The question, “what can I do?” often plagues us when a friend or family member is hurting. We want to help, but the problem sometimes seems too overwhelming. Unable to figure out how to help, many well-meaning people often do nothing. But not Tom Jones. He figured out what he could do when cancer struck someone he cared about.
The Austin Taylor Challenge is an ultra-marathon benefiting CURE which was founded in memory of a little boy, Austin Taylor, who passed away in 2014 after a courageous battle with neuroblastoma. Tom participated in the 2017 Austin Taylor Challenge and reached out following the race.
He wrote: I completed the 50k yesterday to honor a 12-year-old boy named Collin who had his foot amputated as a result of a rare form of cancer called epithelioid sarcoma. He has been fitted with a prosthetic and is doing well and is quite active. He has been through chemo and has lost all his hair but has a very positive attitude. I hope to meet him for the first time soon and present him with the finishers medal and hat and shirt from Austin’s race.
I was very moved by Austin’s story and understand the accomplishment of fellow-ultramarathoner, Joe Urban, in completing the Leadville 100 to honor Austin. I find it unbelievable that he could finish that race! I am sure Austin had inspired him so he was up to the impossible task! What an incredible young man! I know he made you very proud.
Moved by his note, we caught up with Tom and found him more unassuming and humble than would befit his accomplishments. It all started in 2009 when his pastor was facing liver cancer for the third time. They had run together in several local races, and Tom got the idea to run the Augusta half-marathon in honor of his pastor. He didn’t know how much it would mean until he gave the medal, race t-shirt, and a note of encouragement to his friend.
“His reaction was more than what we had expected,” Tom said.
From that experience, a ministry was born. Over time, Tom’s distances increased from half-marathons to full marathons, and then eventually he began running ultras. He runs about forty miles in a typical week unless he is building up to a long race. While he is training, he focuses on the beauty of nature and the one for whom he is running.
“Running to me is a celebration of life, and now a way to honor others,” explained Tom. “When I find someone who is hurting or struggling with a medical issue, my goal is to lift them up and also encourage their families during whatever journey they are on.”
Typically, Tom selects someone from the prayer list of his church in Evan, GA as his inspiration. But this year, a co-worker who knows Collin’s family asked if he would consider running for the boy. Tom was quick to agree. He had his own brush with childhood cancer. Tom and his wife, Karen, have six daughters. His now 18-year-old old daughter, Hannah, had her thyroid removed because it was cancerous.
“We have experienced the dreaded diagnosis of cancer in a child,” he relayed. “That makes me thankful for The Austin Taylor Challenge – a great race for a great cause. I’m also thankful for CURE Childhood Cancer and their efforts to rid so many young people of this horrible disease!”
Tom is an inspiration to all of us who struggle to put action to our compassion. He is making a huge difference in the lives of others by doing something he loves.
“If I can put a smile on someone’s face just because I ran a race for them, then it is totally worth the effort.”