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Why I Run

A few of the people who embody the spirit and enthusiasm of the Winship Win the Fight 5K.

By Marlene Goldman

Story Photo

One-year old Sanjith Ramalingam got a helping hand from dad and big brother Rohan at the inaugural Winship Win the Fight 5K in 2011. 


One sweltering day this past June, Sanjith Ramalingam, age six, and his brother Rohan, 10, set up a stand at a community swim meet to sell lemonade and spread the word about the Winship 5K. They raised $75 for research that day and boosted awareness of the event that they've participated in since its inception.

It's a family affair for even the littlest Ramalingam, who ran the "Trot for Tots" race at the inaugural Winship 5K.

"We have all felt the pain caused by cancer to members of our family and friends," says Winship Deputy Director Suresh Ramalingam. "We run because we believe that as a community we can beat cancer and make a difference in patients' lives." Fondly known to his patients as Dr. Ram, he runs the race with his wife Selvi and the boys.

Supporting the 5K is a step in the right direction. Proceeds support exciting research ideas that need pilot funds to support the initial work before it can get substantial backing from major funding sources. Ramalingam points to researchers like Adam Marcus who, thanks in part to Winship 5K seed money, secured major grants from the National Cancer Institute to fund his research into a gene suspected of making many types of cancer cells metastasize.

This year, the 5K took on an even more personal note for Dr. Ram and many of his Winship colleagues who walked or ran in honor of a fellow physician currently battling cancer.

"There's nothing more inspiring than to see patients, family members, friends, and Winship members walk for a cause that is bigger than any of us."


Joni Payne Young runs for her "steel magnolia"—her mother who, since 2004, has faced breast cancer and renal cell carcinoma that spread to her brain and lungs. "It's been a marathon," her daughter says, "but she's an amazingly tough lady."

When Judy Storey Payne lost her kidney to renal cancer in 2004, she needed an activity she could do sitting rather than standing during her long recovery. Daughter Joni gave her watercolors. That art therapy resulted in a series of vibrant paintings, including a magnolia that graces the thank you notes Young sends to the many people who have supported her in the Winship 5K.

Young first learned about the race in 2013, immediately signed up, and raised $2,900 in just two weeks.

"I've never been comfortable asking for money but cancer is such an easy ask," she says. "My grandfather died from cancer, I have sorority sisters fighting cancer as well as a fellow landscape architect who's my age and who calls my mom his hero. So many people are impacted."

Last year, Young raised more than $12,000 for the 5K, including a generous donation from a hometown friend who, noting that caregivers are often overlooked, made his gift in honor of Young's dad.

For Young, the 5K is about funding research and believing that every step adds more time to a cancer patient's life.

Research, she believes, has kept her mother alive with new treatments, including an immunotherapy drug just approved last November.

"When you can't cure your loved one yourself, doing the 5K is really great therapy. The first year I was running for her life. My motivation now is that somebody did this so my mom could have the best
treatment. I want to pay it forward for current and future patients."


Anna Pinder cried the first time she and husband Steve crossed the finish line of the Winship 5K. It was fall 2012, one month into Steve's treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. "I was terrified and didn't
know what to expect."

Steve Pinder had donated platelets for many years in response to a friend's cancer. But on one visit to the Red Cross, his platelet count was elevated. Then he discovered a lump in his neck.

Life suddenly seemed out of control for the couple. Steve began treatment. They put off starting a family.

They walked the Winship 5K that year, again in 2013, and in 2014, along with almost 200 colleagues, friends, and family. "I needed that 5K community," Anna says. "There were so few things I could do to help
in Steve's treatment. I wanted to support Winship because I was trusting them with my husband's life."

In 2015, they had another reason to celebrate: Anna was seven months pregnant. This year their daughter, Adelaide, joined them in her first 5K.

"I do the 5K because I want other people to celebrate being done with treatment and being able to move on with their lives. Steve and I are very lucky. He had a great response to treatment and now we are living our 'happily ever after' and raising our beautiful daughter. I want other people to be able to live their happily ever after too."


No matter where she is or what's she's doing, Alia Chernnet says she'll walk or run in the Winship Win the Fight 5K every year for the rest of her life.

She had always been active and healthy, but just before her 23rd birthday, less than a year into her professional career, a distended abdomen prompted a visit to her gynecologist. In April 2011, surgeons removed a 5-pound ovarian tumor.

After four months of chemotherapy she spotted ads about the first Winship 5K. "I wanted to do something to make me feel normal," she says. So she walked the 5K with her two brothers and two friends that year. In 2016, she celebrated her fifth year in remission with her 30-plus member team—the Abyssinian Warriors, aptly named after the East African region now known as Ethiopia where her family came from and which has never been conquered.

"When I was sick, even getting out of bed or walking was a challenge," she says. "If I can walk for somebody else now, that means the world to me. Every dollar goes to research. I would never want my brothers or my children to go through what I had to go through. I want to be part of the generation that helps find a cure."

The best part of the race, she says, is when she joins other survivors for a photo. "I can see from year to year how far we all have come and I am humbled by the experience."

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