I began running in February of 2014, while my husband, Marcus, was training for his first half marathon in Pittsburg, Pa.  His efforts motivated me, so I downloaded the ”Couch to 5K” app and got started.

I was bit by the running bug when we picked up his bib and bag of goodies for the Pittsburg race. The atmosphere was electric when I left Marcus in his assigned corral to wait for the race to begin.  With my course map in hand, I proceeded to find my first location to cheer him on. When I saw Marcus running, I was so proud of him; he was running his first half marathon. Given the size of this event, I was unable to see Marcus cross the finish line in person, but his verbal account along with the photo sealed it for me;  I was going to be a part of crossing future finish lines with him.

I continued my training and before long I was able to run a 5K without stopping. Shortly thereafter, my Dad’s (Raymond Dewayne Summers, Sgt. E7, Vietnam 65-66) health began to decline due to lung cancer, so I made as many trips home as possible so I could spend time with him. While visiting, running in Okeena Park became part of our daily routine. My dad would take his spot on the bench in the shade, and I would take off running with music playing in my ears. When I got close to him, I would silence the music so I could hear his cheers of “Go Girl Go.”  My Dad had coined this phrase for me earlier, but hearing it when I ran past him made it very special for me.

On Saturday, November 8, Marcus and I ran our first 10K together in honor of Veteran’s Day. On Monday, November 10, 2014, I received a call that my dad was not doing well, and his hospice nurse encouraged me to return home if I wanted to spend quality time with him. I returned home on Veteran’s Day. I will never forget my Dad’s reaction when he saw me.  He immediately wanted to know why I made the trip given I had just been in for a visit. I played it off and said I wanted to celebrate Veteran’s Day with him in person. During this visit, I continued running every day, but he was unable to join me given his condition. Even though he was unable to go, he would always say “Go Girl Go” as I left and remind me not to overdo it.  On my return, he would utter the same words. My dad passed away on November 22, 2014, while I was home; it was a beautiful, sunny day.

After my dad’s passing, I received a set of his military “dog tags” and decided I would wear them during future races as a way to honor and remember him. On March 22, 2015, I ran my first half marathon and shared crossing the finish line with Marcus in Virginia Beach. It was an emotional accomplishment on many levels. It was our first half marathon together – the  first wearing of my dad’s  dog tags, and fulfillment of a personal accomplishment I had told him I was working toward but one he did not get to experience with me. I ran my second half marathon in Murray, Kentucky, on April 18, 2015.

Currently, I am training for my first marathon. I have registered to run the St. Jude Marathon on December 5 in Memphis, Tennessee.  Why Memphis?  Because it is close to my family and I want and need my family along the route to cheer me on.  Why the St. Jude Marathon?  Because the focus of this marathon is about raising money so no family ever receives a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food to care for their hospitalized children. This allows the family to focus their efforts on the care and support needed to get their little ones through the treatment.  I can train my body to run this distance, but raising money to help such a worthy cause helped me achieve my personal goal of making my first marathon rewarding and memorable.

I am starting week twelve of my marathon training and have raised in excess of $6,500 (more than double my initial goal).  While I have been blessed with the response from family and friends who have donated via my St. Jude fundraising page, I have utilized my talents to make and sell handmade crafts.  I have leveraged my FaceBook page and created a photo album that allows family and friends to purchase these items. Unless otherwise stated, 100 percent of the funds generated from the sale of these items are uploaded to my fundraising page acknowledging who and what was purchased. In addition to offering the items on FaceBook, my mom and older sister have been setting up at local craft shows to sell these items.  My mom had a banner printed and reads “Help Rhonda Summers Perry Help the Kids of St. Jude.”  My mom has shared my story with countless people when they express an interest and want to know more. After the craft shows, I enjoy listening to her recount her day with such joy, especially the ones when people share how St. Jude made a difference in their lives.

The loss of my Dad has been difficult for my entire family. However, I am so thankful I made the decision to take up running so now I can run the St. Jude Marathon. Running races like St. Jude has provided his four girls (mom, Sharon, Amy and me) a way to focus our collective efforts on something positive and a way to honor him.

Why do I run?  I RUN 4 RAYMOND.

If you’re interested in learning more about St. Jude or how you can support me in my upcoming race, you may email me directly at rsperry@celanese.com.

#GoGirlGo #R4R