Scott Miner had a difficult end to his last semester of eighth grade seven years ago.
The Greenfield Middle School student was finishing up his first season on the Greenfield High School track and field team when he learned that his mother, Sharon Andrew, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. As is the case for many people in his situation, Miner did not know how to process the information or what to do in order to deal with his feelings.
He put those emotions to good use over the past six years, however, as he helped begin the GHS cross country team’s squad that now runs the entire Relay For Life every spring to raise money for cancer research. This season, the GHS team, along with a slew of former team members, will form two teams with roughly 40 total runners to raise money for the Relay when it takes place on June 7 at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Greenfield beginning at 6 p.m. While Miner is pleased that his efforts are able to help in the fight for cancer, things were not always as cheery for the 20-year-old.
After learning of his mother’s diagnosis, Miner attended the Relay For Life that June along with his family. As many people know, the Relay For Life is a fundraising event for cancer research, in which teams camp overnight and have at least one person walking at all times. While he was not registered to participate on any team that spring, Miner started walking around the track alone that spring. It was a cathartic time for the student, and he remained there overnight even after his family left, sorting through the feelings he was having, and coping with the changes that were about to hit him.
“I didn’t really understand it,” he admitted on Sunday. “It kind of hit me that night when I saw all the luminaries that, OK, my mom might end up being here. And I just felt like walking.”
Nearly one year later, Miner was now coming toward the end of his freshman year of high school. He had gone out for the cross country team in the fall, and was again participating on the track and field team that spring. While school and the extracurricular activities were going well, things had not gotten better for him from a personal standpoint. His mother had been undergoing chemotherapy but was not doing well in her fight, and he was afraid he was going to lose her. He decided he wanted to again walk at the Relay For Life, this time as a fundraiser. He remembered having seen GHS cross country and track coach Stu Elliott, as well as teammate Eli Ketchum at the Relay that previous spring, and about a week before the Relay, Miner approached them about joining their team.
There was only one problem: both had been there as part of other teams and neither had a team that spring. Miner and Elliott stayed at school that afternoon and went online to look for someone to get in touch with and they found Michael Nelson, the head of registrations for the Franklin County event. Nelson showed up at the school that day, and while they were past deadline to register, Nelson made an exception. The next day, Miner started talking to his track & field teammates, especially the ones that also ran on the cross country team with him. What he found was that of the 15 cross country members, eight were also closely dealing with cancer. Miner rounded up roughly 20 people that spring to form his team.
“The cross country team was at an all-time low that year in terms of morale because so many of us were dealing with cancer,” Miner said. “It was just a good time to start the team.”
That first season was a hodgepodge of athletes from different teams as Miner and Elliott scurried to fill the team. Despite the late notification, Miner set a goal that each participant had to raise at least $100. Each person did just that, and then showed up for the night of the event. Miner’s former teammate and good friend Evan Abelson recalled their first go-round.
“The first year was interesting because no one was prepared,” he said. “No one had a change of clothes, and of course it rained. But that didn’t really matter, because the whole thing is about the survivors and is supposed to be a celebration of life.”
The team is now in its sixth year and the size has nearly doubled, causing them to enter two teams this year. The team is also now mostly made up of current and former cross country runners. Miner, who graduated in 2011, and Abelson, who graduated in 2012, are just two alumni who run with the team. Recorder news reporter Chris Curtis, another former cross country runner, is also part of the team.
There is one thing that sets the cross country team apart from others: They run the entire time. Miner said he is unaware of any other teams that do the same thing. Some individuals will run from other teams, but the GHS cross country team has two people running the entire time.
“We always have two people running to symbolize that you’re never alone,” he said.
Abelson said that the feedback the team got that first year was unbelievable, with people approaching them to say that watching them run helped push them through the late-night hours of walking. It inspired the runners to keep coming back, and now the team has a system in place. Runners go out in half-hour shifts (with shifts getting a bit smaller as the event wears on) and the high school runners take shifts until 11 p.m. At that time, Abelson reads the high schoolers a bedtime story (last year it was Winnie the Pooh) and the alumni take over the shifts from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. while the high schoolers sleep. The group then finishes out the event together. It’s something runners have continually come back to run, and Abelson — who runs at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. — and Miner both said they have no plans to stop doing it.
“We don’t have the money to cure cancer and I don’t have the brains to figure out a cure,” he began, “but I was blessed with these legs that allow me to run in order to raise money to fight it.”
Miner’s mother is now one of those cancer survivors that the team will be running for, having recovered from chemotherapy and the medication that followed.
But just because his mother is doing better hasn’t slowed down Miner or his team. If you see them run by that night, cheer them on. Cancer may never stop, but these runners are not slowing down any time soon in their fight to raise money to stop it.
Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.