By John Balch
With a tip of her toes in the Pacific Ocean below the Golden Gate Bridge on June 16, Alexis Lee of Delight set off on an adventure of a lifetime.
Lee, 25, was part of a team of young adults who completed the Ulman Foundation’s 4K for Cancer – not you average 5K run, as the “K” means thousands. In this case, the team covered around 4,800 miles from San Francisco to Boston, Mass., in 49 days.
The team arrived at their destination Aug. 3 on a route that included a portion of the Boston Marathon, a mere 26-miler.
“To say I am still in shock is an understatement,” Lee told the Nashville News-Leader a few days after going coast-to-coast. Would she do it again? “Yes.”
“It was a once in a lifetime journey that not only changed other’s lives but our lives were also touched,” she said. “It’s amazing to know how many lives we have positively impacted. Every sore, tight or injured muscle was worth it every time we stepped in to a facility and heard the stories of the cancer patients we were helping.”
This summer was the 18th run of the foundation’s 4K for Cancer with goals of inspiring hope and uniting communities along the way in the fight against cancer.
Lee personally ran 400 miles over the 49 days. Not bad, considering while in track at Murfreesboro High School (Class of 2012) she “dreaded running any lengthy distance at all.”
That changed two years ago when she signed up for the Glen Campbell 5K Ramble, a run/walk event to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s in her hometown of Delight. She soon found distance running relaxed her and it soon became a personal challenge to make it more than just getting in miles
Her first half-marathon (13 miles) was last October. Her first full one was two months later for St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tenn., and she’s been running ever since. “To me, running is more about using my ability, and doing what I love, to do good for others,” Lee said.
This summer, the Ulman Foundation event provided Lee with that challenge and more.
Not just running
The 2019 team included three vans and 28 members from across America including one from England and one from Mexico. They ranged in age from 19 to 25. They ran an average of six to 16 miles daily to reach the end in 49 days with night fall, storms and heat indexes over 105 degrees as the only stopping points.
Lee explained that two vans carried runners while the third was used to go ahead to seek out food donations for dinner and breakfast and lunch the next day. They also stayed with host families along the way in a cycle that would repeat across the country.
Running in groups of two, the runners started early reeling off miles in a leap-frog fashion that had one van starting at the half-way point to the next stop.
All the runners had to spend time behind the steering wheel.
“Since we have no crew, we solely rely on each other,” Lee emailed from a stop on Day 37 when she already put in 285 personal miles.
The trek passed through California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire and Maine before ending in Massachusetts.
Lee said traveling through places like Yellowstone and the Grand Teton mountain range were obvious high-points of the run. But, she said achieving the foundation’s goal of inspiration, hope and cancer awareness were the factors that made all the effort worthwhile.
The team was given only seven days off. Those days were spent visiting hospitals and others places that serve the cancer community. In answering a question about what had been the “toughest part” of it all, Lee said, “The toughest part was also an eye-opener for me: seeing kids and young adults in hospitals, hearing their struggles and how they have been stripped of the opportunity of a normal life was devastating to me. However, hearing those stories pushed me up every big hill and kept me going through the heat every time I wanted to stop.”
All along the way, the runners were approached by people who had stories to tell about the impact of cancer.
“It brought tears to my eyes when we were going through an area and someone comes up and thanks me for what I was doing,” she said.
Lee’s journey was completed in honor of a long list of family and friends affected by or lost to cancer, including her great-grandfather Herman Brock. As the list grew, team members would write a new name or some other inspiration on their arms and legs for new day’s run.
Lee’s answer of “why” she committed to such a challenge also grew bigger with each mile. “All these people mean so much to me and are an inspiration for why I ran this summer. I’m thankful for the opportunity to do something I love and honor these people.”
Lee called the team’s arrival at Boston a “bittersweet moment” tinged with disbelief they had actually made it and it would soon be time to say goodbye.
“Our team is a very close knit group,” Lee said. “I have developed a very deep friendship with my team that will last a lifetime. We spent almost ‘24/7’ together. We became close friends very quickly.”
Glad to be done and headed back home to Delight, one of Lee’s post-run social media posts was set up with a quote from long-running movie character Forrest Gump, (I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now) – “with 49 days, 400 personal miles 4800+ team miles and hopefully more cancer patients impacted than we can count.”
“Thank you to everyone for the love and support along this journey, I couldn’t have done it without you all. All the glory goes to God.”
Lee is the daughter of Rob and Tammy Lee of Delight and Lisa Tucker of Hope. Her grandparents are Jack and Janice Lee of Murfreesboro and Nelson and Glenda Hogden of Dierks. She has a degree in Animal Science with a focus in pre-veterinarian science from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.