grandmother’s blessing, Okun detailed Sandy on her fundraising page.

“She might have been a little overwhelmed that I wrote the entire story online, but I think she really appreciated it,” Okun added. “It’s something my mom, aunts and uncles experienced very firsthand and it’s been something, in a way, that has unified my family more. My grandma is like the glue of the entire family and my whole extended family has shared my page and is really involved. It has been a good way to acknowledge it.”

Okun and Snyder are working together to meet their fundraising goals. For more information, visit Snyder’s fundraising page at https://ulman.z2systems.com/np/clients/ulman/campaign.jsp?campaign=678&f...

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