Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Denny's Challenge

This past Saturday, I participated in my first Miles for Melanoma event.  Denny’s Challenge is a 5K run/walk to raise money for melanoma research, donated to the Melanoma Research Foundation.  This year’s event raised around $6500, beating last year’s inaugural amount of $5000.  This is an incredible accomplishment from a small, but growing event.
The origin of this event is a pretty neat story.  Let me share it directly from the event website, as written by her daughter Jodi:
At the age of 59, my father-Denny Neely, lost his valiant battle against cancer.  In January 2008 he was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic melanoma.  An eight centimeter tumor was found situated between his aorta, stomach and pancreas- survival on average with this diagnosis is 3 months. My father began clinical trials with some of the best doctors at the Hillman Cancer Institute in Pittsburgh, PA.  An uphill battle from the start and through many setbacks; my father remained optimistic, never gave up hope and promised to fight this disease all the way to the end. 
On July 3rd of 2009, 18 months into the fight, the tumor had grown, multiplied, attached, and attacked his vital organs. As he lay in his hospice bed, seeing in all of our faces that he was near the end, he challenged all of us in the room to a fifty mile race. The room laughed because we knew he was serious. Here’s a man that at this point could barely walk, could barely talk calling his shot like a thin, frail, Babe Ruth.
My dad was always challenging us to dig a little deeper in the storehouse, in the gut, in the desire to achieve. Today we extend that challenge to you.  The 1st sixteen individuals to finish the Denny’s Challenge 5k, together will have totaled fifty miles fulfilling the last goal of a fighting man.  So call your shot, dig deep and run, walk or give toward Denny’s fifty mile goal in his memory and to raise money so we will one day find a cure for melanoma.
So, I took that challenge…knowing I had no chance whatsoever to finish in the top 16.  But I showed up this past Saturday morning with my BITNP T-shirt (the new white colored version considering the heat of the day) and my best pair of walking shoes. 

Sportin' the new shirt

One thing you might not know about me is that I’m quite shy.  I’m much more outspoken with fingertips to keyboard than I am face-to-face.  So I was basically a wall-flower as I watched everyone else stretch and prepare for the run.  Wait, this is a walk too, right?  I was a little intimidated by groups of people obviously from the same running clubs, and by pulse-measuring, ostrich-waltzing runners going through their pre-race routine.  Yet, when it was time to start, I still took my place on the field, heard the horn blow to start the race, and started hoofing.
This was my view within seconds:
Almost last...and yes, that's a toddler beating me!

Oh, I wasn’t last…just in the bottom 1%.  But you know what?  I didn’t care and I had an incredible time.  I caught up with a lady named Sue that works with the aforementioned Jodi.  I learned a lot about Jodi’s cause, and was very impressed with her drive to get the word out about melanoma.  A couple of other folks came up behind us…they turned out to be Denny’s brother Rich and his wife Rose.  I was impressed that they flew all the way from New Mexico to enter this event.  I learned a little more about Denny…and all during an incredible, healthy walk through a wonderful tree-lined course with good company and conversation.  It didn’t feel like a race at all, but I felt like I was on a winning team.
We finished in just under an hour…in time to see the 16 medals given to the top finishers, and to hear Jodi give her final thanks to all that participated, along with one final reminder about sun-safety and melanoma. 

Jodi Neely Wiley - Denny's Daughter

Yeah, there were runners there that were there for the times and medals, but the real winner was Jodi who continues her father’s wish and message.
I encourage everyone to participate in a Miles for Melanoma event.  There’s another in the Raleigh area in October…I’ll definitely be attending and perhaps it will be a little cooler.  I’m sure there will be one near you.


  1. Al, thanks for participating (at any speed). I wish there were similar events in Colorado. Take care.

  2. I think this is great, Al! Jodi is doing a great thing...What better way to honor her dad!