Chemistry and Biochemistry

Rex Lee Run Exceeds Expectations

Posted: in Community, Mar 11, 2015

The 20th annual Rex Lee Run, held on March 7, 2015, was a smashing success.  The number of racers doubled from approximately 900 in 2014 to almost 1,800.  Net revenue from the event, which will help fund the fellowship program in the BYU Simmons Center for Cancer Research, rose from around $12,000 in 2014 to $55,000. 

The fellowship program gives promising students the chance to work with faculty mentors on specific cancer research projects.  “We had a record number of applicants this year,” said Jared Cowley, the Simmons Center Program Coordinator.  Cowley estimates that, in light of the 2015 Rex Lee Run’s success, at least 16 of the 34 applicants will be funded for full-time cancer research over the spring and summer semesters.  The fellowship program not only benefits the careers of the students chosen, but also lets them make an active difference in the fight against cancer. “This is extremely exciting,” said Cowley. “We’ll be able to fund eight different cancer research projects from this year’s race alone.”

To advertise for the event, the Simmons Center was very creative.  One novel idea was to have student volunteers run tirelessly on a treadmill in the middle of Brigham Square, while other volunteers shared information to passerby.  Volunteers also increased the distribution of flyers both on and off campus.  Marissa Mannard, a BYU Senior and first-time Rex Lee Runner, learned about the race from an advertisement in the Eyring Science Center.  “This was my first 5K, but I did pretty well,” she said with a grin after finishing the race.

Volunteer help was crucial to the success of the run.  Apart from the treadmill advertising campaign, volunteers helped with registration, water stations, race course safety, serving food, distributing materials, etc.  While the majority of some 120 volunteers were students, several dozen individuals and families from the Provo community came out to help as well.  Wesley Castle, son Dr. Steve Castle (BYU Chemistry), organized a water station with his scout troop as part of his Eagle Project.  Heber Blackner, of the Myotherapy College of Utah, learned about the run and volunteered to bring several of his students, who gave free massages to runners after the race.  “It is important to give back and get experience at the same time,” said Blackner as his volunteers worked through a long line of eager runners.  “This is our first time here, but we will be coming every year.”

 Cast members of “Studio C,” the popular BYU sketch comedy show, gave their support as well.  They helped advertise the run through their extensive social media presence, and many of them actually ran in the race.  “I ran the 5K, but my time was a 10K,” joked cast member Jason Gray.

Jason Gray and James Perry of "Studio C."

Creative advertising.

Volunteers give massages to tired runners.

Perhaps the most incredible part of this year’s race, however, was the renewed focus on why the run is important to BYU and to the community.  Named in honor of BYU’s 10th president, Rex Lee, who used running as a positive outlet while he battled cancer, the race is a way to honor those who have struggled against cancer.  The Nelford/McNeill family wore matching purple t-shirts to the run in honor of their grandmother, who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  “She’s in Chicago and we can’t do much for her, so we support her this way,” said daughter Stacy Nelford.  “Purple is the color of pancreatic cancer.”

The Simmons Center started a “Runners Remember” campaign, where participants were filmed as they shared their stories. “Almost every runner was running with a friend or family member in mind who had battled cancer or is currently battling cancer,” said Cowley. “It was very meaningful for me to meet and hear the stories of the people we filmed.”  The Simmons Center also created a wall on which participants could write the names of the people they were remembering that day. The wall was filled by the end of the event. “Looking over those names,” Cowley said, “each representing a friend, a father, a sibling, a grandmother, or any other loved one, helped remind me what the race represents. The Rex Lee Run is a symbol of a community’s fight against cancer and support for all those who battle this disease.”

By Jordan Wright

Photos by Zoie Young and Jordan Wright

Watch "Runners Remember"