By Rachel L. Dahl, ‘01
THE sixth annual Rex Lee Run was not for the faint-hearted. Drizzly rain on the morning of March 10 steadily soaked the students, cancer survivors, and families young and old who gathered at BYU to raise money for cancer research. In spite of the uncooperative weather, an estimated 1,600 participants made it the largest Rex Lee Run in history.
“This run was the brainchild of students,” says Daniel L. Simmons, ’78, director of the BYU Cancer Research Center. “It has their enthusiasm, it has their inventiveness, and that’s what makes it so great.”
The Rex Lee Run had humble beginnings. Lance K. Manning, ’97, a cancer survivor, founded the student Cancer Awareness Group in 1996. Shortly after former BYU president and avid runner Rex E. Lee died of cancer in March 1996, the club paid tribute to him by creating a 5K run to raise cancer awareness. From its original 200 participants, the race has now become one of the most popular student-planned events on campus.
The proceeds of the Rex Lee Run go directly to the Cancer Research Center, which in turn gives summer fellowships to students who are interested in becoming cancer researchers. Alissa A. Harman, ’01, president of the Cancer Awareness Group, acknowledges that students usually have personal reasons for getting involved in the run.
“Many of the club members have had cancer impact their lives,” says Harman. “Some have had a brother die of cancer or a mother fight breast cancer.”
Simmons introduced a new aspect to the run last year with the Honor a Cancer Fighter campaign. While in Washington, D.C., Simmons and his wife, Trudy Woods Simmons, ’79–who lost her father to cancer–attended the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Run and noticed that many of the runners wore personalized placards on their backs. They brought this idea to the Rex Lee Run, and now, with a small donation, anyone can honor a loved one who has fought cancer. Runners get the opportunity to wear the placards and often receive personal notes from the sponsor.
“It really means something to these runners to learn something about a person who is being honored,” says Simmons. “It makes it more personal.”
In addition to the Honor a Cancer Fighter campaign, an informative Web site, T-shirts with the now-familiar Rex Lee Run logo, loads of food, prizes–such as a trip for two on Southwest Airlines or a stereo–and complimentary massages all add to the race’s appeal.
“The race does not bring in a tremendous amount of money,” says Simmons. “But what it does is raise consciousness. It keeps this issue in focus at Brigham Young University, and hopefully through research it will show the world that we care about this problem that affects millions.”