When Marshall Stanger and a group of friends raised more than $20,000 last year for St. Jude Children’s Resarch Hospital during the St. Jude Country Music Marathon, he didn’t think it would be too hard to raise more than that this year. But the number his wife Lynn came up with — $100,000 — was a bit larger than he expected.
However, after the local accountant did the math, he didn’t think that goal was too far out of line. If their four-member team called AC and the Tough Kids could raise more than $20,000, adding more team members could only help in reaching their new goal.
They got more than they bargained for when Caleb Tarwater, one of Audrey’s classmates at The King’s Academy, wanted to form a children’s team. They’ve called it Audrey’s Avengers: Super Kids Fighting Cancer.
The Stangers became intimately familiar with St. Jude in late 2011 when their oldest daughter, Audrey, was diagnosed with a baseball-sized tumor in her chest. Audrey Claire (that’s where the AC comes from), who will turn 8 on March 11, has a younger sister, Georgia Kate, and a 19-month-old brother, Charlie.
Her formal diagnosis was Inflammatory Miofibrolasitc Tumor, or IMT. She was referred to St. Jude’s where she’s been undergoing treatments ever since, with not one bill ever being sent to the Stangers.
When asked last year about the $6,000 he raised then, Marshall commented it probably didn’t even cover all of the oral chemotherapy medication in the family’s refrigerator at that time.
Even the $100,000 goal they’ve set doesn’t account for all of the treatments and care Audrey has received. Nor does it pay for the monthly flights back and forth to Memphis that they’ve been provided or the vouchers for their bags for each flight and meals.
“That’s probably a tenth of what her treatment has cost,” Lynn said.
It’s an even wider margin from the costs to fund operations at the hospital each day.
“It takes $1.8 million to run the hospital per day,” Audrey said. “So that’s why they do the races.”
Lynn admits Marshall went a little wide-eyed when she came up with the “nice round number.”
“Last year we were so inspired being at the event and we easily raised the $21,000,” Lynn said. “And we didn’t do anything besides putting it on Facebook. We just thought if this handful of people can raise $21,000, let’s get a team together and raise $100,000.”
“This might be attainable,” Marshall said he came to believe. “So why not shoot for the stars.”
This year, AC and the Tough Kids team has 50 runners so far for the April 27 races in Nashville.
“The fact that we have 50 runners is shocking,” she said. “We thought we would have about 20.”
Members of the teams have options to run the race and/or raise money. There are four different races: the 26.2-mile marathon, the 13.1-mile half-marathon, a 2.6-mile mini-run and a one-mile kids run. Marshall will once again run the full marathon.
Some of their team members are children around Audrey’s age, who have joined the Audrey’s Avenger’s team started by Caleb, who is a big fan of superheroes. Caleb was very helpful to Audrey when she needed assistance getting around at school. She was on crutches for a while due to a stress factor. When she wasn’t walking on the crutches her friends would push her around in a small wagon, with Caleb more often than not providing much of the muscle.
“He would pull me in a wagon and some kids would help him push it they were like, ‘How much do you weigh?’” Audrey said with a laugh.
Tina Tarwater, Caleb’s mom, said she and her son were talking about the upcoming races when he decided he wanted to help.
“I was thinking about running because Lynn was recruiting all of her friends,” Tarwater said. “He asked if he could run.”
She said once they found out that Caleb could run, he asked if he could recruit other kids. Then he asked if he could raise money.
“I climbed right on board with that,” Tarwater said of her son’s suggestion to raise money. They sent out letters to family and friends seeking donations. So far they’ve raised about $4,000, surpassing both Caleb’s $2,500 goal and her own $1,000 goal.
Tarwater said her shy and introverted child gets a great big smile on his face when he checks the mail and finds envelopes with his name on them that include donations for the race.
“I’m so proud of him, I can’t really put it into to words,” Tarwater said of her son. “I tell him he’s so much like Jesus when he’s giving. He’s modeling what we’re all supposed to do.”
The Stangers were pleasantly surprised at Caleb’s willingness to create a team just for children.
“We thought it would be good to have the kid element into it, because that’s something that people gravitate to,” said Marshall. “But the other part is that Caleb’s a good kid and he’s very thoughtful and aware of what she’s been going through the whole time. He’s been a good friend.”
“It’s good for the kids to be involved and be doing something bigger than themselves,” Lynn added.
Anyone who wishes to join or donate to the teams can visit the ACandtheToughKids.com website. The site offers updates and messages from Audrey. They also welcome business sponsorships. Businesses can contact Lynn at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.