On the surface, the Bob Burzynski Invitational, hosted by Valders High School, appears to be a run-of-the-mill high school cross country race.
However, the event has become a yearly reminder that there are many things in life that transcend the world of sports.
Thursday’s event was no exception.
It was the second time the annual event had been run since the passing of Jacob Andrew, a child who brought much joy to the Valders cross country team.
Jacob was three-years-old when he was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, in 2010. The ailment, a condition found in children that produces a tumor in nerve tissue, was treated in a variety of fashions, including chemotherapy.
At the time, the only connection the Andrew family had to the program was then-team member Mariah Emme, who babysat Jacob.
One day, Emme overheard a teammate commenting on the pain of practice. Emme proceeded to use Andrew as an example to put things in perspective.
Once Jacob’s story was brought to the attention of Vikings’ head coach Bill Dietrich, Jacob began to attended practices and meets.
For Dietrich, the interactions not only provided a boost to his team’s spirit but, more importantly, to Jacob’s.
“We kind of looked at it and said, ‘hey, this kid is dealing with all of these trials,'” Dietrich said. “A three-mile race for 20 minutes, we can struggle through that if he can struggle through his disease.”
As time went on, the team continued to embrace Jacob and his family. Some of the runners made t-shirts, while others shaved their heads, some simply took the time to give Jacob a high-five when the opportunity presented itself.
The gestures of kindness and support may have varied, but the feelings the Andrew family took away from them was always the same.
“It was so heartwarming. We were just overwhelmed by the support they gave us,” Jacob’s mother, Jennifer said. “Jacob was so happy. He loved it.”
In March of 2012, Jacob passed away. Along the course, a tree was planted, beneath it, a stone which reads “we have and always will…run for you.”
“We felt it would be great do to something in his memory,” Dietrich said. “Every time we go past it, we see it. The gold ribbons are significant to the Neuroblastoma cause, so we put the ribbons on there.
“Every once in awhile, if we’re going to a big meet or a sectional, we’ll take a ribbon or two off and tie it on our shoelaces. It gives us that inspiration…that feeling that there’s more to it than just ourselves and our running and our accomplishments.”
Thursday may have marked the second year the race was run without Jacob in attendance, but his parents were, once again, at the event cheering on the Vikings, who were a source of happiness to their late son.
“It’s something you can’t put into words, it’s just a beautiful thing,” Jacob’s father Joel said.
“We just still feel so incredibly blessed that this cross country team has supported us in the way that they have,” Jennifer added. “It just goes to show you how community can support you and really help you through a tough time.
“Remembering Jacob and all of the good and honoring his memory, it means so much to us.”