Hope cycles back for annual challenge

Kristen Halsey

In 2005, a collaboration between Northern Michigan University and Marquette General Hospital enabled the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center to be created.

On Saturday, May 12, the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center will hold its seventh Annual Hope Starts Here Challenge.

Angie Stewart, a graduate assistant, is one of the event coordinators and head of the volunteers who sign up.

“It is our only fundraiser,” Stewart said. “It’s a cycle challenge; we have a duathalon, a half marathon, a 5k walk and a 10k walk. There is also a leisure walk and bike ride.”

One of the unique things about this event is the personal connection some of the participants have.

“A lot of the participants have a connection because someone they know has died of a brain tumor,” Stewart said. “There is a lot of communal support with T-shirts that a team or person has made in the memory or honor of someone they know.”

Ben Ayotte, a graduate assistant, helps direct the traffic flow during the event. Ayotte is also involved with some of the pre-planning.

“The pre-planning involved is pretty extensive and it’s based on how many people are signed up for the event,” Ayotte said.

Last year, the Hope Starts Here Challenge had a record turnout of people with 400 participants in the event. This year, they are hoping to break another record and have even more people participating.

All proceeds from the event will fund research projects geared toward studying the behavior of cancer cells. Unlike other research organizations like the American Cancer Society, 100 percent of the profit goes to student research.

Patients from Marquette General Hospital donate their cancer cells for research.

“The patients will sign waivers to have their tumors released to the university and the tumors are then given to us,” Ayotte said. “The lab will put those tumors into cultures and grow those cancer cells; we then run a variety of tests and get to see how that cancer is and what is unique about it compared to other cancers.”

Keith Sabin, a graduate student, is one of the pre-planners for the event and helps set up for it.

“For us to have access to tumor samples, we can run different prognostic tests in our lab at Northern,” Sabin said. “We can see how the patient might respond to chemotherapy in a good way or if they are refractory to it; we can look at different indicators. On top of that, we can use the different cancer cells to test other possible treatments that might not be widely used right now.”

Some students have even used their research to work on a thesis in their programs.

“One of our grad students actually just finished up her thesis looking at the effect of Vitamin D and how that can be used to treat brain tumor stem cells,” Sabin said.

The biggest challenge for this event is recruiting enough volunteers. Last year, the event had 25 volunteers. This year, they have 20 confirmed. Students can contact the Volunteer Center if they would like to participate. Most of the volunteers are local community members or students who are staying in Marquette for the summer.

With hopes for a new record of participants, there is a hope for at least 35 volunteers to help with the event in a variety of places.

There are many opportunities for volunteering throughout the week.

On Wednesday, May 9, a pre-registration party will be held where people will gather and help put together packets for each pre-registered participant.

On Thursday, May 10, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., volunteers can help set up the Lakeview Arena for the event. Tables will be set up and the course will be ready to get marked out.

The most help will be needed on the day of the event, which is May 12.

Volunteers are needed to help hand out chip timers, provided by Superior Timing, and run the registration and pre-registration tables.

There is also the opportunity to help control traffic on the courses as well as clean up when the event is done.
The Hope Starts Here Challenge registration takes place at the Lakeview Arena at 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 12.

Prizes will also be given out to different age groups and there will also be team prizes.

For more information on the event or to get involved as a volunteer, email Angie Stewart at [email protected]
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For information on participating, visit www.hopestartshere.org to register online. The deadline for pre-registration is May 10.