March for Marrow Scores in L.A.
By Martha Crews, AAMDSIF Community Development Officer
Those who know me well might say that I’m slightly obsessed with palm trees. Since I live in Maryland, the only time I see them is when I’m in warm, sunny places that make me happy. And one of those places is Long Beach, California, when I’m there for our annual Los Angeles walk.
I love our L.A. walk for so many reasons, but the primary reason is the people I work with who help make this such a fun and successful event. Last month was our 7th Annual Los Angeles March for Marrow 5K Run and Walk and, over the years, many of the patients and families I’ve worked with there have become my friends.
The L.A. event is our oldest and largest walk, but before any of them get going, numerous behind-the-scenes operations must occur. The morning before this year’s event, I met up with walk organizers Stephanie and Bill Hamm to load cases of donated Gatorade and protein bars into our rented U-Haul. Stephanie and Bill are adept at quietly making sure that all the details are taken care of, performing so many tasks that I’m not sure I’m even aware of them all. They are two of the most dedicated volunteers I know, and this walk wouldn’t be the success that it is without them.
Later in the day, I carry large containers of event t-shirts and goody bags to a local running store, where I work on packet pick-up for the 5K run. There’s no shortage of physical activity! I’m joined by our enthusiastic 5K race directors, Gus Quinonez and Laurie Beverage. It was their vision years ago to include a 5K run at our L.A. event. Gus is a runner himself, and the 5K enabled us to reach many more people in the local community who otherwise wouldn’t have engaged in a bone marrow failure event. Gus and Laurie are wonderful ambassadors for the Foundation.
On the morning of the walk, my colleague Desiree Ruiters and I arrived at 6:00 am, coffee in hand. Because this is a large-scale event, it took two of us to manage the workload. Desiree coordinated the financial tasks, including on-site registrations, donations and the silent auction. Even though live events can have unexpected glitches, our event ran smoothly because of her strong organizational skills and cheerful attitude.
The morning’s first event was our 5K run, and one of our speakers was Kevin McDevitt, a PNH patient and transplant survivor. He and his wife Stephanie created the “Good Blood” video (a parody of Taylor Swift’s song “Bad Blood”) that encourages registration as a bone marrow donor. Last year, Kevin attended the walk in a surgical mask. It was only several weeks after his bone marrow transplant, and although he wasn’t up for much physical activity, he still wanted to be there. This year, Kevin competed in the 5K run – AND he won his age category! He also gave an eloquent speech about his health journey and the video he made with Stephanie. Having a patient or family member tell their personal story of bone marrow failure is a signature component of our walks. Kevin is a fantastic ambassador for AAMDSIF, and I’m so glad I’ve gotten to know him better.
After the 5K run, there were race awards, a Moment of Remembrance, a bone marrow drive, children’s art projects, a silent auction and lunch, which we couldn’t do without the essential help of our volunteers. For the past several years, aplastic anemia patient Vicki Rouspoulos has happily volunteered for us. We keep in email contact all year long, and I always know that I can count on her support. She never fails to arrive at the registration table with a big smile on her face. We hug, and she asks where she can be the most help. Even though we’re in touch all the time, I still love catching up with Vicki in person.
This year, over 20 teams participated in the event, the largest being the 30-member team called “Little Lambe”. Their team was led by captain Donna Lambe in honor of her daughter Meghan, who is doing well after a successful transplant in June 2015. Little Lambe also raised the most money this year – over $5,400! Everyone was so excited that I, of course, had to find a way to get in their team picture.
There are countless stories I could share about the wonderful participants, volunteers and organizers of the 2016 March for Marrow L.A. Together, we raised over $41,000 thanks to 325 participants, 22 teams, 14 committee members and 50 volunteers. I am always incredibly moved by spending time with our patients and families, and I’m also so grateful for what we can accomplish together.
So, when I look at that last picture above from that memorable day, I reflect on all of the unique individuals in it and each of their stories. And, naturally, I really do love those beautiful palm trees decorating the background!