How many people do you know who have been affected by cancer? A shocking 41 percent of people will be diagnosed with some form of the disease during his or her lifetime, according to research by the National Cancer Institute.
Another surprising stat: One-third of cancer cases are caused by poor diet and lack of activity. A group of ambitious athletes, many of then cancer survivors themselves, are seeking to inspire others to affect that statistic, all while raising money to support more research about the disease. For the past month, the Million Dollar Marathon (and a baton stuffed with prayer flags which honor those who have fought/are fighting cancer) has been making its way from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. About 160 people signed on to run or walk a marathon along the route while raising money for cancer-related charities, with an overall goal of fundraising $1 million. To date, the team has raised nearly $500,000 and has its sights set on Rehoboth Beach, Delaware on August 1. Yesterday, FITNESS hopped in along the course in Illinois as Ames, Iowa resident Ashley Poppe ran her first marathon in honor of her friend Kerri. Despite struggling with tendinitis all through training, Poppe completed all of her miles (and finished with a smile). She has raised more than $6,000 for the cause, too. The "magic" baton has inspired participants to power through rain, 100°+ heat, injuries and the longest runs of their lives. "Each time you think you've found your favorite moment from the trip, another even more amazing one happens four hours later," said Steve Cannon, who dreamt up the 4,000-mile coast-to-coast relay after running 40 marathons in 40 days (solo) around Lake Michigan last summer. Recently, the event has taken on even greater meaning for Cannon, as his sister is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Inspired to take part in this epic journey? It's not too late—and you can carry the baton for as many miles as you want (26.2 miles is not a requirement). The Million Dollar Marathon is still looking to fill slots in West Virginia on July 26 and 27, so if you're ready for a challenge, email firstname.lastname@example.org.