Kinnelon cross country team on quest to run million miles for cancer research

Kinnelon cross country team on quest to run million miles for cancer research

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Kinnelon cross country team on quest to run million miles for cancer research

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When Morgan Coutts was 4 years old, doctors told her parents she might not live — and if she did, she’d likely never walk again. Coutts had been diagnosed with a malignant medulloblastoma two years earlier, a growth the size of a baseball in her cerebellum.

Though high-dose chemotherapy drove the cancer away when Coutts was an infant, it returned in the same area. The family relocated to Boston for two months, and Coutts was one of the first children in the United States to be treated with proton beam radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Her cancer in remission, Coutts had to relearn to walk, hold a pencil, ride a bike. Her best friend, Nicole Caci, came over every day to help Coutts work on her balance and fine-motor skills, key functions of the cerebellum.

Though Coutts still has some difficulties with balance, she has been part of Kinnelon’s cross country team for four years. The Colts have been participating in the Million Mile Run for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to finding cures for all childhood cancers.

ALSF has challenged its supporters to walk or run a million miles — the equivalent of two round-trips to the moon — during September, which is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. That total is just 76 miles for each of the more than 13,500 children diagnosed with cancer in the United States this year.

“It took a while for me to get back to it,” said Coutts, a senior who runs three or four miles a day. “I’m one of the more lucky ones. I’m not damaged. … I try to push myself every day for each mile I do.”

ALSF’s co-executive director Jay Scott shared his daughter Alex’s story at Kinnelon on Sept. 19, and even ran with the team. Alexandra “Alex” Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma shortly before her first birthday. When she was 4, she held a lemonade stand to raise money for pediatric cancer research.

Alex Scott had donated more than a million dollars before she died in August 2004 at age 8, and the foundation is now up to more than $60 million, funding more than 300 pediatric cancer research projects.

“At first, they’re a bunch of high school kids listening to an older guy talk about a little girl, and all of a sudden he got their attention,” said Jay Hamill, who invited Scott to talk to the Colts, including his son, John, a sophomore. “By the end, there were not many dry eyes. It really hit home for them.”

With the final week’s mileage left to be tallied, the Colts had logged almost 3,500 miles. They were in sixth place out of more than 700 teams entered. Kinnelon is also planning to participate in the Terry Fox Run for Cancer Research in Manhattan’s Central Park on Oct. 12 for the fourth year in a row.

“It gives more meaning to running that extra mile, because there are kids out there who would love to be running but can’t,” Kinnelon coach Laura Chegwidden-Jacobs said. “It gives kids perspective on what they’re doing. I might be hurting, but pushing through because they’re healthy. I definitely see a change in them.”

Coutts attends Camp Mak-A-Dream in Gold Creek, Mont., with other kids who have endured brain cancer, jumping into activities like a ropes course, rock climbing and archery “to try to get you out of your comfort zone.”

She has also begun crossing things off her personal bucket list. She completed a Spartan Race with her family, and got a tattoo on her left ankle shortly after her 18th birthday. Her design — the word “hope” in script, plus a flower and butterfly — has a gray-shaded ribbon as the E, the color for brain tumors.

“I want to do this, and I can do this,” said Coutts, who is planning to skydive soon. “Nothing is stopping me now. Nothing is hard for me now. I don’t think about it. I just go do it.”

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