“Who can say someone ran 101 miles in your honor?”
That was the question Liz Johnson had following the 24-hour run of Concordia University Wisconsin Coach Russ De Lap did Nov. 5-6 in honor of her daughter.
Lilly Johnson was diagnosed in May with cancer, specifically, stage 2B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Liz Johnson called the day she learned Lilly had cancer “the most devastating day” of her life. As she reflected on the journey, Johnson teared up, emotional both about the overflowing of support from the community and from dealing with such a devastating illness in the family.
“As a mother, this has been a journey you’d never ever think you’d have to go on,” she said. “You just don’t think it’s ever going to happen to someone so close to you, but it can happen to anyone.”
Lilly Johnson spoke to the kindness of friends, family, and community which “made this journey much easier to handle.” She said both her and her family are thankful for the compassion and generosity of everyone.
“When I received the news that I had cancer, I was scared and overwhelmed about what was to come, but with all the love and support from everyone around me it helped me realize that I would not be going through it alone,” she said. “We are truly blessed to be surrounded by such phenomenal individuals and organizations.”
One of those individuals was De Lap, who pledged to run 24 hours to raise money for Lilly. Liz Johnson said De Lap would have done this run for any of the kids on his team, not just Lilly.
“He’s got a heart,” Liz Johnson said. “We witnessed incredible human spirit.”
In the beginning
Lilly Johnson was able to attend at the beginning of the event, accompanying De Lap on his first lap. Unable to run due to her treatment, she rode in a golf cart.
“It was awesome,” De Lap said of Lilly being able to come. “She got to see her teammates for the first time. She feels at home here.”
Many other family and friends came along, including her father, who ran the first lap with De Lap.
When asked to describe the experience of running for 24 hours straight, De Lap didn’t comment about himself, but instead his first thoughts went toward the team and the work they did to make it all happen.
He said he came to the captains with his idea about a month ago and they all jumped on board. De Lap said he was never part of something with this much passion.
“It was a wild, inspirational experience,” he said, smiling.
Going the distance
As he ran around the 1-mile road around the campus, people yelled out from cars, dorm room windows, everywhere with all sorts of encouragement. Throughout the race, De Lap said some would join him. He said having a companion would help to push him forward.
One alumnus joined De Lap intending to run 8 miles and ended up doing 36.
In addition to having someone along, De Lap said when you run for a purpose it helps you to keep going. He said whenever he’d start thinking about his aching muscles or his sore feet, he’d think about how his pain was nothing compared to what Lilly was going through.
He said most people have been touched by cancer in their lives, and he was no exception. De Lap said while he was running for Lilly, he also thought of his mother and sister who both had cancer.
No stranger to long races, De Lap said he’d run a number of 100-mile races in the past. He said the fact that he was a runner and so was Lilly was part of the reason he did this as a way to raise money.
Many different initiatives were put in place in addition to the run to raise money for Lilly. De Lap said as of now about $13,000 had been raised – the goal had been $5,000.
After the race, De Lap said he slept for about 15 or 16 hours. Overall, though, he said he was feeling “surprisingly, not that bad.” He said he was a little worried prior to running because for a race of this length he typically will train for about three or four months.
In this case, he had four weeks.
Coming together with thanks
De Lap said the event brought the community together.
“There were so many wonderful, thoughtful, and kind people.”
Lilly Johnson also wanted to thank everyone for what they’d done for her.
“My family and I would like to say a really big thank you for everything,” she said.
Her mother echoed those comments.
“Thank you for supporting my daughter and our family,” she said. “We are overwhelmed and forever grateful for everyone that took part in this event.”
The Johnson family lives in Menominee, Michigan, which is about 50 miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Liz Johnson said it’s hoped Lilly can go back to Concordia in January.
De Lap said if she does come back, he’s “not going to push her one bit.” He said he’s heard it can take up to a year to get all your strength back so things would be taken slow.
Liz Johnson said she appreciates the thoughts and prayers of everyone thus far and asked for continued prayers for Lilly.