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Runnin’ Round the Benz for a good cause

My most important post ever

MLS: Commissioner Don Garber Press Conference Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

A month ago as Atlanta United’s season was coming to a close, it dawned on me that I pretty soon would not be offering up any player ratings or refereeing posts for a while. That presented me with a problem: what can I do keep up my contributions to this site? In the end, that problem became real rather sooner than most us had expected. But I was ready. I’d had an idea.

Regular DSS readers are no doubt familiar with Sam Jones’ epic fundraiser for the Fugees. A truly noble effort on his part, and of course by all those who so generously donated. Well done, all of you. But it got me to thinking.

The tattooing made it obvious that our readers are willing to part with good money to see our staff writers undergo self-inflicted pain. Granted, all Sam did was to sit crying like a baby for a bit while some weird-looking dude performed what amounted to a thorough skin allergy test on his back. What, I thought, would they be willing to do to see me undergo full-body stress for a couple of hours? Well, it’s time to find out.

I hate running. I loathe it, in fact. It’s boring and it hurts, especially at my age. But I have a heart condition, and I don’t have much choice. My continued good health demands it. I run about 1,000 miles a year. Roads, treadmills, tracks, trails, you name it, I run it. The boring part is mostly because I do it largely by myself. So a couple of years ago I decided to start alleviating that boredom by entering a few races. I chose events that were put on to support various causes I support. I surprised myself by winning my age group a few times. Then, two years ago, my wife tried to convince me to run a marathon. I wasn’t that brave. Or stupid. Additionally, the marathon she wanted me to enter was two laps of the same course. Did I mention boring? So I compromised with a half-marathon. That was February 2016. I didn’t run it this year, but I’m going to run it this coming February.

I live 27 miles from the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama. Among other local activities, Mercedes-Benz sponsors a marathon in Birmingham every year. I think you all know what else dear to Atlanta United fans’ hearts carries the Mercedes name. Synchronicity, I thought, enough to warm the heart of Jung and Sting (and there’s more, in fact). So, at 7am on Sunday, February 11th (and yes, that is going to be cold) I will run 13.1 miles in support of a very deserving cause.

What cause would that be? Well, if you guessed something to do with heart disease, you were wrong. Obviously, that’s important to me personally, but there are other causes I support. One of these receives support from MLS in general and Atlanta United in particular: childhood cancer research. And that’s the one I selected. That MLS does this every year gladdens me no end. Why do I support this cause? Well, let me introduce you to Kayla Funk.

Kayla Funk, cancer survivor and fundraiser

I have known the Perrys, Kayla’s family, ever since I moved to the Birmingham area nearly two decades ago. We’ve attended church together a long time. Her brother played soccer for years with one of my sons. I’ve watched all three Perry children grow up. But in 2013 the Perrys’ lives changed dramatically.

That year, Kayla graduated high school and had two goals in mind: first, she was going to Africa on mission, and then she was going to Auburn to study nursing. That should be enough to tell you the kind of person Kayla is. She had just arrived in Kenya when she started having minor medical issues that wouldn’t go away and couldn’t be readily diagnosed. So she was forced to return home for more extensive tests. The ultimate diagnosis: neuroblastoma. That’s a form of cancer that usually affects younger children; Kayla was 18 and relatively old to have it. In and of itself that was bad news.

So she entered treatment, but that did not stop from enrolling into the nursing program at Auburn (her parents both went to Alabama, but that’s a whole other story). She arranged her classes around her treatment program, often requiring trips to Atlanta. To Childrens’ Health, in fact, to complete the synchonicity.

In all of this, the Perrys discovered that childhood cancer gets far less research attention and dollars than any other form of cancer (just 4% of all government funding, for example), despite the devastating effects that evil has on children and families. So in 2014 Kayla decided to found Open Hands Overflowing Hearts to raise money to fund that desperately needed research. Within 3 months she had raised over $300,000. OHOH is still very active in Birmingham (in fact, I attended an OHOH benefit just this past Sunday evening) and raises significant amounts every year.

Four years later, Kayla is miraculously still with us, having been given a less than optimistic prognosis. She’s married and trying to live a normal life, but there’s a ticking time bomb in her head. Despite that – no, because of that - she remains an incredible inspiration.

Sadly, unlike Kayla, many children with cancer are not with us. Cancer is the leading cause of death in children under 15, and affects 1 in 320 kids. Which means there’s a good chance you know someone affected by it. Of those who do survive treatment, 67% have long-lasting chronic problems. But there have been no meaningful advances in pediatric cancer treatment in over a decade.

All of this is why I am asking you to help me raise some money. I’ll freeze my butt off and do untold damage to my knees pounding the pavement; all you’ll need to do is a few clicks (unless you decide to join me, that is!). The money raised will be donated to Cure Childhood Cancer, which is based in Atlanta and is one of the organizations supported by United in their own Unite and Conquer Cancer campaign. To donate, click here and select the team name Runnin’ Round the Benz for Childhood Cancer. I’ve set an initial target of $10,000, but I’m hoping we can do far better than that. Heck, I know we can do better than that. Let’s take this viral and see what can be achieved.

(By the way, my time for the 2016 half-marathon was 2:02:54, 29th in my age group and 1,017th overall. I’m hoping to improve on all of those this time)