Lauren Bates left home for the summer with only a duffel bag and a pair of running shoes. Over the next 50 days, she would cover 4,000 miles from San Francisco to Boston — on foot.
A longtime runner, Bates is no stranger to 4K races. But this isn’t the typical four-kilometer run that she has embarked on dozens of times before. This time, 4K means 4,000 miles, and every mile counts.
With each mile they run, Bates and her relay team are raising money for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, a nonprofit organization that supports young adults battling cancer. The group has raised nearly $1 million so far.
After she crosses the finish line, Bates will come to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she will pursue a graduate degree in exercise physiology. Her goal is to study new treatments for cancer patients that use exercise to increase patients’ quality of life.
“I have known since I was young that I wanted to go into the helping profession, but I didn’t know exactly what that was going to look like,” she said. “I’ve always been a runner, so exercise physiology is perfect for me because it combines my love for exercise with my passion for helping people.”
For now, Bates and her team are just past Rapid City, South Dakota and have nearly 2,000 miles left in their journey. All of their supplies, from sunscreen to first aid kits, has been donated, helping them save more money for the Ulman Fund.
Each relay member covers between 10 and 16 miles each day, then the team finds another way to serve in the evenings. Along the way, the team has stopped in several communities, visiting hospitals, cooking dinner for cancer patients, volunteering at Ronald McDonald House charities and taking part in other service projects to support people affected by cancer.
The inspiration behind Bates’ efforts is the memory of her friend Courtney, who died of a brain tumor in high school.
“I’ve always wanted to do something that I felt was good enough to honor her,” she said. “When I first found out about this run, I thought, ‘There’s no way I could do that.’ But it stuck in my head, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Courtney would have loved to do this.”
At Carolina, Bates’ research will focus on support for prostate and breast cancer survivors. She hopes to share her passion for exercise in the hopes of improving cancer care, from lessening the side effects of chemotherapy to improving immune function.
“I know that running has been my gift, so I felt like this was my way to share my gift with people who need it.”