Coast To Coast
Story By: Bailey Williams // Photos By: Corey Henderson, Tina Pelletier & Allyson Schumacher
Many college seniors spent their summers working or binge watching Netflix. One took on a challenge that some may perceive as impossible.
Film and Video Studies major Cory Henderson, (20), ran from San Francisco to New York in 49 days-- yes you read that right. It was a decision he made a year after suffering great loss.
“In 2014 my father was diagnosed with stage four cancer," Cory recalls. "Unfortunately, it was so severe that the doctors told us they couldn’t do anything. They gave my father a few weeks to a month to live. He lived for six weeks before passing away on Oct. 24, 2014. Almost exactly a year after his passing on Oct. 22, 2015, I was on Facebook when an advertisement for the 4k popped up on my home page. I felt like it could be a sign of what I should do this summer. ”
The 4K for Cancer is a program through The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. According to the Fund's facebook page, “Each summer since 2002, groups of college students have undertaken 4,000 mile journeys across the United States with the goal of offering hope, inspiration and support to cancer communities along the way.”
Their mission statement says it all: "We change lives by creating a community of support for young adults, and their loved ones, as they fight cancer and embrace survivorship."
An Idea Takes Root
Cory’s mother, Jan Henderson, was hesitant when he brought the idea to her. “When he first called me, I was kind of nervous and I also thought, ‘OK we’ll see if he really is serious about this and how much effort he really puts into it.’ But then as a mom, when I hung up from him I went to the website and read every single word to make sure it was a legit organization.”
After doing her research she knew that this was an organization that she not only trusted, but respected. “I learned that it was an incredible organization, so then it was just up to seeing how serious Cory was.”
“He’s always been a kid that when he sets his sights on something he really follows through and this was just one more example of that. Because he never slowed down, when he decided he was going to do it he just went right straight for it,” Jan says.
Cory's sister, Thea Henderson, says he was never interested in going to soccer practice, in fact, he dreaded it. “But in middle school he joined the cross country team and he fell in love with the atmosphere. Everyone is cheering each other on and it’s not as competitive as other sports.”
So the 4K for Cancer was right up his alley.
Cory then signed up for a personal trainer for Winter and Spring quarters and changed his eating habits. “I gave up milkshakes, which was hard because they are so tempting at Central,” he laughs.
His mom was concerned about his training and since she lives two hours away it was hard for her to make sure he was keeping up with his workouts. “I would talk to him on the phone and ask him, ‘Are you doing the plan? Are you running?’ and he would tell me yes, but I had no way of knowing.”
But that all changed when school let out in June.
“When we picked him up from school, I saw him walking out of his dorm towards me. The transformation I saw took my breath away. I couldn’t believe it. He had trimmed down and looked SO fit,” Jan says.
He was still nervous that he hadn't prepared enough. "But talking with some of the other runners at the beginning when we went to California to send them off, they all didn’t think they were ready,” Jan recalls.
“I told him to keep his head up and his eyes open taking in every single moment. And that’s one thing I know he did,” she says.
The 4K run lasts 49 days and 40 of them are running days, says Cory. Every running day is dedicated to a different person affected by cancer.
Cory has a list of 30 people he knew personally and he added many more along his journey.
“One person I dedicated a day to was someone we met in an RV park in Oregon. We went there to use the camp showers and he began talking to us about our trip. We found out he is a cancer survivor and for him unfortunately the cancer will come back. He said that he knows he can’t do everything he wants to because cancer has deteriorated his bones but he still is getting out and enjoying life before cancer comes back."
“Even though I may not know some of the individuals well, we all need to stand together in support because although cancer can tear people apart, it can also bring people closer,” he says.
Community Support and Personal Growth
Generous people opened their homes, churches and schools, Cory recalls.
“We each had to raise at least $4,500 dollars before the trip but we still raised money throughout the trip. We tried to minimize costs on the trip, we went into the local communities and just asked for donations. We only had to pay for food like three times the entire trip. There were host families who wanted to cook for us and so we had a lot of home cooked meals too which was nice.”
Cory raised a total of $13,130.
If given the opportunity, without hesitation, Cory says he would do it again. He’d even recommend it.
“The website does a good job explaining the outline of the run, but it doesn’t explain how much you’re going to grow as a person. Or the interpersonal connections you make with your teammates, cancer patients you meet and just everyone you encounter,” he says.
“There’s a saying, ‘the 4K will break you down, but it will build you up in ways that you couldn’t ever imagine.’ And I completely agree with that statement. Especially when you’re in college and you’re trying to figure yourself out [it's a] a good way to learn things that you never knew about yourself.”
His sister says that this run changed Cory in ways that he could never have imagined.
“He came away from that run with this compassion, after seeing those patients he was really inspired. He just came back and wanted to tell everyone their stories. It was something really good to help him grow from losing his father."
His mom agrees: “It helped him process his grief a little bit more and he did a lot of soul searching on that run, as you would when you’re running miles and miles by yourself on an open road. He had a lot of time to think and reflect. When he came home I heard and saw a much more focused young man. And a much more mature young adult.”
A Leader was Born
Cory was known as the “dad” of the group says, running mate Allyson Schumacher from San Diego California.
“He always encouraged everyone on the team and he was always really positive. There were a couple of times when a few people wanted to quit and he always knew what to say to keep them going,” she says.
She says he took on a leadership role as the run progressed.
“He wasn’t bossing us around or anything, but he started as one of the quiet ones on the team and in the end everyone was looking up to him. He was the strength of our team. It was really inspiring for everyone,” she says.
Cory says he can list the three lessons he learned:
One: “Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. Because if you keep working at it and you keep the determination going there is a strong chance you’ll succeed. I found it online and didn’t think I would be the right person for it but I trusted myself and took a leap of faith.”
Two: “Always ask ‘Why not me?’ I feel like we can doubt ourselves really easily. And say ‘Oh someone else will do it better!’ But, why not me? Why don’t I deserve that position as well?”
Three: “A lesson that I learned from my Dad, and it was strengthened throughout the trip was, always appreciate the small moments. Like meeting someone new, or going on a run with a new partner and learning about their history. Those small moments are really important, it makes us appreciate every single ounce of life we are given.”
Cory did something this summer that not many people can ever say they’ve done. He traveled all over the country--something his mom says his dad always wanted to do.
“His dad loved our country and his dream was to travel all over it. He didn’t want to travel to other parts of the world because he always felt like there was so much beauty right here,” she says.
"Frank would be so proud. He would be tracking every step that Cory ran and I have no doubt that he was-- he was right there with Cory, every step of the way."
"I know he was.”