This past Sunday was beautiful in more ways than one. Not only was the weather impeccable, but generosity and memories abounded across campus. The third annual Run For A Cure attracted a record 400 students, professors, and local citizens who ran, biked, or walked 2 1/2 miles to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Over 20 local businesses sponsored the event by providing money, time, and resources. 42 local businesses contributed $25 in cash or goods, with many others adding smaller donations. Each participant who raised over 15 dollars through sponsorships received T-shirts custom made for the event.
Each year, the race has been held in honor of a valued presence on the Williams campus. The first year, the race remembered Professor Bell, an English professor who had passed away from cancer-related complications. For the past two years, the race has honored Matthew Stauffer, a spirited Williams student who contracted leukemia and passed away 17 months ago.
Buxton Brook Farm Bed and Breakfast owner Nancey Alden was enthusiastic, commenting, “The race received a universal response in our desire to solve the mystery of cancer.” Where’d You Get That? owner Michelle Geitz, who donated the balloon arch at the finish line, as well as gift certificates for the raffle, was especially pleased that this year’s race was in honor of Stauffer. “I can’t think of a better cause that gets the whole community involved,” she said. “The students give us so much support,” she added, “we thought [the race] was a great way to give something back. This is the least we could do.”
Soccer teammate Paul Burke ’96 and basketball All-American Geoff Chapin ’96 – two good friends of Stauffer who were to be his suitemates senior year – remembered Stauffer for his energizing spirit and phenomenal physical condition. Burke recalled that Stauffer ran 2 miles in 10 minutes, 15 seconds during a time trial for soccer. Burke said that the feat was a tribute to Stauffer’s admirable ability to strive wholeheartedly in everything in which he engaged. Teammate and organizer Jon Ilgen ’99 recounted that Stauffer was nominated captain of the soccer team the season of his sophomore year. Two days before the season opened, he was diagnosed with leukemia. The cancer reappeared twice in subsequent years, both years when he was to be captain. In Stauffer’s honor, men’s soccer team members ran Sunday’s race in yellow jerseys; the backs of the jerseys depicted Stauffer’s retired number (10) and the quote “Run for yourselves; Run for your mates.” Organizer Nicole Strauss ’99 said that this year’s committee continued the honoring of Matt “because his personality and spirit seem to embody everything that is good about Williams College.” Stauffer’s mother Julie traveled to campus for the event and peered over the sea of runners from Chapin steps. His father and two sisters were unable to attend.
The race was the brainchild of Nicole Strauss ’99, Heather Genovesi ’99 and Leigh Olmstead ’99 in 1996. “We decided that we thought if would be fun to do a run to raise money for a good cause such as cancer,” said Strauss. That year, Dean Wanda Lee helped the students initiate the organizational process. The organizing board grew as friends agreed to contribute their efforts by doing such things as contacting security, the town police, dining service, and sponsors. The race amassed $23,000 in 1997 and 1998 combined, when the participants numbered 250 and 350, respectively. This year, the organizing committee consisted of Genovesi, Julia Hyde ’01, Jon Ilgen ’99, Olmsted, Cate Olson ’01, Sarah Rutledge ’01, Strauss, Deborah van Allen ’99 and Liza Walsh ’01. The money raised from the record number of participants will go to a general fund of the American Cancer Society where it will be allocated as needed.
Participants could buy (or earn) T-shirts, and they were placed in a lottery that raffled off myriad prizes from the local sponsors. The men’s race winner was Paul Alsdorf ’99 who ran the hilly 2.5 miles in 14:35, and the women’s race winners were Sylvia Englund ’99 and Meg Randall ’99, who both completed the course in 17:29. All three winners are members of Williams cross-country and track teams.
Alsdorf noted after the race that competition was not his main focus. “I just wanted to show support for all the people who are fighting cancer and for those who have lost people to it. Having lost a grandparent to cancer, I know it’s hard to deal with, no matter when it strikes. Coming together as a community to do something for a worthy cause is really what the whole event symbolizes in my mind, and it felt really good to be part of something like that.”
Englund added that this year’s race was “a wonderful tribute to Matt Stauffer, and a great way to simultaneously appreciate our own good health, which we take for granted, and contribute to others.” Randall agreed that holding the race in Stauffer’s honor was fitting, noting that “Matt’s memory served as a very important inspiration.” She also appreciated seeing those who traveled to campus just for the event. “I saw a lot of the same faces [as last year],” she commented, “including a great number of alumni, returning for their second or third year.”
After the race, participants were treated to fluids and snacks as they mingled with viewers and congratulated one another on sun-flooded Baxter lawn. As Chapin noted, there were moments when friends and classmates, as well as those who did not know Stauffer, could not only visualize his spirit, but could sense and feel it as well. Sunday’s Run For A Cure was clearly one of those moments.