DARLINGTON – For someone with cancer, a decade is an eternity.
For Darlington cross country coach Arnie Miehe and hundreds of his past and present Redbird runners, a decade raising money to support the fight against cancer is just a good start.
Miehe and his harriers marked the 10th anniversary of the Run Across Wisconsin this past weekend by completing yet another 162-mile trek from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River before racing back home in time to participate in the Lafayette County Relay for Life event.
With an average of 25 to 30 runners participating in the annual run which raises over $1,500 per year, Miehe figures somewhere between two and three hundred former Redbirds have helped donate over $15,000 to the fight against cancer.
“They do enjoy it. They enjoy the camaraderie with their teammates and the uniqueness of the event as well as knowing they are doing it for a good reason. There’s kind of a dual feeling there for the kids,” said Miehe, who organized the first Run Across Wisconsin in 2003 and continues to coordinate the event on a yearly basis.
Starting in Kenosha with one foot in Lake Michigan, the Run Across Wisconsin begins. From there, each runner takes a half-mile turn on the road before handing the baton off to the next runner. After everyone has taken a turn, they start the rotation again until they reach the Mississippi River the following day.
The runners cover 106 miles the first day before stopping near Monroe and returning home to get a much needed good night’s sleep in their own bed. They are back at it the next morning, picking up right where they left off and covering the final 56 miles until they reach the Mississippi River.
They take a quick timeout for some group photos, a quick swim and a snack before returning to Darlington to take part in the Relay For Life.
They run on freeways and highways. They run on city streets and back roads. They run in the cool of the morning and the heat of the afternoon. They run in the blazing sun and in the dark of night.
They run for those they know who have died from cancer or are surviving cancer. They run from those they know who don’t yet have cancer, but may develop it. They run so maybe, someday, no one will have cancer– or at least die from it.
“I want these kids to learn that there’s more out there than just themselves. High school kids get so caught up in themselves, so it’s important for them to do something to help others. I think they get that,” explained Miehe.
To help the kids get that idea, Miehe has each runner inscribe a name of someone they know who succumbed to cancer or is surviving cancer today. It gives them something to focus on and think about while they take their turn running.
Over the last few years the runners have begun to dedicate their run to local honorees. This year’s honorees were Darlington High School teacher Leona Havens and local businessman Dennis Murphy, who was one of the Relay for Life co-chairs this year and, as Miehe noted, is Mr. Support the Redbirds.
“It gives our kids a viable sense of purpose. It personalizes it for the kids,” Miehe said of the batons and honorees.
The kids are also reminded why they do this when they are out on the road as drivers honk in support of their run or as pedestrians stop and donate money right out of their pockets for the cause.
Last year, a little old lady stopped some of the kids to ask them what they were doing and, after they told her, she told them her sister had died from breast cancer.
“She said don’t ever quit doing this,” relayed Miehe. “Those kinds of moments make it all worthwhile. That means a lot.”
This year, they thought they were in trouble when a police officer pulled them over, but once the officer discovered what they were doing he told them to keep up the good job.
The planning for the Run Across Wisconsin begins in February when Miehe holds the initial planning meeting with the parents and the runners. From there, arrangements need to be made for hotel rooms in Milwaukee the night before the run, supply lists and schedules need to be organized and vans need to be secured to transport the runners and supplies.
This year, the caravan had eight vans and a food truck along to keep the runners moving on their 22-hour journey.
Miehe admitted that without all the parental help to organize and execute the event, the run couldn’t be held every year.
About five years ago he felt was getting to be a little much for him to do, so he toyed with the idea of moving the Run Across Wisconsin to a semi-annual event.
But, when LuAnn Smith– a cross country parent and former Run Across Wisconsin cancer-survivor honoree– found out about that, she had it organized in three days.
“After she did that, I knew this was going to go every year. She breathed new life into it and revitalized it,” noted Miehe.
Another thing that left a big impression on Miehe was when someone told him one year that the kids who are doing the run annually will be more likely to be involved in charitable endeavors and in the community when they become adults.
“I knew that, but it was nice to hear from somebody else. That really stuck in my head,” Miehe said.
And, with a new crop of cross country team members longing to participate in the run as a right of passage each year, the Run Across Wisconsin should be in for a long run.
“It keeps it fresh,” stated Miehe. “It’s a chance for them to be part of something unique and something special. There’s a sense of purpose knowing that you’re inspiring people.”
Unfortunately, cancer is not going away any time soon, but with people willing to go the extra mile to battle the disease, maybe a cure will be found somewhere down the road.