He’s a hospital administrator by day, an outdoor enthusiast in his free time. She’s incredibly detail-oriented and loves to run to clear her head. Together, they’re making a real difference in cancer patients’ lives.
Kevin Brooks had just finished doing an overnight relay race in Southern Utah with some friends. Exhausted and sleep-deprived, the conversation wandered over to the topic of downhill runs and the question of why nobody had put on a race down American Fork Canyon.
The question stuck with Kevin more than you’d think any idea born of a post-race rambling might. By the end of the next workday, the question had blossomed into an idea.
Listen to race organizers Kevin and Holly talk about the beginnings of the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer, the people who participate, and what makes this race important on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or right here:
Like many great ideas, in hindsight Kevin’s idea seems very simple. “It's got to be one of the most beautiful venues on the planet, and it certainly is a special place for me, my family, and the community. I left work and drove up to Tibble Fork Reservoir. It just reaffirmed, this road is awesome. Then I reset my odometer, drove down the canyon to the hospital…and it was 12.8 miles.”
“I have something here,” thought Kevin.
By itself, the American Fork Canyon run makes a fine route. But a combination of circumstances and work is what turned this idea into an event that is truly special.
“We had a close friend and colleague of ours who was diagnosed with breast cancer at about the time I was given the responsibility to oversee cancer services at the hospital,” says Kevin. “And it all came together.”
The AF Canyon Run Against Cancer was born.
Putting it All Together
Of course, having an idea for an event is one thing, but making it happen— and furthermore making it happen well— is the difference between fantasy and reality.
And that’s where race director Holly Hardy comes in.
“When I first started planning the race,” says Holly, “I thought, ‘It can't be that hard, you know: get some bibs, have a finish line.’ But there are so many details of everything you have to do, from the perfect medal for everybody, and making sure everyone has safety pins in their bag. There's a million details you have to think of.”
“Holly does such excellent work,” adds Kevin. “She goes above and beyond in making sure this is about cancer services. As you run down the canyon, you'll see these signs that are often quotes from our runners’ lives. We hear people say, ‘I was running out of the canyon and I got choked up.’ Well, people don't realize the amount of work that goes into those: sifting through thousands of quotes, getting those printed, and then putting them up in the canyon. It's a ton of work.”
Bigger & Better
Holly and Kevin focus on improving the race with each passing year. “The race has changed so much since the first year,” says Kevin. “The first year was Holly, Craig Nielsen, myself, and a couple friends. We had about 900 people come race, which was big for the first time.”
“But we didn't sleep for three days before the race,” says Kevin, “and we were just dead tired. I think we pulled it off fairly well, but this year we'll have over 4,200 participants across all the events."
“We have between 200 and 300 volunteers to help us now,” Kevin notes, “so we get a little more sleep.”
The People Who Matter
Kevin notes that the run makes a big difference in the lives of many people fighting cancer right now. “You hear stories of people who may even have insurance, but their deductibles or copays are out of reach or strains their budget when they're traveling from rural communities and they need money for gas or hotels. Many cancer patients lose their hair and they don't have money for wigs or scarves.”
“So in addition to providing a lot of cancer care,” says Kevin, “we provide a lot of those soft services as well. We give out a lot of gas cards. We pay for a lot of hotels and we do buy some minor equipment on occasion that really benefits our patients.”
For both Kevin and Holly, one of the most rewarding aspects of putting on the AF Canyon Run Against Cancer is seeing the people who are either runners or supporting the runners. “One of my best friends from high school passed away from cancer just a few weeks before the race,” says Holly. “Her family and friends all ran in honor of my friend. It’s so meaningful for me, because I'm thinking of her and how that translates into so many other people's lives.”
“People are shocked,” Kevin adds, “at the emotional impact of running and seeing families at the finish line. They hug and embrace, and they're all wearing the same tee shirts and they realize they participated in something that's really a step above your average race.”