America’s New Cancer Superhero

Photo courtesy of Kelcey Harrison

“Every end, is a new beginning” — Proverb

If you’ve followed sports between 1999 and 2005, the name Lance Armstong is very familiar to you. If you’ve only began following sports within the last few months, the name Lance Armstrong is very familiar to you.

On Tuesday October 22, Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, following the International Cycling Union’s announcement that his appeal through the United States Anti-Doping Agency to the union would not be heard.

He also lost his sponsorships with Nike, Oakley and Trek. He also stepped down as the chairman of his own Livestrong foundation and may be stripped of his bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

This man accomplished a lot in sports. In life, he conquered even more, beating testicular cancer which spread through his lymph nodes to his brain and his lungs in 1996. How do I know all of this? I cherished his autobiography, “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life,” and regurgitated everything I read in it.

I drank the Armstrong Kool-Aid and it was great. He was an inspiration to everyone. A cancer survivor who comes back and does something no one had ever done before – win seven consecutive Tour de France titles. What’s not to love?

I still remember buying my Livestrong bracelet in the summer of 2004. I wore it everyday and cracks of age began to breakthrough in 2009 so I replaced it with a new one because I believed in the message, Livestrong.

Not to cross athletic apparel slogans here, but it reminded me that impossible was nothing. No matter the odds, you have to go down swinging. I even gave an informative speech that fall in college on testicular cancer to raise awareness of it to my classmates.

I’m not going to psycho analyze why he did it. I was an athlete once and always wanted to be the best. I’ll admit that I researched Erythropoietin, EPO for short, for my personal benefit to use in my training. It probably saved Armstrong’s life when he was battling cancer. It’s designed to increase red blood cell count in the human body, important for fighting viral infection, but can also speed up muscle recovery. I chose not to use EPO because I didn’t want to risk my NCAA eligibility.

Since Tuesday night when I began to read more about Armstrong being stripped of his titles, I’ve forgone wearing my Livestrong bracelet. It’s something I never thought would leave my wrist. Believe it or not, it was not an easy choice to make because we all have heroes.

An athletic super hero void has not been left in my soul however. A polarizing figure that rallies people together for the greater good, in this case, still rallying for cancer. If you haven’t seen her in the news lately, I’m going to introduce you to a friend of mine, Kelcey Harrison.

Kelcey Harrison
Photo courtesy of Kelcey Harrison

Before I graduated from Minnesota, Crookston in 2008, I accepted an internship at Harvard University, world renowned for its academic excellence. I knew it was a great opportunity not only because of its upper crust status, but I also knew of its rich athletic traditions.

With a meager interns pay from Harvard, I knew it would be hard to subsidize living in Boston so I was able to secure a second job on campus in Harvard’s student recreation centers. Though I worked with numerous Crimson athletic programs and even got my introduction to the sport of field hockey, I worked a lot with the men’s and women’s soccer programs.

I was fortunate enough to work with several members of the women’s team, including Kelcey, at the Malkin Athletic Center. We became friends because it’s easy to bond when you sit at a front desk, swiping ID cards and folding towels in four shifts three times a week. When the women’s soccer team won the Ivy Championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, it was awesome to share that excitement with them. When the team lost on a penalty shootout in the first round, I was happy to show my support for them and help pick them up.

I tried to stay in Boston at the conclusion of my internship in June 2009 because I loved the people I met and the energy of the city, but I was unable to find work there and decided to jump on a great opportunity back home at Portland State. Through friendship and the amazing power of social media, I was able to keep in touch with a lot of the friends I made out there.

A year later, I remember seeing stories online about a California rower named Jill Costello, who had lost her year long fight with lung cancer at 22 years old. Costello, as most athletes, was a non-smoker but still fell victim to this awful disease. Harrison and friends posted the numerous national stories about Costello because Harrison was a childhood friend to Costello.

As time grew on, so did the grass roots efforts for lung cancer and the non-smokers affected by it. Soon after a series of “Jog for Jill” charity runs began through The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.

Harrison moved to New York City and began working at the Manhatten District Attorney’s Office and also began serving as a board member for Jill’s Legacy foundation.

As a fundraising idea for the foundation, Harrison decided to start a run of her own – The Great Lung Run, a 3,500 mile run from New York City to her home town of San Francisco. She left her job at the District Attorney’s office and started her run July 30th and has already made her way to Arizona through the rain, hail and thunderstorms of the midwest in the late summer, all for lung cancer research and her friend Jill.

While local media in the town’s and cities she’s run through have told her story, Kelcey’s reach has been tremendous, appearing nationally on CNN with Nancy Grace and on The Doctors as well to promote The Great Lung Run and raise money for Jill’s Legacy.

If her effort isn’t worthy enough of cancer superhero status, I’m just not sure what is. Harrison is slated to arrive in The City by the Bay on December 2nd.

Thankfully, Kelcey’s been blessed with good health and safety on her pilgramage. Though I never had the chance to meet or talk to her, I truly believe that Jill is guiding Kelcey through this amazing journey, because true friendship knows no limit. Like the champion coxswain that she was, Jill has been by Kelcey’s side for the 2,500 plus miles she’s already ran, helping her keep pace and steering her through adversity both physically and mentally.

If you’d like to follow Kelcey through the remainder of her journey, follow her on Twitter or on her blog at www.thegreatlungrun.com. If you’d like to make a donation, please visit the aforementioned link and click the ‘Donate Today!’ link (or right here). So far she’s raised $125,000, just over 50% of her goal of $250,000.

When I started working in sports media, I knew I wanted build relationships and tell the stories of the athletes to the masses. When I began at Harvard, I knew that I was publicizing and walking amongst the future difference makers of this world, but I never knew who those people would be. I’m happy to know that I didn’t have to wait too long to find out and even happier that I was able to build a relationship with one those difference makers.

Kelcey in an ice bath in Springfield, MO
Photo courtesy of Kelcey Harrison

Kelcey Harrison may not be a survivor of cancer, but her iron will to carry the torch for fallen cancer victims around the world in honor of her best friend, Jill Costello, has made her a folk hero. In my eyes she’s earned every hug, every kiss, the tears of joy and every note of praise along the way because character like this is truly a rare thing and can never be taken for granted. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all.

Even nearly four years removed Harvard women’s soccer, the job of a sports information director knows no limits and the rooting interest of a sports fan will light the sky forever. Tell me where to find a Jill’s Legacy wrist band and it will stay there forever. Veritas.

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4 thoughts on “America’s New Cancer Superhero

  1. This a really good piece Matt! Kelcy has done a wonderful job and truly is a hero for anyone who suffers from cancer or other debilitating diseases.

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