Running 4000 Miles Across America

Illona Hartman

Illona Hartman,
Junior, Civil Engineering

Athens, OH 18 October 2018

Hey everyone, welcome to the first official 4K update on the engineering ambassador blog. A lot of things have happened over the past year. However, I will try to keep it short and give you a summary on all the events to raise money and awareness for cancer.

In August 2017, I saw an advertisement on social media about a “run across America” to fight cancer. This “4K for cancer” run caught my eye so I started the application process. That summer, one of my coworkers at my Dutch internship was very involved in the cancer community and he introduced me to it. I signed up to be a bone marrow donor in honor of his cousin who was going through treatment for leukemia. My coworker and his son even biked from one side of the Netherlands to the most Southern part to raise money and awareness for cancer. I was so impressed by this fundraising event that I wanted to get involved as well.

Running 4000 Miles Across America

During the application process for the “4K for cancer” in September, I heard the devastating news that my own family faced: my cousin’s baby of 6 months old was diagnosed with a rare kind of myeloid leukemia. Her name is Leighton Hailey van Leeuwen.

After the news, a rollercoaster of events happened in a short amount of time. In the next six months, I got accepted in the 4K for Cancer with “Team Baltimore”, I presented my cause to many organizations, I started online fundraisers (i.e. Yankee Candle, That’s My Pan), I traveled home to finally meet Leighton over winter break, I cut 25cm of my hair as a donation to a wig charity, I raised the minimum fundraising amount of $4500 for the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults in less than three months, and I still organized five big fundraisers in Spring—Dutch Bake Sale, a Bone Marrow drive, Selling Valentine’s flowers, a Dopper Sale, and a T-shirt sale—with the help of many people and organizations at Ohio University. With those last fundraisesrs I raised another $3000.

On top of this, Leighton got a bone marrow transplantation herself (transferring stem cells through blood from a donor) in January 2018 and things finally got better for her. My schoolwork and training for the run on top of three hours of field hockey practices was going well too; I was in the best shape of my life.

Running 4000 Miles Across America

It was in March—I just got back from Spring Break in Orlando—when things started to go downhill. In this six month period, I had daily contact with my cousin and family at home, mostly over “WhatsApp”. Two weeks after Leighton’s first birthday in March 2018, they wanted to video call so I could see Leighton. She was not doing so well and things got worse real quick. Less than 24 hours after we hung up the phone, I got the devastating news that our little princess lost the battle with this terrible monster called cancer.

Running 4000 Miles Across America

In the summer of 2019, I will dedicate every single mile of my 4,000 mile journey across America to our little princess Leighton Hailey. Why not this past summer? That is because of my recent post-concussion syndrome, caused by a collision at field hockey practice in March 2018. This third concussion resulted in a medical disqualification for field hockey as well as the 4K for cancer run. This diagnosis happened within the same week of Leighton’s passing and my flight home to attend her funeral early April.

Running 4000 Miles Across America

This year, you can expect a lot of new fundraisers (e.g., a yoga session and 5K run/walk on campus) to continue the 4K journey. I am very excited to raise more awareness with the help of my Theta Tau brother Sara Barnett who signed up to do the 4K bike ride in opposite direction. She will bike all 4,000 miles in 75 days from Baltimore to San Francisco! Our first two fundraisers are coming up soon:


  • Chipotle Fundraiser, Homecoming Saturday October 20th, 5pm-9pm, “33% of your burrito proceeds go to the Ulman Cancer Fund (UCF)”

  • Pancake Breakfast @Applebee’s, Dad’s Weekend Saturday November 3rd, 8am-10am, “Buy $5 tickets or show up at Athens’ Applebee’s restaurant, all proceeds go to UCF”

Running 4000 Miles Across America

For more information:
https://ulman.z2systems.com/illona-hartman

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