Turning passion into compassion

The Science Hill boys and girls cross country teams gather at the start of the Tweetsie Trail and prepare to run the St. Jude Virtual 5K, an event that raised over $6,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. St. Jude has an affiliate clinic located inside Niswonger Children’s Hospital.

Science Hill cross country runners raise money for St. Jude

By Dave Ongie, News Editor

Shortly after David Nutter’s alarm clock went off early Saturday morning, he was greeted with some news that stirred his emotions.

Nutter, the boys’ cross country coach at Science Hill, woke up to find out the fundraiser the Science Hill country program organized to help St. Jude Children’s Hospital had raised $6,300.

Hours later, Nutter was standing just beyond a makeshift finish line near the 3-mile marker on the Tweetsie Trail along with Science Hill girls’ coach Evan Meeuwenberg. All of their athletes had completed the St. Jude Virtual 5K, an event put together to raise money for St. Jude during Childhood Cancer Awareness month.

“For me to wake up this morning and see that goal of $4,000 had reached over $6,000, it was an emotional thing for me as a teacher, a coach, a friend and a neighbor in our community,” Nutter said. “It’s a neat thing to be part of.”

In many ways, the event was a case of making lemonade out of lemons. During a normal season, Science Hill’s cross country runners would have likely spent last Saturday morning at a meet somewhere in the region or possibly even out of state. But COVID-19 cut Science Hill’s season by around 40 percent, leaving the opportunity for Science Hill’s runners to do something out of the ordinary.

What ultimately transpired turned out to be extraordinary because of the buy-in of Science Hill’s athletes. Nutter said the goal was for each runner to raise $100, which would have come out to around $4,000. But the team far surpassed that goal, and as Nutter put it, they turned their passion into compassion and created a positive impact.

“It’s more than just the meets and their times,” Nutter said. “It’s helping others in the sport they love to do most.”

Science Hill runner Zach Kirkland with his parents David and Nychole and his little sister Caroline. Kirkland, a freshman, competed in Saturday’s event.

While helping others, the Hilltoppers also helped one of their own. Zach Kirkland, a freshman on the team, was born with a condition known as von Willebrand Disease, a lifelong bleeding disorder. Kirkland and his mother Nychole both receive treatments at Niswonger Children’s Hospital, a St. Jude affiliate clinic.

Most people associate St. Jude with oncology, but the hospital also treats hematology patients. For the Kirklands, that makes a world of difference, especially with Niswonger Children’s Hospital located in their hometown.

“For hematology patients in our region and for children that don’t need long-term care, having that affiliate clinic allows the patients and their families to stay closer to home and receive specialized treatment,” Nychole Kirkland said. “It eases a mom and dad’s heart and makes it easier for our family not to worry about the what-ifs.”

When we aren’t in the midst of a global pandemic, Nychole spends a good deal of time volunteering in the St. Jude Clinic in Johnson City. She said she does so because she knows what a big difference St. Jude makes to patients and families both close to home and far beyond our region.

The money raised on Saturday will go straight toward research, care and helping to negate the expenses families face traveling to and from St. Jude. And next time Zach needs medical treatment, the money raised on Saturday will help ensure he doesn’t have to go very far to get it.

“They’ve taken care of me when I’ve had problems, and they’ve looked after me whenever I’ve had to stay the night,” Zach said. “They made sure everything was fine.”


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